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George's Ghosts:
New Life of W.B. Yeats

by Brenda Maddox

ISBN 0330376527 / 9780330376525 / 0-330-37652-7
Publisher Picador
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Unusually for a biography, George's Ghosts begins more than halfway through the subject's life, in 1917 with the poet at 51. It is a bold strategy, but it works. There are so many perfectly good biographies of the poet that take the conventional line (Roy Foster's superb The Apprentice Mage covers the early years brilliantly), and Maddox is interested in something particular, Yeats's relationship with "George", Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom Yeats married late in life and who revolutionised his poetry. Yeats was in love with another woman, Maud Gonne (reputedly "the most beautiful woman in Ireland", although its hard to see why judging by the photos included in this volume), and George developed what Maddox considers "one of the most ingenious strategies ever tried to take a husband's mind off another woman."

Capitalising on Yeats's fascination with the occult, she revealed herself to be a spirit medium, adept at "automatic writing". Yeats studied the garbled messages from these '"Communicators" and forged the results into his extraordinarily powerful late poetry. As Maddox makes plain, George used her husband's belief in her spiritual talents to control him, "cutting Yeats off from his other occult associates and making her wholly dependent on her." It is a marvellously complex story, insightfully and subtly written and a fascinating insight into the imaginative life of a great poet. Adam Roberts [via]