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Book Reviews Yeats and the Automatic Writing George Mills Harper. The Making of Yeats's Ά Vision': A Study of the Automatic Script. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Vol. I xvi + 301 Vol. 2 xvii + 463 $50.00 STUDENTS OF YEATS have a great debt to George Mills Harper, for the present two-volume study of the role of the automatic script in the development of A Vision, and for his previous studies of the role of psychic research in Yeats's work. His recent edition of the 1925 or "A" version of A Vision (with Walter K. Hood) has made accessible the first edition of that central work, so that there is no longer even the faintest excuse for scholars who have used the 1937 or "B" version to comment on poems that do not really fall within its province. The Harper and Hood edition is also heavily annotated with notes drawn from Yeats's Card File derived in part from the material that Harper treats in the volumes under review. The Automatic Script has two main uses, first for showing the process that gave Yeats much of the material for A Vision, and second as a record of the intimate movements of the minds of Yeats and his wife George. Harper remarks that the material generated by the automatic script is probably the most complete record of psychic research available, especially if one includes the records of Dreams and Sleeps that took over after May 1920. The Automatic Script alone comes to 3,600 pages. The script, then, is important background for A Vision and important biographical material. This is most clear in the first volume , in which the relations between Yeats, Maud and Iseult Gonne, and George Yeats hold a central position. These passages also serve to illuminate the important and moving play The Only Jealousy of Emer. If there is any disappointment in reading these two volumes, it comes from finding few examples of commentaries that refer directly to poems. One of those comes at a time when a certain weariness with the system seems to have struck George, so that she does manage to give him some metaphors for the poem "Towards Break of Day." Generally, however, the relation of particular poems to the Automatic Script is not so immediately evident and at times Harper seems 209 ELT: Volume 33:2, 1990 anxious to find parallels that are at best vague and general. The spirits were right to rebuke Yeats for his intent to give up the writing of poetry and devote his energies to the interpretation of their cryptic utterances, but at the same time they had not come to give him metaphors for his poetry. When usable metaphors appear in the Automatic Script, they seem to come from George Yeats directly or to be accidental rather than essential to the message of the script. There are certain incidental facts that become evident through Harper's giving the dates and locations where the script came to be written. For one thing, for the period from 16 November 1917 through 23 September 1919, the Yeats family divided their time almost equally between Ireland and England. From that point until their return to Ireland in April 1922, their time was mainly spent in England except for an extended tour of the United States between the end of January 1920 through May. They then settled in Ireland until their European period beginning in November 1927. The Automatic Script helps to establish the places of residence from November 1917 through May 1920. The script helps to establish geographical data in Yeats's life, but much more important is its opening of the minds of both George and W. B. Yeats to the closest scrutiny. The intimacy in tone and content of the Automatic Script grants a genuine access to their modes of thinking and conversing that has until now been only very slightly available. This book and the edition of the 1925 A Vision will be steady references for any person interested in the workings of Yeats's mind. They add a dimension to the biography of Yeats that has until now been only very generally...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 209-212
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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