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The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired Hardcover – 1 Sep 2002

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 1 edition (Sept. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060196726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060196721
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 3.4 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,808,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Smart, sympathetic, and keenly observed'

(New York Times)

'The subject is one of endless fascination'

(Literary Review)

'Polished and pleasurable'

(Guardian)

'A joy to read'

(Daily Telegraph)

'Racy, pithy... a delight'

(Independent) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

FRANCINE PROSE is the author of more than fourteen novels, including Goldengrove, A Changed ManBlue Angel (a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award), and, most recently, My New American Life, and the bestseller Reading Like A Writer. A distinguished critic and essayist, she has written for The New YorkerHarper’s, The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine and has taught literature and writing for more than twenty years at major universities. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, among them the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edith Wharton Achievement Award for Literature, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, and is a past president of PEN American Center. She lives in New York City.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I believe it was Thomas Edison who said, "Genius is 1 % inspiration and 99 % perspiration". Nobody really wants to see the sweaty part...it's boring for us, and hard work for the artist. However, we are all fascinated by where that all-important 1 % comes from. To a large extent, it's ethereal and mysterious. But one concrete thing we know is important, and which the non-artist can also understand (since it's universal), is love. But, as Ms. Prose knows, and makes clear to the reader, it's still a mystery how love (and the pain of lost love) gets transmuted into art. I think one of the reasons this book works so well is that Ms. Prose is, herself, a creative artist...a well-regarded author of fiction. She has a lot of fun with human foibles...they are her stock-in-trade. She can be amusing (yes, pun intended!) and bitingly satirical. She knows that artists can be childish, self-centered and irresponsible. They can use other people, consciously and unconsciously, as grist for the creative mill. But Ms. Prose can also be sympathetic because, like everyone else, artists are "only human". Sometimes they just can't help themselves! Of course, artists can get away with a lot more than "regular" people...if they are perceived as having a touch of genius. So, we get to read about rude behavior, drug use (experimentation and addiction), alcoholism, promiscuity and assorted sexual hangups. We have artists using muses for their purposes...sex and as catalysts of creativity...and we have muses using artists for their purposes...to provide a sense of purpose, to learn from the artist and, sometimes, just for the pot of gold the muse can see waiting at the end of the rainbow. Ms. Prose doesn't just give us the "dish"...though there is plenty of that: Dr.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book is extremely pleasurable to read, not only for the fascinating subject matter, but for the author's great command of the research and written English.
Without prematurely passing judgement with a pre-determined moralistic or ethical position, the author explores the relationship of artist-muse using their own rules. Even her examination of the John Lennon-Yoko Ono relationship (usually the most trite, and exhausted of all writing about muses) is refreshing in that it doesn't fully assume which partner was the muse, and offers a critical look at the bad behavior of Lennon.
Fascinating in the portraits too, was the notion of the 'serial-muse' Gala and Alice developed extraordinary relationships with numerous highly important artists, to whom these women offered the kind of fascination that could completely destroy a career or reputation in the 21st century.
I wasn't aware of the full extent of Lewis Carroll's obsessions, the book has changed my perception forever about the seductive lure of the imagined realm.
You can tell the author is adaptable, probably because of experience in novels, she has the ability to immerse the reader into the narrative.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fascinating from an artistic perspective as well as a psychological, relationship angle. Well written and an easy read, thoroughly recommended and full of surprises as well as insight.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa1c71a74) out of 5 stars 29 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fdb5cc0) out of 5 stars A Brilliant, Provocative and Delightful Book 25 Oct. 2003
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Muse" is a concept that brings to mind lovely women inspiring incredible works of art, literature and philosophy. The nine Greek muses embodied a liminal space somewhere between the realm of humans and the realm of gods. But what about those famous (and infamous) human muses who have inspired the creative works of some of the most revered artists? In THE LIVES OF THE MUSES, Francine Prose explores the idea of the mortal muses and the artists who relied on them. She asks questions about their own creative impulses and their identities, both in relation to their artists and alone.
