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.
"Rollicking....Almost too much fun to read." Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air/NPR
"A supple work of cultural history." Time magazine
"Smooth, smart, and altogether engaging." Atlanta Journal Constitution
"The strongest essays here...pointedly refute the notion that the role of the muse is a passive one, and offer in its place a complicated vision of the necessary contradictions of artistic life....the book's achievement is its quiet reëvaluation of the received notion that genius is solitary in nature." The New Yorker
"Exceptionally well researched...an elegant study." BookForum
"The success of this study is grounded in Prose's appreciation of love's varieties and the strangeness of others....Can we ever understand the trajectory from an artist's life to the work of art? Is it a passageway or a fusion? Is longing needed to force creativity?...This exhilarating study realizes the force of creativity in unlikely alliances, some sexual, some pure passion of another kind." Gillian Beer, The Times Literary Supplement
(read the entire Times Literary Supplement review
All loved, and were loved by, their artists, and inspired them with an intensity of emotion akin to Eros.
In a brilliant, wry, and provocative 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.
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 author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City.