The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired Hardcover – 1 Sep 2002
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'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 Man, Blue 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 Yorker, Harper’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
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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."