Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Woman Called Horniman

Annie Horniman
William Butler Yeats was in his mid-twenties, living in London, had joined the Isis-Urania Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, when he met a rich older lady, who fell in love with him. The feeling was not mutual, but she pursued him the way he pursued Maud Gonne, and he benefitted financially from the relationship.

Annie Horniman was known as one of the 'Grand Dames' of 1890s London, though she would probably be called a 'cougar' today because she had a thing for young male artists. Today, we remember her primarily for her contributions to the world of theatre, most of which were made in pursuit of Yeats.

Of course, she loved theatre for the theatre as well. Her father thought is was sinful, but, when she was fourteen, her German governess secretly brought her and her mother to a production of the Merchant of Venice, which left a big impression on young Horniman. Her rebellious nature didn't end there. She supported women's suffrage, wore flamboyant clothing, smoked cigarettes in public, and somehow earned the nickname 'Hornibags.'

Horniman also pursued alternative religions, which is how she met Yeats through the Hermetic Order.

Charming young William Butler Yeats
According to William Michael Murphy in Family Secrets: William Butler Yeats and His Relatives (1995):
[Horniman] shared [Yeats'] interest in occult studies and in the drama and provided the financial help necessary for the staging of one of his early plays. She was a strait-laced, opinionated, righteous woman with a high opinion of her own talents that was shared by nobody who knew her. She possessed on deficiency in the pursuit of her dreams: she hated the Irish People, like many English middle-class possessors of inherited wealth believing herself inherently superior to the unwashed peasants who lived across the Irish Sea. She pursued Yeats as zealously as he pursued Maud Gonne, and with as much success. But because of her persistence she was to become one of the most influential participants in the formation of an Irish Theatre.
The theatre referred to there is the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

In founding the Abbey, Yeats made an enemy out of Horniman. She invested a significant portion of her inheritance into the project, but he left her out of the circle of power (maybe because it was an Irish theatre project, and she hated the Irish). Consequently, Yeats wasn't the only young artist in her life. According to Murphy, Horniman's money gave her a sense of superiority over the young people she pursued, as they became increasingly dependent on her.

James Agate, a theatre critic, once said that her high-minded theatrical ventures had "an air of gloomy strenuousness" about them, but they are what won her honour and acclaim. She is one of the very few people to have both joined an occult society, and still have been awarded the Companion of Honour, which she earned in 1933.

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