The living ginger: Jack B. Yeats’s ‘The charmed life’

 

John Pilling

 

The peculiar fate of those gifted in more than one sphere of artistic activity has often been to be neglected in at least one of those spheres and frequently in both. In the case of Jack B. Yeats, there has always been the temptation to think of his achievements in the shadow of his more famous brother, or as the epigone of a gifted father. When these temptations are resisted and his distinctive merits as a painter considered, the tendency has been to retire behind truisms about his being The National Painter and to leave it at that. When, exceptionally, his prose is mentioned, the tendency has been either to dismiss it as grotesquely (if inevitably) inferior to his painting, or to confess in a puzzled way that not much can be made of it. Recently, and particularly since the centenary celebrations in 1971, he has been belatedly and somewhat misguidedly seen as prefiguring Absurdist drama and aspects of the nouveau roman.1 Despite an adequate biography,2 and a determined attempt on the part of one of his English publishers to reawaken interest in his prose by reprinting three of his novels in paperback,3 Jack Yeats’s real qualities as a writer have yet to be really examined.

 

It is no part of my purpose to air once again the perennially fascinating question of how we judge the writer who is also a painter, nor to rehearse familiar material on the Irish contribution to twentieth-century English literature, or any of the other topics that can tempt us into thinking of Jack Yeats as a special case, rather than as someone who deserves to be considered alongside names more famous and more imposing. Nor does there seem to be much point in offering a full-scale description of his literary career. The marionette dramas are clearly best left to specialists; La la NOO (surely the best of his dramas, notwithstanding In Sand) deserves an article to itself. Of the prose writings The Careless Flower, (1947), is of limited interest, Sligo, (1930) and Sailing sailing swiftly (1933) are very variable, Ah Well (1942) and And to you also (1944) are narrow in range, and The Amaranthers (1936) over-exposed because Samuel Beckett happened once to review it.4 From all points of view, it seems to me The charmed life, published in 1938 when Yeats was 67, is the most satisfying of Jack Yeats’s books.

 

The hallmark of Jack Yeats’s prose is its apparent unconsideredness, its inconsequentiality; it is as if we have been made privy to the unmediated thoughts of an idiosyncratic personality blissfully unaware of our presence, except at those quite unpredictable moments when he rounds upon us, more or less engagingly, to show that he has been aware of us all along. He follows the drifts of the mind not in any excavatory spirit, as Joyce did, but out of a much simpler, almost childlike, amazement at the material it can throw up. There is the stuff of life about Yeats’s prose. But it is not just unmediated life that he is interested in; it is the ‘charmed’ life, life seen in the light of some mental or supernatural transfigurement, that most interests him. He follows the haphazard windings of the mind in the hope of catching those moments when the mind is bringing its reality into being. This is why there is always the sense of something unprecedented in Yeats’s prose, as though the sentiment or the landscape or the character has just come into being at that very moment. He is at quite the opposite end of the spectrum, as a prose writer, from that other neglected artist-writer Wyndham Lewis. Where Lewis is concentrated and impersonal and avowedly uninterested in psychological processes (although perfectly aware of them and an unsparing anatomist of them), Yeats is diffuse and garrulous and ready to follow any process to see where it leads. If he cannot be said to have the power and savagery and sometimes sublime majesty of Lewis, he is also without Lewis’s occasional dryness and oppressive clamour. Yeats’s world remains wide-open, almost too much so, as if he could not be bothered to close off the perspective in the way the tyrannical eye obliges us to do, as if he revelled in the lawless world of mental life after being tied to paint and canvas. Where Lewis closes off perspective to bring us up sharp against the hard edges of real things, Yeats opens it up and de-spatializes it until it becomes almost diaphanous. But by virtue of his continual reversion to real things it can never become purely diaphanous; it always contrives to remain substantial, like the figures in Yeats’s late paintings. The rhythm of the speaking voice ties it unerringly to a mundane world, however high it threatens to soar. His prose may not be as muscular as Lewis’s but it is not a flabby prose either; it is supple, light, with a freshness about it, and with a variety of tonal values that make descents from the sublime to the ridiculous and retracings in the opposite direction seem quite logical at the moment of their occurrence. Yeats’s universe is never inert, although it is usually the human agent or the meditative spectator that gives events their colouring. But we invariably get the feeling that things will occur in any case, whether or not there is anyone who actually understands their whys and wherefores.

