At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Foster, R.F. W.B. Yeats: a life: v.2: The arch-poet, 1915-1939. Oxford, 2003.

Choice: “Outstanding, richly textured; a biography that lives up to its subject. Essential.” Contemporary Review: “Excellent and exhaustive.” New Criterion: “Foster has researched tirelessly and written cogently, elegantly, and wittily about all of the life and much of the work.” Publisher’s Weekly: “Masterful. Shrewdly and scrupulously applies the historical facts to Yeats’s self-made image and his poetry.” Kirkus: “Entirely readable and deeply nuanced. Foster’s knowing, richly detailed investigation is a remarkable achievement, essential to serious students of Yeats’s life and work.” Journal of Modern Literature: “A major achievement in literary biography every bit as masterful and illuminating as Richard Ellman’s life of James Joyce. Foster has demonstrated that he can marshal all the facts and place the work in context and still do justice to its large formal structures and major themes. Although close textual analysis of a specialized kind is apparently not Foster’s forte, for purposes of literary biography it is not really necessary. But what disturbs me is Foster’s habit of reading Yeats’s erotic preoccupations and their connections to poetic genius and occult spirituality as if they were primarily symbolic in nature, at best as merely imaginary spurs to his poetic creativity.” Hudson Review: “Splendid, exhaustive and detailed, a miracle of interwoven sources. If there is something dissatisfying in the book, it is that everything that is not action, history, fact, or detail, everything that is not hand-recorded in a sum or a vote or a posted paragraph, is quietly lifted away; which means nearly everything that has to do with genius, feeling, experience, and thought.” Commentary: “Foster is an authorized biographer, and has thus had access to more information than anyone before him. Throughout, he emphasizes actions rather than the poet’s inner life or work, which is a shame. Affectation is one fault that Foster regrettably shares with his subject. Both volumes of this biography are marred by his habit of sprinkling his prose with Latin and especially French ornaments. As for Foster’s English, it is serviceable enough, though it can turn to the turgid and the academic. The lamentable thing is how little Foster does to evaluate or interpret the facts.” Nation: “A formidable scholarly achievement. The research that informs it is staggering; its critical dissections are delicate and acute; and its supple, lucid prose is splendidly stylish. Grippingly readable and intellectually rich, the book is without doubt one of the mightiest biographies of our age. If Foster’s project is vastly ambitious, it is in another sense too modest for its own good. Like a well-groomed BBC reporter, Foster confines himself for the most part of documenting his author’s daily life with a minimum of critical commentary. Like many a biographer, he fails, or deliberately refuses, to step back form the trees to survey the woods.” Harper’s: “Positivist by temperament, Foster does not intuit, as Yeats did, events for which there is no producible evidence. Foster’s procedure is linear, disinterested, distant. There are no operatic climaxes. Foster, however, is master of his own rhetoric of the measured style.”


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home