In the fascinating Lives of the Muses
National Book Award finalist Francine
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
) 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
Synopses & Reviews
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)
“Packed with fascinating details.” Columbus Dispatch
“Richly drawn … Prose approaches the artist-muse relationship with respect and wonder.” Gotham Magazine
“Prose has done a great service in her just reconsideration of the rather strange, complicated role of the muse.” San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Francine Prose humanizes nine women who, in some cases, have been idealized beyond recognition. Hurrah for real women.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Prose make a remarkable case for the exceptionality of these women in their own right.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Smooth smart and altogether engaging.” Atlanta Journal Constitution
“Refreshing … a wonderful work of revisionist biography.” Kirkus Reviews
“Rollicking … Almost too much fun to read.” Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“A wonderful combination of argument and literary portraiture.” Wall Street Journal
“Sad, glamorous and entirely riveting.” Newsweek
“Entertaining … Proses indignation, intelligence, scorching wit and critical insight have full play.” Washington Post Book World
“Lively and compassionate” Entertainment Weekly
“A remarkable book...piquant, intelligent, provocative--and sometimes haunting.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Prose taps into the power of nine in this inspired book.” Art News
“Exceptionally well researched … an elegant study.” Book Forum
“With elegance, eloquence and majesty, Prose has give us a glimpse of the tangled webs of art and Eros.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Juicy reading …. a thoroughly researched, highly opinionated series of fascinating double biographies.” Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Stylish writing … a clear-eyed view .. cherry-picked examples.” USA Today
“A supple work of cultural history.” Time magazine
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.