“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, June 25, 1921, Berkshire, England; Dundrum, Dublin; and Manhattan, New York City, New York

Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, just turned 56, living in Berkshire, England, with his pregnant wife, is convinced that he has finally gotten his father to agree.

His Dad, painter John Butler “JB” Yeats, 82, has been living in New York City for 13 years. He went over on holiday and just decided to stay. Despite constant entreaties from his son and daughters.

Yeats’ friend, Irish-American lawyer John Quinn, 51, has been looking out for JB, but he’s running out of patience with the older man’s demands. And, with a baby on the way, Willie can’t afford to keep covering Dad’s expenses.

Willie has issued an ultimatum and Quinn is booking JB passage back to Ireland for this fall.

*****

Yeats’ sister Lolly, 53, a publisher and teacher, is thrilled that Dad will be coming to live with her and her sister Lily, 54, an embroiderer, in the Dundrum suburb of south Dublin. They have painted his room and bought him a new bed and mattress.

Lily Yeats at Bedford Park by JB Yeats

Yesterday Lolly wrote to assure her father that in the intervening 13 years, his daughters have changed. They’re no longer irritable and over-tired, and they look forward to just sitting and chatting with him. Their brother, Willie, however, is wondering whether Dad will be able to stick to a curfew.

*****

However.

In Manhattan, JB Yeats is in no humor to go back to his family.

He has just read parts of Willie’s family memoir, “Four Years,” scheduled to appear in The Dial literary magazine. Dad has a big problem with at least one item in the text. Back when the family lived in the Bedford Park neighborhood of West London, young Willie left for two weeks to do some research in Oxford. In the memoir he describes the family as “enraged” at his absence.

Yeats’ family home in Bedford Park

Not the way Dad recalls it. He remembers the loving family being supportive of this overgrown teenager.

Yesterday he wrote to Willie,

As to Lily and Lollie, they were too busy to be ‘enraged’ about anything. Lily working all day…, and Lolly dashing about giving lectures on picture painting and earning close on 300 pounds a year…while both gave all their earnings to the house. And besides all this work, of course, they did the housekeeping and had to contrive things and see to things for their invalid mother…”

He admonishes his son for choosing a career writing plays and establishing Dublin’s Abbey Theatre with Lady Augusta Gregory, 69, and other friends. If he were a good son he would have collaborated with his artist-father, and thereby helped both their careers.

And by the way, Dad isn’t coming back.

The W. B. Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project, a community-led arts/education charity, is working to install a major contemporary sculpture, the first ever honouring Yeats in Britain, at the former Yeats family home. Find out more here

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I am talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at the University of Pittsburgh. This fall, at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University, I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London before the Great War.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats.

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