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The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspiredby Francine Prose
Synopses & Reviews
In the fascinating Lives of the Muses National Book Award finalist Francine Prose deftly and entertainingly dissects the artist-muse relationship by shifting focus to the women who inspired the genius and obsession of famous men. Many think of passivity and submission as requisite elements of the muse role, but in these nine studies Prose (Blue Angel, Bigfoot Dreams) proves that, frequently enough, an independent spirit is just as instrumental. For example: Yoko Ono, an artist in her own right, changed the course of John Lennon's music and politics; Gala Dalí maintained her own celebrity status while marketing Salvador's work; memoirist Hester Thrale's letters influenced Samuel Johnson's writing; and psychotherapist Lou Andreas-Salomé fascinated Rilke, Nietzsche, and Freud. Prose intelligently explores the nature of these multifaceted relationships and presents her findings in provocative, well-researched essays. The result is an elegant feast for thought that should appeal to artists, historians, and anyone interested in the influence that inspiration has on the creative process. Malia, Powells.com
In a brilliant, wry, and provocative new book, National Book Award finalist Francine Prose explores the complex relationship between the artist and his muse. In so doing, she illuminates with great sensitivity and intelligence the elusive emotional wellsprings of the creative process.
There is no ideal muse, but rather as many variations on the theme as there are individual women who have had the luck, or misfortune, to find their destiny conjoined with that of a particular artist. What are we to make of the relationship between the child Alice Liddell, who inspired Alice in Wonderland, and the Oxford don who became Lewis Carroll? Or the so-called serial muse, Lou Andreas-Salomé, who captivated Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud—as impressive a list as any muse can boast? Salvador Dalí was the only artist to sign his art with his muse's name, and Gala Dalí certainly knew how to market her artist and his work while simultaneously burnishing her own image and celebrity.
Lou, Gala, and Yoko Ono all defy the feminist stereotype of the muse as a passive beauty put on a pedestal and oppressed by a male artist. However, it's rare to find an artist and muse who are genuine partners, true collaborators, such as ballerina Suzanne Farrell and choreographer George Balanchine.
What do the nine muses chosen by Francine Prose have in common? They were all beautiful, or sexy, or gifted with some more unconventional appeal. All loved, and were loved by, their artists, and inspired them with an intensity of emotion akin to Eros. For these artists, the love of—or for—their muses provided an essential element required for the melding of talent and technique necessary to create art.
"The central conceit of this book, the presentation of nine chapters, each of which presents a bio-sketch of a different woman who served as the inspiration to a famed male artist, reads as literary voyeurism, the aesthete's version of 'The Jerry Springer Show' or 'Dr. Phil.' Prose highlights the tumultuous and dysfunctional relationship between artist and muse (a power dynamic, to be sure, in which the always feminine muse's talents, interests, and desires are subservient to those of the artist for whose work she provides fodder). It is a fast-paced, entertaining read, but the stereotypes in which it engages, and the easy assumptions and moral clarity with which it judges the relationships that it portrays, also make The Lives of the Muses a guilty pleasure. The book's introduction considers the multiple definitions of a muse before falling back on a standard but limited notion of female victimhood. One wishes that Prose would have complicated the notion of a 'muse' by considering relationships in which a man inspired (or supported) a woman in her artistry, same-sex muse/ artist relationships (one thinks of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein or Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf), or those in which both (or several) members of a relationship served as both artist and muse, as with Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Such an approach may have provided a more satisfying understanding of the complex psychology of 'inspiration' and its relationship to the realization of works of art." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
In this bestselling finalist for the National Book Award, Prose explores the lives of such noted artists as Lewis Carroll, George Balanchine, and John Lennon, and the women who inspired their greatest achievements. Photos.
About the Author
Francine Prose is the critically acclaimed author of nineteen novels, including the National Book Award Finalist Blue Angel and My New American Life. She has written three other novels for young adults: After, winner of the California Young Reader Medal, an IRA/CBC Young Adults' Choice, and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age; Bullyville, a PW Best Book and Book Sense Children's Pick; and her most recent, Touch. She is also the author of two picture books, Leopold, the Liar of Leipzig and Rhino, Rhino, Sweet Potato. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, Francine Prose was Director's Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She lives in New York City.
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