Portrait of a Very Un Orthodox Marriage; History Has Largely Erased the Role of 'Dobbs', the Wife of W.B. Yeats. Thirty Years His Junior, She Was His Keenest Critic and Most Ardent Supporter, Even When, in Later Years, He Sought Affection outside the Marital Bed

Daily Mail (London), April 16, 2011 | Go to article overview

Portrait of a Very Un Orthodox Marriage; History Has Largely Erased the Role of 'Dobbs', the Wife of W.B. Yeats. Thirty Years His Junior, She Was His Keenest Critic and Most Ardent Supporter, Even When, in Later Years, He Sought Affection outside the Marital Bed


Byline: by Turtle Bunbury

YOU found me in crowds but you will lead me to lonely places... At first you were but a plan & a dream & then you became a real woman.' These heart-felt words were penned by one of Ireland's best-loved poets, W.B. Yeats in 1917.

One might expect such lyrical love letters to have been addressed to Maud Gonne -- Yeats' great love who rejected him to marry another man. Or perhaps they might have been aimed at Maud's daughter Iseult who also turned down his marriage proposal. They could even have been directed at Lady Gregory, the elderly widow with whom he co-founded Dublin's Abbey Theatre.

In fact, they were written to George Hyde-Lees, a 24-year-old English woman who so captivated Yeats with her sharp mind and nimble wit that she became his wife.

And while she may have been three decades his junior, a new collection of letters reveals that Yeats was utterly smitten by 'My dear Dobbs' as he called his wife, a nod to her childhood nickname.

W.B. Yeats & George Yeats -- The Letters is edited by Ann Saddlemeyer and combines over 600 private letters from the Yeats archive, the vast majority written by W.B. Yeats.

The book captures the unique relationship between Yeats and George which began with that intense infatuation and a shared interest in the occult, and over 25 years, weathered his many affairs to become more of an intellectual than romantic connection.

George Hyde-Lees was born in London in 1892. Her father was a Bohemian British officer with some wealth from a family cotton business. Her mother was the daughter of a well-to-do milling magnate from near Manchester.

George and Yeats met briefly during a visit to the British Museum in London in 1911. Three years later, they were reunited in the same city when George, a passionate amateur astrologist, sought admission to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a Masonic ritualistic society of which Yeats was an elder. Although 28 years her elder, Yeats was instantly impressed by the intelligent, intuitive young woman and began consulting her about horoscopes.

Yeats had always had a strong belief in the concept of an Otherworld. As a child on holiday in Co. Sligo, he was fascinated by Irish mythology. Over the course of his adulthood, this developed into a fully-fledged obsession with the occult and the paranormal -- and in George he found a willing companion in his studies.

By 1890, he was a member of the Golden Dawn, a society which was heavily focused on astrology, magic and esoteric philosophy.

Yeats rose from being a disciple to one of the leading figures in the Order, and his poetry took a similarly authoritative leap at this time.

He became one of the leading lights of the Gaelic Literary Revival in Ireland. In 1902, he set up what became the Cuala Press, which produced over 70 books on the theme of the Gaelic Revival over the next four decades. He also co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin; Cathleen Ni Houlihan, a oneact play he co-wrote with Lady Gregory, premiered on the opening night. By 1916, aged 51, Yeats was Ireland's leading poet. His courtship of George Hyde-Lees took place against the backdrop of the European War and the Easter Rebellion after which, in Yeats words, 'all changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.' There was soon talk of marriage. In 1917, Yeats wrote to Lady Gregory: 'I certainly feel very tired & have a great longing for order, for routine & shall be content if I find a friendly serviceable woman. I merely know -- we had our talk alone two years ago -- that I think this girl both friendly, serviceable & very able.' When George accepted his marriage proposal, an elated Yeats wrote to her from Ireland: 'O my dearest I kiss your hands full of gratitude & affection -- do not draw them away while my lips are still hungry. I will live for my work & your happiness & when we are dead our names shall be rem[em]bered -- perhaps we will become a part of the strange legendary life of this country. …

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Portrait of a Very Un Orthodox Marriage; History Has Largely Erased the Role of 'Dobbs', the Wife of W.B. Yeats. Thirty Years His Junior, She Was His Keenest Critic and Most Ardent Supporter, Even When, in Later Years, He Sought Affection outside the Marital Bed
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