 

Anyone capable of paraphrasing a Jack Yeats novel ought to receive some kind of prize; not so much because the activity is a worthwhile one as because it is so peculiarly difficult. If The charmed life is marginally easier than some in this respect (The Amaranthers, for instance), it is only because it is basically a sequential narrative concerned with two primary figures, Mr. No Matter, the narrator (a Jack Yeats self-portrait) and his sometime friend Bowsie, rambling without much purpose from one hamlet to another in a coastal region of the West of Ireland—Yeats does not say exactly where, and is obviously concerned that specificity should not destroy the representativeness of the events. At the end Bowsie learns he has been offered a job in a Government office in Dublin and departs, leaving his friend to fend for himself among the locals. The novel begins in medias res, with Bowsie and No Matter there on the page somehow without any of the usual novelistic light and shade, and ends in medias res, with No Matter thinking of Bowsie and regretting his absence, but conquering his unhappiness and still responding with terrific imaginative vigour to his situation. Whenever the mood of the book threatens to become predominantly gloomy, No Matter shrugs his shoulders and casts around for something in which to find comfort; whenever the tone threatens to become too farcical or whimsical, No Matter catches himself indulging his desire to distort reality into shapes it does not possess, and administers a cold shower of truth that is savagely sad. There is a quicksilver flexibility about Yeats’s writing in The charmed life.

 

Jack Yeats’s main aim in writing the novel is to present the idiosyncrasies of individuals and place them in the context of a subtle and indirect critique of the romance genre that so captivated him. He is interested in idiosyncrasy not because it enables him to suggest that each man is irremediably isolated (as modern fiction has tended to do) but simply because nothing human is alien to him and idiosyncrasy is the distinguishing feature of the human. The novel is full of people suddenly encountering one another, exchanging anecdotes and parting again, and there is a tinge of melancholy in almost all the relationships dramatized; but the fact that relationships do not endure is not something that reduces Yeats to helpless anguish, since he knows that man is a resourceful animal and that the next person will have a story to tell. Bowsie and No Matter are firm friends, but they can part without heartache and without fuss when the time comes. They go their own way even when ostensibly together; soon after arriving at the Hotel Imperial, they take a stroll along the strand in opposite directions with utterly different thoughts in their minds, and join up again without feeling the need to communicate their separate experiences. No Matter is bound to seem to us the more dependent of the two, because he is the only character invested with anything resembling a discriminating sensibility, and the only character really interested in the products of his own consciousness. Bowsie, by comparison, is inarticulate, boorish and insouciant. But they belong together, and indeed Bowsie seems almost to lack motive force without No Matter by his side.

 

Bowsie presents Yeats with something of a problem, since he is on the symbolic level No Matter’s alter ego and yet on the literal level must be presumed to have sufficient independent life to go off to Dublin to take a government job for which she is not obviously well-suited. One way Yeats solves this problem is to show that, although Bowsie has been something of a figure in this locale, the world continues much the same without him, and can forget him when he has gone from its ken. Yeats does not mean to belittle Bowsie (whose heroic proportions have anyway been somewhat diminished by the experience of nearly drowning) and nor does he mean to belittle the locals; it is simply the way things happen. No Matter is spiritually impoverished by his friend’s departure, but sufficiently resourceful to survive without him in the way he has always done, given Bowsie’s restlessness and periodic need to be absolutely alone.

 

The most dramatic events in the book, the death of Miss Starrett and the subsequent near-drowning of Bowsie, are related with a similar kind of sangfroid, as if they, too, were simply things which happened, without possessing any symbolic significance. (As Beckett said, ‘There is no symbol in Jack Yeats’). It is not clear whether Bowsie’s sudden decision to go out for a solitary walk on hearing of the death of Miss Starrett is a response to her death (No Matter has earlier teased Bowsie that the ‘woman at the window’ has her eye on him), or a constitutional nervousness in the face of death. It is simply the kind of thing he periodically needs to do. What is, however, clear is that Bowsie’s well-meaning attempt to spare young Tim Devany’s feelings by heading him off has something to do with Bowsie being swept away. The boy (who has survived a near-drowning himself) is, as a result, subjected to a terror infinitely more acute and upsetting than he might have experienced at the death-bed of Miss Starrett: ‘Timmy, the grown knight riding for a lady’s pleasure, becomes, in that instant, a child, a child trapped. Up goes his small chin, the string of his neck stretches and he screams into the darkness.’ (174). it is no use, Yeats is saying, to turn one’s back on the truth; it will rise up and impress itself upon you however much you try to domesticate it. But Yeats does not see truth and romance as elements in conflict with each other; they are in essence the same and it depends on the temperament of the person who experiences them which of the two is dominant.

