A Foolish, Passionate Man: Margot Ruddock and Ethel Mannin

Joseph M. Hassett

in W.B. Yeats and the Muses

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780199582907
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191723216 | DOI:
A Foolish, Passionate Man: Margot Ruddock and Ethel Mannin

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Yeats's poetic engine could run on fumes for only so long. In April 1934, feeling that ‘he had lost all inspiration,’ Yeats dramatically evidenced his conviction of the erotic element in creativity by undergoing the Steinach rejuvenation operation, hoping it would cure sexual impotence and reopen the path to inspiration. He believed the operation a success, and so it was. His June 1935 letter to Dorothy Wellesley celebrated ‘the strange second puberty the operation has given me, the ferment that has come upon my imagination.’ ‘If I write more poetry,’ he confided, ‘it will be unlike anything I have done.’ He was convinced that the operation revived both ‘my creative power’ and ‘also sexual desire.…’ Chapter 7 examines the poetry engendered by two beautiful women Yeats met in the wake of the Steinach operation who were both Sirens — who sing erotic but ultimately destructive songs — and Muses. The unpublished ‘Margot’ suggests that Margot Ruddock was initially a Siren, but when Yeats viewed her through the lens of dance as a symbol of creativity in ‘A Crazed Girl,’ she became a Muse. The austerely beautiful draft ‘Portrayed Before His Eyes,’ which may owe its genesis to both Ruddock and Ethel Mannin, clearly shows the influence of an inspiring Muse. The poem presents its subject as initially something of a marmorean muse — she is ‘Implacably lipped’ — but ultimately ‘she moved’ and found her way to ‘Love's leveling bed,’ Her role as Muse is signified by her association with Artemis, the Hellenic equivalent of Diana, who displaced Selene as the goddess of the moon. The subject is likely Mannin whom Yeats addressed as ‘Mother Goddess,’ telling her ‘You are doubly a woman, first because of yourself & secondly because of the Muses whereas I am but once a woman.’

Keywords: erotic element in creativity; Steinach operation; Sirens; Margot Ruddock; Ethel Mannin; Margot; Portrayed before his eyes; second puberty

Chapter.  5717 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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