Much Labouring

The Texts and Authors of Yeats's First Modernist Books
David Holdeman
Explores Yeats's engagement with issues of gender and class.


With a career stretching from the last years of the nineteenth century well into the 1930s, William Butler Yeats is perceived as a key figure in the transition from Romanticism to modernism in English literature. In Much Labouring David Holdeman opens up new paths of thinking about Yeats's modernism by paying close attention to the production of his early books as well as to their publication histories.

Two characteristics stand out in Yeats's career. First, there was his intricate interaction with collaborators, including his sister E. C. Yeats, to produce fine books in which the deliberate use of the page created meaningful relationships among the poems. These collaborative works revealed tangled ideological commitments to Irish cultural nationalism, to women's emancipation, and to wealthy book collectors. Second, there was Yeats's attachment to pervasive, repeated revision of his own work--the struggle to extend his authority over its reception.

Yet without an understanding of how publishers compromised Yeats's intentions in order to capitalize on the success of his early work, the richness of these characteristics is lost, and Yeats's image flattened. Holdeman restores to the picture a sense of the textual processes that qualify Yeats's perceived ideological commitments, giving a fuller understanding of what the poet was up to.

Although Much Labouring will particularly interest students of modernism, the uncommon significance of Yeats's textual experiments suggests new perspectives on interpretive and editorial theories and practices generally.

David Holdeman is Assistant Professor of English, University of North Texas.

Praise / Awards

  • "Meticulously written, Much Labouring: The Texts and Authors of Yeats's First Modernist Books is based on extensive archival research and a solid grounding in both editorial and literary theory. . . . [T]he study on the whole is a forceful demonstration of some of the ways in which the new dispensation in textual theory can generate important and fresh critical insights, not only about Yeats but also about a host of writers, particularly modernists. With this volume David Holdeman has clearly established himself as an important voice in both Yeats studies and textual scholarship."
    --Bibliographical Society of America, Volume 93, No. 3 (1999)
  • ". . . a useful book . . . and he has provoked a number of important questions."
    --English Literature in Transition 1880-1920
  • "Holdeman's attention to textual production and bibliographic codes does not preclude his presentation of beautifully intricate readings of individual poems which he explores in the context of their contribution to the volume as a whole, to Yeats's poetic projects as they evolved over his career, and to the critical tradition and its reception of those projects. By focusing very concretely on Yeats's revision practices, Holdeman is able to suggest far-reaching implications for how we might understand the textual practices of other modernists and how these textual practices might provide a welcome disturbance in our understanding of the modernist movement. Holdeman's contributions add welcome contour to accounts of modernism's goals and effects as a literary movement responsive to its cultural and social contexts."
    --South Central Review

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 272pp.
  • 26 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1998
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10851-0

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  • $84.95 U.S.