 

This is made clear when Bowsie finds succour, after being almost drowned, with an old man who has lost both legs in a train accident in America, but not lost his zest for life, for drinking poteen with the best of them, and for composing literary articles for a newspaper under the sobriquet ‘Silvanus.’ Silvanus represents the irrepressible and indomitable spirit of the ordinary Irishman, unperturbed by having been gruesomely injured in the land of opportunities, America, which all the young people in the novel (and indeed most of the old) think of as the great solution to all life’s problems. Yeats is reminding us here that our dreams can turn out to be savage and cruel, that our romances are predicated upon a bedrock of reality. The proper response to ill-fortune, Yeats hints, is a toss of the head, a swig of the bottle and a twirl of the pen, and Bowsie is splendidly calm and unflappable about his own fate, much more concerned, in fact, about how worried his friends may be. There is nothing glib or simple-minded about this: Silvanus’s lack of surprise as Bowsie materializes from the waves testifies to a personality that has grown old and wise and seen such things before. Although Silvanus is the agent that administers a timely draught to soothe the ‘charmed (i.e. fortunate) life’ that confronts him (Bowsie’s), Silvanus has partially lost Bowsie’s faculty for seeing the ‘charmed (i.e. transfigured) life’ by virtue of becoming old and wise.

 

This theme is developed when Bowsie returns to the hotel and deprives two young ladies of their romantic delusions about his fate. Instead of indulging in heroic gestures Bowsie is characteristically intent on cleaning himself up and making a good breakfast:

 

            The dark hall made it impossible to see the expression of Bowsie’s

            curling lips and the ladies were anxious not to have their romantic

            pictures of the Bowsie in the sea destroyed, as so many romantic

            pictures had been destroyed before the spiritual eyes of both of

            them. Even the youngest had given up all hope of the romantic being

            presented before her - she thought she knew, that she must always,

            down the long years of her life, construct her own romantic bouquets

            for herself, using paper flowers. (204).

 

Yeats’s analysis here is, in its quiet way, extremely sharp, but neither Bowsie nor the ladies is satirized by it. (As Beckett said, ‘There is no satire in Jack Yeats.’). The sheer surprisingness of life, Yeats is saying, is always destroying the constructions we are pleased to place upon it. No Matter, on waking up after a few drinks, forgets for a moment that Bowsie has disappeared: life has presented him with something that fills up the vacancy left by Bowsie and simple human weakness has done the rest. In The charmed life people are always doing, or experiencing, the unexpected. Yeats shows us, like his brother W.B., that life is neither tragic nor comic if it is truly lived, although it may assume a predominantly tragic or comic colouring in the memory, or in the imagination, or in the retelling.

 

For Jack Yeats everyone is bound together by virtue of their common humanity. Bowsie and No Matter are in fact complementary figures, No Matter nervous and oppressed and contemplative, Bowsie powerful and strong and active. No Matter is the more artistic of the two, but Bowsie is more in touch with transcendent things because he does not question his situation over much. No Matter’s admiration for Bowsie’s abilities in this regard knows no bounds:

 

            I wonder what he does think, or does he feel no need for thinking.

            Does he just turn what his eyes see, or what his reason tells him

            exists, before him into some easily assimilated condensed, sweetly

            rectified, spirit, and then drink it, and it perhaps so volatile that it

            wafts itself away, leaving what some would say was less than

            nothing. But perhaps those leavings are without measure. Ah,

            Bowsie, it’s you that has the capacity. (23).

 

As No Matter puts it later, Bowsie is ‘still the youngest of us in the chronology of the heart’ (92). He lives a ‘charmed life’ not simply in that he is magically protected from its disasters, but in the more important sense that life is full of magic for him. Any incipient melancholy can be conquered by exercizing his childlike powers of fantasy:

 

            Bowsie will not sit; he will look about him, and walk up and down,

            and think about a house he once had on which the sun never shone,

            and where every day was too long. Then he’ll shrug his shoulders and

            forget - forget everything, while a comic strip of some ridiculous

            adventure, of coloured figures, bouncing before him in cloudland,

            will pass before his eyes, comatose eyes. (76).

 

At such moments, when he becomes ‘a receptacle for flying fancies’ (76) Bowsie seems to have travelled far from mundane mankind. But, the impressive thing about Bowsie, as No Matter reminds us, is that he is always coming back into normal focus, as if he has just finished being a hero somewhere else:

 

            If Bowsie is in the world that others live in, he appears, at times, to

            be moving away, and then coming towards the beholder, everlastingly.

