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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

THE WILD OLD WICKED MAN Richard Ellmann, The Identity of Yeats (Faber) £3.95 pb.

'Yeats scholarship' is in a mess. For every one substantive contribution towards the subject, there are a hundred re-worked Ph.D. theses. The reviewer in the TLS for 3 September 1954 - the year when The Identity of Yeats first appeared - noted that 'so much has been written about [Yeats] since his death that we might almost begin to speak of a Yeats-industry'; twenty years later, 'Yeats' has become one of the giant multi-nationals of the academic world. And though we are coughing in ink, we are merely clearing our lungs for the Great Yeats Deconstructathon.

Against this, the re-issue of Ellman's The Identity of Yeats can be seen as timely. It proves that there is still a need for an older kind of exposition, one that returns us to fundamental questions such as the relationship that holds, in Yeats's work, between myth and symbol, between fact and artefact, and between the personal voice and its chosen idiom.

That Ellmann's book addresses such questions is one measure of the book's introductory nature. It is in many ways a book for students, cogently tracing thematic and stylistic 'developments' (the quotes are a concession to Yeats's obsessive turning and returning) and concluding with the scholarly apparatus of Appendix, Chronology, and Notes. In case the phrase 'book for students' seems derogatory, I should add that the work also contains additional expository material - early drafts of 'The Sorrow of Love' and 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree', a reproduction ...


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