- Yeats in Europe
The Reception of W. B. Yeats in Europe is the tenth and latest volume in the Athlone Critical Traditions series on “The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe.” It is a perfect example of the new model of the vast, fifty-year-plan European research project in the humanities. The results are grotesquely disappointing when measured against the investment.
While this “research project” is paid for by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and other “funding bodies,” it is in harmony with many “EU Integration” projects. In order to get funding for research, one had better be part of a team, map a field, draw upon more than one [End Page 343] European language, advertise an “interdisciplinary” show of cooperation among multiple universities, show the emergence of a self-subsistent “European culture,” and produce both a volume and a website, while training new Ph.D.s under “principal investigators.” This is the science, or at least social science, model, and it can be doubted whether it is best suited for the study of great literature.
The scholars who are recruited onto the teams of successful projects are usually those with jobs at prominent national universities and with bulky CVs. Therefore, as a rule, they are able and hard working. They certainly are in this case. Fifteen of them, in fourteen chapters, work chronologically and geographically through the publication, review, translation, and scholarly analysis of Yeats’s works in Holland, France, Germany, Catalonia, Galicia, the Basque regions, Italy, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Ireland (three chapters on the Irish reception, chronologically divided). The chapter authors were given a work order, and they did what they were asked to do to a professional standard, and reported their results. They were not expected to be profound or exciting or entertaining, and they are not.
The highlights of the volume are that the reception of Yeats in France is really a proxy for the evolving reception of Mallarme; the reception of Yeats in the Dutch Low Countries is an aspect of the development of the poetry of Roland Holst (his principal translator there); Yeats’s works have had little impact in German-speaking countries at all, because he gave the exclusive translation rights to the inept Herberth E. Herlitschka; his appeal in parts of Spain had to do with the fortunes of local nationalisms (Catalan, Basque, etc.). In general, Yeats has had little impact on European readers or authors, compared with Joyce, Eliot, and Beckett. He is difficult to translate successfully.
Everyone who knew anything knew this, but now you can know it in great scholarly detail, from one end of Europe to the other, with plenty of footnotes and bibliographies.
The three chapters on the reception in Ireland concern a subject of interest to those interested in Yeats. Eamonn Cantwell, Klaus Peter Jochum, Nicholas Allen, and Jonathan Allison, the authors of these sections, have all done really first-rate work before; it was sensible to select them for this particular job. But their efforts are hobbled to a degree by the guidelines to give a comprehensive survey and to work with collaborators. Had any one of them been prompted by a wish to write a book on the image of Yeats in Ireland, that subject above all others, and spent the usual five or ten years that a monograph requires, the result [End Page 344] would probably have more richly repaid a reader’s attention than this volume does, though not to the limit of the $250 Continuum is charging for The Reception of W. B. Yeats in Europe.
I am not sure that this new European model of research is as useless as the regime of compulsory theory it succeeds, but I do wish that research funding in the humanities would sometimes take a chance on funding individual scholars, young and old, who write well and have attractive ideas of their own. At present, “funding bodies” run top-down schemes with political or economic goals and preprogrammed conclusions that dragoon fine minds...