Prose examines nine muses, some obvious in their muse-hood such as Suzanne Farrell and Alice Liddell and other controversial figures like Gala Dali and Yoko Ono. Several are tragic figures and several are quite mysterious. And all have a unique and interesting biography, beautifully and honestly rendered by Prose. Prose's exploration of these nine muses is arranged in roughly chronological order. Each section gives readers insight into the life of the muse and the man (or men) she inspired. And each tale raises new and often difficult questions: Must a muse always be a woman? Must the muse always inspire a man? Is the muse's role active or passive? Does it always have a sexual component? And can a muse successfully maintain her own artistic identity and remain a muse?
THE LIVES OF THE MUSES begins with Hester Thrale, muse of English writer Samuel Johnson. An intelligent and outspoken woman, Thrale was married to another man, yet was a companion of Johnson for many decades. While it is unclear whether or not their relationship was sexual, it was intellectually passionate and for many years she acted as his caretaker. Their witty exchanges were famous and his letters to her reveal an emotional dependency and a creative debt. Their friendship was all but ruined when, after being widowed, she married another man Johnson did not approve of. Thrale is a prime example of a muse intellectually equal to her artist; in fact, she was an accomplished writer herself.
Other muses discussed by Prose are a bit more problematic. Take for instance Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. There is much speculation about the relationship between this little girl and this grown man. Prose is mostly concerned, however, with how Liddell functioned as a muse; in what ways she inspired and encouraged. The case of Alice Liddell raises questions about whether or not the artist always sees (or appreciates) the muse for who she really is as a person. The relationship between painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth Siddal demonstrates that the muse often loses her own identity in the one that the artist (and thus the audience) assigns her.
Each of the nine woman examined in this wonderfully written book is interesting on her own. But collected together, their stories and lives speak to larger and more philosophical themes. Prose does a good job of not letting the subject get away from her. The book is focused and well crafted, posing interesting questions and suggesting (though not insisting on) thoughtful answers. THE LIVES OF THE MUSES is so readable, entertaining and original it is truly hard to put down.
Not quite biography, not quite gender studies or philosophy, but something unique and enjoyable, Prose's delightful book will satisfy readers of all tastes. Prose will have readers rethinking the concept of "muse" altogether.
...
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f5217b0) out of 5 stars More Biography than Philosophy 14 Sept. 2003
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I almost didnt buy this book. There were mixed reviews and the general tone of the negative reviews were that the book was superficial or possibly inaccurate. Well I bought the book in spite of those warnings. I am very glad I did. To begin with Prose has done an outstanding job of weaving together 9 separate and unique lives. She does not claim to have written the definitive work on artistic influence or motivation. She did not claim to corner the market on thoughts of Eros and Art. What she did was describe nine woman and the artists they inspired. It was clear from her references and asides that she had done research on far more than these women. She freely borrowed from other muses and interests in other relationships and wove together not only nine separate stories but craftily connected them into a thread that takes us from the most simple and reticent muse -- Alice Liddell to a modern woman artist whose own identity and influence is lost in the artist and his in hers, not always in a positive way -- Yoko Ono. I found that Prose walks briskly through each life but also is telling us a greater story. A story of feminine influence and the evolving way women have been viewed as muses, lovers, artists and people. Often I stopped to examine or reexamine an artist or their work. As Prose opens a new semiotic eye on a work, she looks not from the reader's perspective of the work, but from the artist's perspective and intent. Not so much to say what the artist was trying to describe to the viewer, but why he was creating it at all. I can't say if Prose' work is accurate or inaccurate. I dont know enough of these lives. I do know that I have a new perspective on some of the artists and a desire to learn more of these women and their influence. Buy it and read it.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fdaeeb8) out of 5 stars Men (And Muses) Behaving (Mostly) Badly... 31 Oct. 2002
