There have been many biographies of Yeats over the past fifteen years, culminating in Roy Foster’s magisterial two-volume ‘official’ work (completed in 2003), so you might wonder what the case is for another one. But W J McCormack’s vigorous new book is not a simple biography. His claim is that this is, at last, the book which refuses to gloss over the unacceptable features of the poet’s politics; it is ‘a specifically political Life of Yeats’. So, while acknowledging a debt to and admiration for predecessors (especially Foster), McCormack at the same time accuses those predecessors of a suppressio veri extending from wilful myopia to whitewashing.
He starts with the last decade of Yeats’s life, when nobody denies that the poet’s politics were, at least occasionally, reprehensible. The traditional defence has been to describe these lapses on the poet’s part as ‘flirtations’ with fascism. It is a defence with which McCormack has little patience, arguing that