W. B. Yeats’s A Vision (1925, 1937) fits into a very male mystic canon of works he established in his Blake study The Works of William Blake (1893), including authors Jacob Boehme, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Paracelsus. As Margaret Mills Harper and Catherine E. Paul have recently emphasised, Yeats enlisted the collaboration of George Yeats in the composition of A Vision, to whom spiritual vision came more easily and who insisted that her role be hidden. The image of the Yeatses as a working couple, reassembling handwritten pages of notes into books, evokes their predecessors the Blakes before them, at the printing press.
I will introduce my paper by discussing the working relationships of the Blakes and the Yeatses in the wider context of the spiritual circles they moved in and will briefly outline notable instances of the spiritual roles of women in Blake’s and Yeats’s works. I will then examine Blake’s place among mystic character types in A Vision and how gender influences both these and the nature of spirituality for Yeats. I will emphasise how Yeats conceived of Blake as part of a greater mystic tradition, of which he believed himself and his fellow Celtic writers George Russell and Fiona Macleod (who was actually male author William Sharp) to be inheritors – but not necessarily George Yeats. Women are almost entirely absent from A Vision despite George Yeats’s familiarity with occultism and Yeats’s relationships with 1890s Golden Dawn figureheads Florence Farr and Moina Mathers. Finally, I will consider the development of scholarship surrounding the artists’ spouses, specifically how George Yeats’s former absence from much A Vision scholarship compares with Catherine Blake’s reputation within Blake scholarship.
Jodie Marley is a PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham, researching the conception and construction of William Blake as a ‘mystic’ in his literary afterlife, with particular focus on the works of W. B. Yeats, George Russell and Fiona Macleod.