By Bruce Loveitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I believe it was Thomas Edison who said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Nobody really wants to see the sweaty part...it's boring for us, and hard work for the artist. However, we are all fascinated by where that all-important 1% comes from. To a large extent, it's ethereal and mysterious. But one concrete thing we know is important, and which the non-artist can also understand (since it's universal), is love. But, as Ms. Prose knows, and makes clear to the reader, it's still a mystery how love (and the pain of lost love) gets transmuted into art. I think one of the reasons this book works so well is that Ms. Prose is, herself, a creative artist.....a well-regarded author of fiction. She has a lot of fun with human foibles....they are her stock and trade. She can be amusing (yes, pun intended!) and bitingly satirical. She knows that artists can be childish, self-centered and irresponsible. They can use other people, consciously and unconsciously, as grist for the creative mill. But Ms. Prose can also be sympathetic because, like everyone else, artists are "only human." Sometimes they just can't help themselves! Of course, artists can get away with a lot more than "regular" people....if they are perceived as having a touch of genius. So, we get to read about rude behavior, drug use (experimentation and addiction), alcoholism, promiscuity and assorted sexual hangups. We have artists using muses for their purposes.....sex and as catalysts of creativity....and we have muses using artists for their purposes...to provide a sense of purpose, to learn from the artist and, sometimes, just for the pot of gold the muse can see waiting at the end of the rainbow. Ms. Prose doesn't just give us the "dish"....though there is plenty of that: Dr. Johnson's apparent penchant for masochism......his muse, amongst her effects, had "Dr. Johnson's padlock"; Salvador Dali's weird obsession with his bodily functions; Lee Miller (Man Ray's muse) being photographed, in the nude, from childhood to adulthood by her father, etc. (By the time you get to the end of the book you start to wonder if there is really any such thing as being "normal"!) Ms. Prose does, however, move onwards to more philosophical realms: the mystery of creation and the limits to what we can know about the creative process; duality (the muse as artist and the artist as muse- such as Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine and John Lennon and Yoko Ono); the fact that a muse can be both a positive and negative influence (Gala's providing Dali with inspiration but also steering him towards commercialism; the decline in John Lennon's creativity after his marriage to Yoko Ono); what happens when the muse leaves? (sometimes the artist gets another muse.....sometimes there is a burst of creativity caused by the breakup.....sometimes the creative juices dry up), etc. All in all, this is a witty, wistful, thoughtful and thought provoking look at not just the creative process but at the human condition.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fdaebac) out of 5 stars A very interesting look at very interesting people 10 Dec. 2002
By Nancy Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book as a birthday present for my daughter based on a review in the NYTimes. I started reading it before I wrapped it and could hardly put it down. Her father started too and we followed each other around the house reading it out loud to each other. At the birthday party, others there started in reading it and then reading it out loud to everyone. I did not know much about most of these women and less than I realized about the artist. A wonderful book, one of the best this year!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fdaf224) out of 5 stars Discovering What it Means to be a Muse 3 Jan. 2003
By Cynthia Sue Larson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
THE LIVES OF THE MUSES examines how eight women (Hester Thrale, Elizabeth Siddal, Lou Andreas-Salome, Gala Dali, Lee Miller, Charis Weston, Suzanne Farrell, and Yoko Ono) and one little girl (Alice Liddell) provided essential inspiration to their artist companions. While artistic inspiration can come from many sources (music, fasting, prayer, meditation, romantic love), Francine Prose's book examines the romantic kind of artistic inspiration which arises between men and women -- with men typically playing the role of artist to the woman's role of muse.
And who, exactly, is a muse? Francine Prose writes, "The muse is often that person with whom the artist has the animated imaginary conversations, the interior dialogues we all conduct, most commonly with someone we cannot get out of our minds." Francine Prose delves into some of the most intimate details of the muses' and artists' sexual lives, yet never loses touch with the vision of her book as a guidepost to better understanding the art of being a muse. While muses are chosen by artists, and therefore seemingly have no ability to chart muse-dom as a career path for themselves, they appear to share certain qualities with one another. For one thing, many muses have been intensely disliked by their contemporaries -- perhaps because people can intuitively sense that there is an unusually strong bond of love between an artist and his muse.
If the subject of this book at times makes one feel uncomfortable, that is no doubt due to the fact that the interaction between artists and muses take people to the very greatest emotional heights and depths. The passions felt between artists and their muses are so tremendous that they sometimes provoke people's behavior to go completely out-of-control... yet these same passions present artists with some of their greatest sources of inspiration. Francine Prose's extraordinary book, THE LIVES OF THE MUSES, shows us a unique vision of how artists' lives are shaped and driven by the love and inspiration of their muses. It is the gift of the muse to offer her artist "that rare and precious spark ignited by genius and passion."
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