The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats: Volume II: 1896-1900

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The letters in this volume, the majority never before published, vividly document the period in which Yeats, having left the family house in Bedford Park, began a new life in Bloomsbury; as he later recalled, `a new scene was set, new actors appeared'. With his association with the Savoy magazine and its circle of decadents, he achieved the financial emancipation that enabled him to begin his first affair with Olivia Shakespear. 1896 also saw the beginning of the most important and creative friendship of his life, that with Lady Gregory; other influential friendships, such as those with Synge and W. T. Horton, were forged. In 1898, Yeats's friendship with George Moore expanded, only to contract with the disastrous collaboration on Diarmuid and Grania. It was a period of considerable unhappiness for Yeats. His love for Maud Gonne was hopeless; in December 1898, she was to tell him of her long-standing affair with Lucian Millevoye (by whom she had two children). The crisis produced a run of confused and incoherent letters to Lady Gregory. The letters also document Yeats's greatest early period of political activity. He organized the centenary celebrations of the 1798 uprising, while combating double agents within the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood. In 1897, he began planning a National Theatre and letters chart a massive expansion of theatrical activity. Letter by letter, we see how private concerns, artistic quarrels and exhausting political life forced him to develop a public persona. Rich and readable notes provide a narrative of these years, explaining allusions and setting the correspondence in its cultural and political contexts, as well as relating it to the emergence of Yeats's canon. The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats is redefining the territory of modern literary history and this volume, with its valuable biographical and thematic appendices, is indispensable to anyone interested in the development of modern poetry, Irish drama and cultural history.

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