Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lisi M. Schoenbach

Committee Members

Nancy Goslee, Allen Dunn, Mark Hulsether


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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