Date of Award

5-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Lisi M. Schoenbach

Committee Members

Nancy Goslee, Allen Dunn, Mark Hulsether

Abstract

This project is the biography of a symbol: that of the holy woman motif in William Butler Yeats’s oeuvre. For most of Yeats’s writing life, beautiful women have a place of spurious privilege in his spiritual imagination because they have an intrinsic connection with the divine otherworld. In chapters on Yeats’s beauty-worship in his long fin de siecle, Olivia Shakespear’s critique of that beauty-worship in her fiction, and the role of A Vision in The Winding Stair and Other Poems, I argue that Yeats revised the holy woman motif from a limited and limiting goddess or helpmeet role in his youthful work to a full-fledged religious meaning-maker--a Creatrix--in the last decade of his career.

I include a study of Olivia Shakespear’s fiction in this project because each of her seven fictional works critiques what she saw as the male tendency from which Yeats’s symbology sprang: the tendency to feign worship of a beautiful woman while simultaneously limiting her ability to be a Creatrix. However, the transformation that Yeats’s system underwent between the 1925 and 1937 versions of A Vision enabled the poet to create a model of religious identity that does not require the erasure of the self and its human desires and therefore makes space in his pantheon for the Creatrix.

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