FAMILY SECRETS by William M. Murphy


William Butler Yeats and His Relatives
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 Ably following his National Book Awardnominated biography of John Butler Yeats (Prodigal Father, not reviewed), Murphy creates a detailed portrait of the Yeats family that establishes it as one rivaling the Jameses for genius. ``We are not a normal family,'' confessed Yeats once to a correspondent, understating the matter. Most of the poet's biographers underestimate his family in regard to his own mythopoetic personality. His father was a brilliant conversationalist and a barrister turned bohemian painter; his elder sister, Susan (Lily), a talented embroiderer and textile designer; his younger sister, Elizabeth (Lollie), a skilled printer; and his brother, Jack, a superb painter with an international reputation. When John Butler Yeats moved his family from Ireland to London to start his painting career, his children lost their idyllic Sligo home, but Murphy stresses how this experience of straitened means and family isolation nonetheless contributed to the development of their talents. Willie and Lily grew closer and entered into William Morris's poetic and decorative household, and Lollie learned art instruction and printing. While Willie established himself as a poet with the likes of George (A.E.) Russell, Lady Gregory, and Ezra Pound, his sisters formed the Cuala Industries, where Lollie's press brought out editions of Willie and his Celtic twilight compatriots and where Lily's designs generated a stir. As Murphy makes clear with a round-up of family feuding, the Yeatses' dispositions drew unequally from both sides of their Anglo-Irish heritage: Willie, for all his dreaminess, would haughtily direct the publishing project at Cuala (which he kept afloat financially), thus infuriating the egocentric Lollie, who in turn would bear down on her sister and Cuala partner, while Jack, working apart, became the most reserved of the siblings. Murphy, if neglecting the wider artistic developments of the Irish revival around them, exhaustively chronicles the family's multifaceted creative personalities. (101 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8156-0301-0
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Syracuse Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994


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