            He goes away, into some ancient air, so choked with dimensions, that

            it’s a jamb and no movement. Then, in a flash, he’s back again, gazing

            straight toward one, with his face flashing with clear bright light, and

            coloured darknesses. (101-02).

 

There is always the bloom of novelty about Bowsie: ‘He uses words,’ No Matter tells us, ‘as if he was using them just for the second time.’ (108). And yet even Bowsie is occasionally forced to submit to the cold light of day:

 

            Bowsie knows he may bring his fancy with him right up to the moment

            when he sits down on the stool behind his table, but, when he turns his

            face towards the horizons of the land, that are about him, he knows

            that his plan cannot strut there. It will not mix. The very essence of

            the atmosphere disintegrates his figure of fun, and an Irish moth walks

            through it. (110).

 

We know much more about No Matter than about Bowsie because it is through his mediating consciousness that we see all the events of the novel. He is a much less imposing figure than Bowsie, but less extreme also: he experiences a much wider range of emotional states, and is altogether more normal in every way. He suffers continually from the delusion that he is significant, followed more or less immediately by the realisation that he is (as his name suggests) quite superfluous. When he goes to the post-office, he imagines how much better Bowsie would have been received; he imagines somebody knows him when it is only the fact that he has stumbled which has caused him to be noticed. Perhaps the most touching example in the novel is when No Matter begins to realise that a newsboy finds him of much less account than a piece of wood and a bit of tin:

 

            The boy is thinking now about me sitting by him. He thinks I’m a poor

            affair; he thinks I have an inside like a sheep and a head like a bird. That

            is what he wishes to think about me. But he is watching a race, before

            the breeze, of a piece of new yellow shining wood, perhaps a foot long,

            the side out of some grocer’s or fruiterer’s case . . . The wood is racing a

            shining tin box. (77).

 

Yeats does not allow this to seem self-pitying; No Matter responds to being ignored not by stressing his own disappointment but with a splendidly sympathetic account of the newsboy’s disappointment:

 

            Now, some eddyings of the water, caused by the stream, and some

            baffling wavelets, spring up, and are tossing the wood and tin around

            and about, so that the race is an argument. My newsboy turns his face

            away: his interest is gone. What started so fair as a trail with causes

            known, has blundered into the pitiful little politics of inshore

            tumbling. (78).

 

This incident provides conclusive proof of the accuracy of No Matter’s claim: ‘I have made it my business, all my life, to try and understand the feelings of others.’(169). In the same way, it is quite typical of him to hope that Bowsie’s elation may last ‘as long as his life, at any rate, until that last hurry, scurry moment before the slow curtain falls.’ (230). No Matter’s attempt to understand the feelings of others without consulting his own interests is bound to leave him vulnerable in the face of the less pleasant aspects of life. But it is his ability to see the magic of life—not so much fantasized, like Bowsie’s, but simply the ordinary beauty of things - which enables him to conquer his disappointments:

 

            I had thought that this lake shore belonged to me and my two dismal

            companions only. But now I know there has been another here before

            us. I am disappointed, and I turn away to begin the picking of our way

            back to the road. But I look over my shoulder and I catch the twinkle

            of the moorhen’s tail. And I don’t believe, on God’s earth, any cigarette

chuck-about-carton smoker ever had a moorhen’s tail twinkle so well. (224).

 

This may not be a triumph of any magnitude, but it is a triumph of sorts, and it stems from a psychology adapted to life in a way that Bowsie’s never quite is. ‘It is a light sympathy,’ as No Matter says later, ‘it has a quality of buoyancy’ (281).

 

The presence of a sympathetic figure like No Matter does much to mitigate the more depressing aspects of life as he records them. But there are times, Yeats knows, when sympathy and a sense of humanity are insufficient to ameliorate people’s sadness. Tim Devany is ‘very thankful to all who baptised him with romance’ (32), but his life is not made any less dull thereby. Likewise, however hard No Matter tries to translate the story of the thin stooped man (who has seen the ‘inner side’ (140) of things) he knows that language is ‘flippant when it ought to be prancing, and buoyant when it ought to be sunk’ (141) that words, with their ‘nonsensical mistings’ (148) make genuine sympathy difficult. Everyone in the novel experiences difficulty in making their language an index of their feelings. The Judge (who is of course not really a judge at all) is untypical only in his ability to articulate the problem with precision:

 

            Departure isn’t a good word for it. Have you noticed how difficult it is

            to get a good word that gives just the right shade for any particular

            death ... what is the use of talking, here among these little heaps of

            green that were standing steady in the light, and the darkness, before

            we, or any of our name, perhaps were ever thought of. (242).

