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ELT: Volume 33:2, 1990 literary historian, not the engaged critic. Bearing that caveat in mind, and re-arranging Longenbach's subtitle, the book is, nonetheless , a solid and useful contribution to studies of Pound, modernism, and Yeats, in that order. P. E. Mitchell Grant MacEwan Community College, Alberta Yeats and Joyce Patrick J. Keane. Terrible Beauty: Yeats, Joyce, Ireland, and the Myth of the Devouring Female. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. xvii + 146 pp. $23.00 IN HIS PREFACE, Patrick J. Keane tells us that the subject of Terrible Beauty grew out of his participation in a faculty seminar on myth and politics. Originally planning a broader treatment of 'Teats, Joyce, and the lethal political mythology of modern Ireland," he was prompted by a colleague's paper on "the myth of the Devouring Female" to concentrate on the political consequences of this myth in the works of Yeats and Joyce. The result is a study that is somewhat more original, and certainly more complex, in its reading of Yeats than of Joyce, possibly because Yeats's response to the destructive myth of romantic Ireland was more fundamentally ambiguous than Joyce's The Devouring Female, as the figure appears in the works under consideration here, is a version of the Terrible Mother, who in turn is the negative form of Erich Neumann's Great Mother archetype. Keane sets forth the Celtic mythological sources for Yeats's and Joyce's destructive female figures: the grotesquely sexual Sheela-nagig ; the Leanhaun Shee, a Maud Gonne-like fairy mistress who inspires poets but also destroys them; and the crow-headed war goddess, the Morrigu. To these he adds various animal figures, including crows, vultures, crabs, and spiders, but especially sows. The sow figure is most familiar to us as "the old sow that eats her farrow," Stephen Dedalus's contemptuous description of Ireland as the devourer of her own children, but Keane shows that Yeats had earlier depended on a variant on this image for his 1896 poem "The Valley of the Black Pig." Keane's analysis of this poem is astute in its observation of the way Yeats turned from an immediately political interpretation of the poem's battle to a mythological one: 'Yeats was unwilling to delimit the vision of an apocalyptic battle—even one he admits he appropriated from Irish 'peasants and visionaries'—to a struggle 218 Book Reviews between Ireland and England in which the Irish 'will break at last the power of their enemies.'" Keane is probably on the right track as well when he suggests that Yeats's interest in the occult helped to distance him from the ordinary reader who would have reduced "The Valley of the Black Pig" to a partisan political statement; it might also be argued that Yeats's immersion in arcane lore would have led him to see everywhere a doubleness of meaning, with an exoteric level available to the general public and a more significant esoteric level that was open only to initiates. More difficult to reconcile and justify is the gap between the two levels of meaning that Keane sees in Cathleen ni Houlihan: the overt level that appealed to romantic notions of patriotic self-sacrifice and the subtext in which that self-sacrifice is regarded as more terrible than beautiful. Keane states his interpretation of the play directly: "committed to art rather than Nationalist propaganda," Yeats "managed to insinuate, beneath the sympathetic and patriotic appeal of the Old Woman portrayed by his beloved, the terrible truth of the sacrifice she was demanding: a call of country requiring a total sacrifice understood and rejected not only by Yeats but also by James Joyce and his fictional surrogate, Stephen Dedalus." If so, that insinuation seems to have gone unnoticed by Yeats's audience, which (as Keane notes) almost invariably interpreted the Old Woman as a positive character rather than a Devouring Mother. Keane suggests, essentially, that Yeats wrote the play to please Maud Gonne, but treated the Old Woman ambiguously in order to be able to convince himself that he was not surrendering to Maud's rabble-rousing version of nationalism. I think Keane is right in emphasizing the negative...


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pp. 218-221
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Will Be Archived 2021
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