When Olivia Shakespear introduced her ex-lover, W.B. Yeats, to her niece-by-marriage, Georgie, in London in 1917 she knew he was looking for a young wife and hoped they would be compatible. From Olivia’s point of view it would be very advantageous to be related to Yeats, and her niece would have a famous respected elderly husband who was expected to earn more during his lifetime. She might inherit from him and marry again when he died. If she had children, even only one boy, she would be taken care of financially for the rest of her life.
Georgie was attractive, well off and well brought up, with a cut-glass English accent. She shared Yeats’ interests in literature, poetry and avant-garde writers, spoke three languages, could translate from Latin, and had learnt astrological rituals and how to read horoscopic charts in great detail. Her social manners were polished and she had worked for the Red Cross. Ezra Pound had just become her brother-in–law by marrying Dorothy Shakespear, now that his year-long affair with Iseult Gonne was over. There seemed to be no need for hesitation. Yeats and Georgie were married in haste; there was no need to invite guests to Harrow Road Registry Office at 11.20 on 20th October 1917.
Yeats married Georgie because by 1917 he needed a wife’s income and an heir, not because he wanted to marry her personally. He did it reluctantly, unwilling to give up his bachelor life as a free spirit, renowned poet and professional charmer. Georgie married him because she idolised him. She was curious about sex; though not enamoured of children, she was capable doing what was necessary. Moreover she was already twenty-five which counted as ‘on the shelf’, and she had no other serious marital prospects.
Like Georgie, Yeats had lived at many addresses as a youngster and his family had constantly moved on, because of poverty rather than alcoholism, so he shared her craving for stability and putting a gloss over failures. He had developed masks to obscure his own feelings, either theatrical with the Abbey Theatre or poetry recitals, or astrological with the Golden Dawn. He was used to expressing his feelings with honesty and tact. On the other hand Georgie – after her marriage she made her name masculine – was not used to being honest about her father’s alcoholism, or her mother’s and grandmother’s constant adulteries; she was instead very used to being silent and hiding evidence.
The marriage was harmonious in most respects, but not sexually. They were not in love. Georgie was an excellent housekeeper, astrologer and personal secretary and was well liked at a certain distance by her new relatives. However on the honeymoon she cast an horary to ask “...perche noi siamo infelice.” (why we are unhappy). Within two years Yeats had started his affair with Lily. He must have assumed that Georgie would understand him taking another lover, as this was her mother’s and grandmother’s tradition.
Ann Saddlemyer in her acclaimed biography of Georgie Yeats states that Yeats’ wife involved herself in all aspects of his professional life. After their marriage Georgie began ’automatic writing’ whilst in trance. This was always done privately while Yeats was present, never otherwise. She helped to write his long poem ‘The Vision’ and many others. “Mrs Yeats has continued to occupy a curious position ... it is generally known that her hand wrote many of the ideas...” in Yeats’ works. She became in effect the editor of his works. Hardly surprising then that only she wrote about what happened during the time that they were married, never Yeats himself.