 

This question of language is never far from Jack Yeats’s mind. It is symptomatic of the wondrous change that Silvanus works on him that Bowsie should find himself thinking as he speaks, ‘which is unusual with him. His thinking, and his speech, with him are separate, both arranged carefully, as tableaux, on different stages. His thoughts lie about a dry dock, repairing, while his speech is afloat.’ (190).

 

It is pre-eminently the raconteur in Jack Yeats’s world whose speech is ‘afloat,’ although the interpolated narratives are much more under control in The charmed life than in other works of his. The pièce de resistance here is the highly coloured tale told to No Matter by ‘a man of the medium height’ whom he meets one night in the street, concerning a love affair with a Spanish girl a long time ago. Although there are scores of such figures in Yeats’s prose, (usually of obscure provenance and almost always materializing out of nothing and disappearing for ever, their story done) this is perhaps Yeats’s most succesful venture in this mode, the tale and the teller perfectly blended:

 

            The man’s face is of an ivory whiteness, with grey shadows, and bright

            red streaks on his cheek, as though finger-tips had brought his carmine

            blood to the surface. His hair is grey and closely cropped: it is strong

            and thickly subbed. He is clean shaven and carries a cheerful jowl,

            denied by his eyes, which are deep brown, for they are careworn, and

            would if I could see them under the penthouse brows, be of great

            mournfulness. (93).

 

The storyteller is a colourful figure, and the prose is colourful accordingly; but the description is not (despite ‘carmine’) that of an artist who just happens to have picked up a pen. Indeed Yeats’s ear is as much in evidence here as his eye: the euphony of ‘streaks’ and ‘cheek,’ the assonance of ‘eyes’ and ‘denied,’ the rhythm of the short phrases added to the primary statement that impel the mind to concentrate on each individual unit—these suggest a writer much more painstaking than Jack Yeats is usually considered to be. At the same time the story is difficult to distinguish from a thousand other tales one has heard, and as the storyteller tells it the suspicion seems to grow on him that his audience may have heard it before. What saves the tale is the honest openness with which it is recounted and No Matter’s careful framing comments which refine its sentimentality into real feeling. At the end of the tale the suspicion lingers that it has been moving precisely because the man of medium height has learnt the art of embellishment, precisely because the experience has been transformed by the imagination and is not quite so undoctored as it seems. But at this point one reflects that if he had told it before, he is, as like as not, afflicted by the Ancient Mariner’s curse, so that one is forced to conclude that his soul is troubled by it still.

 

It is obviously a complex effect that Jack Yeats is striving for here, and the complexity does not finish with the tale:

 

            The door closes; the narrow window of the room above the door is

            flooded with light. The man has switched it on. I see him now. He

            puts a heavy book on a small gipsy table by the window and he sits

            down to read. Then he rises again. He thinks he is in the public eye

            too much. So, very slowly, not to be impolite, he draws down a

            yellow blind; and now his silhouette appears on the blind. It has a

            plump appearance. Some trick of the angle of the light has given him

            a docile calm shape which he, I know, never had at any time. I wonder

            does he know how public stays up there his shadow. I am standing

            here in the street to guard his shadow. But he must have turned, and     

            realised, that the sunk and plump fat copy of himself was by his

            shoulder, for he has dragged on to the window a heavy curtain. I heard

            the great wooden rings swish along the pole. There must be an inch or

            so of window open at the top to let out the sound. And now, hearing

            that so clearly, by a delusion of the senses, I think I hear the man

            turn the leaf, and I think I hear his long soft breathing, though I can’t

            see him any more, (100).

 

Yeats’s writing here is full of subtlety and drama. The man barricading himself from prying eyes after telling his story is still revealing himself; he is restoring his pride in himself and, at the same time (consciously or unconsciously) trying to erase an image of himself from public gaze, as if trying to destroy the self that has told the story. But as No Matter’s patient watchfulness makes clear, the stories one tells ensure one’s immortality in one form or another, for they live on in the minds of others and make others more sensitive and imaginative. No Matter is very much a surrogate for Jack Yeats the artist here: it would be difficult to find a better example of Yeats’s attitude to stories and memories so indirectly conveyed, so perfectly attuned to the unobtrusive normal gesture, so lacking in any obvious symbolic content.

