Pseudonym of Irish writer and painter George William Russell (1867-1935), a colleague of William Butler Yeats, with whom he helped found the Dublin Lodge of the Theosophical Society (see Theosophy). On the title page of his first book, Homeward (coll 1894), Russell attempted to have printed the word AEON, the name of an eternal entity in the Pantheon of Gnosticism; by printer's error this was rendered Æ. The tales assembled in The Mask of Apollo, and Other Stories (coll 1904) are mystical in effect, but as watery as his sketches and paintings, which often explicitly depict the Sidhe (see Fairies). At the same time, his best work as a writer and painter conveyed a sense of some imminent revelation of Being that is characteristic of the Gnostic imagination; it is a feeling akin to Sehnsucht, and in its expression – however fleeting – A E reached his apogee as an artist. His novels – The Interpreters (1922) and The Avatars: A Futurist Fantasy (1933) – can with some difficulty be read as philosophical sf (see SFE), but his essential bent of mind was far from materialist. Although The Avatars is set in the future, its speculative content is governed by, not any analysis of the course of history, but a deep (though mildly expressed) longing for a world which has awoken into Being. The Gods who inhabit his work are inhabitants of that world.
The long introduction by Monk Gibbon to The Living Torch (coll 1937), a posthumous volume of essays, is adulatory but informed. Along with his own works, AE deserves recognition for his influence on other writers: he discovered James Stephens, and James Joyce acknowledged his influence by using him as a character in Ulysses (1921). [JC]
George William Russell