 

It ought to be evident that the formal patterning of The charmed life is not of the kind that we could call diagrammatic; it is too atomized for that. The longer our perspective on the novel the more chaotic it will seem; it is only the events that occur in close proximity that offer us shapes and patterns. Yeats’s attempt to disarm our desire for an overview derives from a belief in, and confidence in, the smallest particles of life to sustain our interest. At the same time a general theme does emerge. It would be difficult to count how many times in the book Yeats shows us how the prose of life destroys the poetry of romance. This accounts for the strong strain of melancholy in the book, for there are moments when romance scarcely survives the cold douche of realism. The most memorable vignette of this kind occurs just prior to the tale told by the man of medium height. The ennui of provincial life is perfectly caught:

 

            At intervals, now, I am standing a little by myself, and not listening

            to any conversation. I hear the sound of a billiard ball poorly slithering

            against another. I know some young man is trying to forget himself in

            angles, and failing. (91).

 

The strength of the book is that Yeats does not dwell on misery, individual or collective. And yet for him reality is something we had better accept, more or less fatalistically, as unimprovable. As one of the unassigned voices in the strange philosophical conclusion says: ‘It’s a sad world, and I daresay if we had two goes at every day of it, we wouldn’t manage it any better.’ (277). The unchanging aspects of life are in fact the source of Yeats’s comedy and his essentially optimistic attitude to life. No Matter tells, in this connection, a cautionary tale about a woman who was always putting off the day when she would find life funny:

 

            She was a woman who never laughed. She had other plans. She

            believed until the last few years of her life, when romantic wishes died,

            that she should spend a glorious autumn in a glittering palace, surround-

            ed by wealth falling into her lap from a cornucopia long prepared for

            her by her indulgent fairy godmother. And when those years began she

            intended to laugh at all that had passed before her. (54-55).

 

How much safer it is, Yeats hints, to laugh at life as and when you can. Hence his amusement at the ridiculous etymologies of (‘Look-Out Steps,’ at the tale of ‘the Faust who had sold his soul, and then found there was a crack in the document and got it back again’ (49), and his hilarious account of how the landlord ended up calling his hotel Pride when none of the proud pendants he had planned for it proved appropriate.

 

Yeats’s vision is not, of course, a simple matter of laughing away the unpleasantness of life. It is rather a matter of believing in the present moment whatever it has in store for us. As one of the seven sages on the strand says, ‘There is no time like the present. Perhaps it is all we have the right to call time’ (262). Yeats obviously agrees: the book is written almost entirely in the present tense. Yeats knows that man will never entirely suppress his memories and his desires, but he thinks that the great present moments will prove the most enduring:

 

            he [Haggard Cheek is the unlikely character this is said of] knows that

            these moments, where his hollow cheek was lighted, by the moon’s

            round orb, will always remain with him, not as a memory, which

            one reads at will, every now and then, but as an actual figure in his

            brain, always standing by. (287).

 

Jack Yeats said that, as far as he was concerned, the artist did not so much create as assemble memories, and claimed to have written Sligo in order to jettison them. Memories, Yeats thought,5 should be allowed to flow through the mind of the novelist like water through a conduit, without any outside influence interfering with them. He fervently believed that the artist who painted or wrote what someone else had seen was a compromiser, whereas he himself as his father said of him, had ‘the habits of a man who knows his own mind.’6 W.B. went further, and called The charmed life ‘my brother’s extreme book ... He does not care that few will read it, still fewer recognise its genius; it is his book, his Faust, his pursuit of all that through its unpredictable, unarrangeable reality least resembles knowledge.’7 Those who know anything about the relationship between Jack and W.B. will know that the latter was speaking objectively, without any special sibling feeling. It is indeed a work of genius. ‘I believe all fine pictures,’ Jack Yeats wrote, ‘and fine literature too, to be fine must have some of the living ginger of life in them.’8 We have known for a long time that he painted fine pictures; surely it is time to acknowledge that he wrote fine literature as well. The charmed life has ‘the living ginger’ in it.


Notes

1 See, for example, Jack B. Yeats: a centenary gathering, (ed. R. McHugh, Dolmen Press, Dublin, 1971) 101.

2 Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1970.

3 Ah Well and And to you also in one volume, and The charmed life, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1974.

4 Dublin Magazine, XI, July-September 1936, 80-81.

5 Pyle, op. cit., 128, 139.

6 Ibid., 104, 21.

7 Ibid., 152-153.

8 Ibid., 43.