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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.

Topics: Art & Artists, Creativity, Writing, Love, Photography, Models, Women in History, Inspirational, Romantic, Essays, and Writers

Published: HarperCollins on Mar 17, 2009
ISBN: 9780061748509
List price: $9.99
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I hoped that this book would give me some insight into the appeal of musehood - did these women seek to become muses, were they frustrated artists, were they as passive as we imagine a Muse must be?Frustratingly, this book answered few of my questions. The first chapter deals with the relationship between Hester Thrale and Dr Johnson. Thrale was well-educated for a woman of her time, but still married off at the relatively young age of 22, after which she was almost constantly pregnant until her husband died. The majority of her children died at appallingly young ages. She was, nevertheless, spirited, highly intelligent, independent and resourceful. She married a second time, for love, in spite of Dr Johnson's (and nearly everyone else's) disapproval.Having begun the book with a woman who, if not an artist in her own right, was certainly no passive doll, Prose then gives us a rather uncomfortable chapter on Alice Liddell. Whether or not Charles Dodgson's interest was sexual, I find it almost impossible to read about how Dodgson catalogued his 'girl-friends' (108 in 1863) with an entirely easy mind. Prose's conclusion, that in Alice and the other girls he found "a vision of...his own vanished childhood", seems to me at best an over-simplification. At worst, it feels that Prose, in her eagerness to counteract all those accusations of paedophilia against Dodgson, has gone out of her way to paint Dodgson as innocent, Alice as the manipulative schemer. She sits uneasily with the other eight muses presented in this book, all of whom were, at least, old enough to know what they were getting into.Her chapter on Elizabeth Siddal does reveal some interesting analysis, particularly the correspondences between Dante/Beatrice and Dante Gabriel/Elizabeth. She is fairly scathing about Siddal's artistic abilities, but hardly less so about Rossetti's. What I object to is the way she refers to Siddal throughout the book as 'poor Lizzie', thereby making a victim out of her. She does make one attempt to show that Siddal was actually quite witty and an acute observer, but ultimately seems bent on portraying her as the quintessential victim. Certainly, Siddal's life was pretty tragic, but that's not quite the same thing as being a natural victim.The portrait of Gala Dali is pretty much standard fare. Both Salvador and Gala were money-obsessed and unusual, difficult people. To her credit, Prose does point out that those who find the ageing Gala's sexual appetite for young men repulsive are probably the same people who shrug off - or even find admirable - the sexual exploits of the elderly Picasso.Although Prose seems to think that the muse is almost inevitably female, and the artist equally inevitably male, she does suggest that musedom can be a two-way process. She uses ballerina Suzanne Farrell as her example. "Consequently, the paradox of Suzanne Farrell's career as a muse involves both her rare willingness to be termed a muse and an equally uncommon situation in which the artist and his muse were genuine partners, true collaborators. In fact, both were artists of extraordinary stature..." Farrell also comes across as a well-balanced, 'nice' person, which is more than can be said for some of the women in this book. Charis Weston comes across as singularly humourless and is presented as somewhat self-deluded (although extracts from Weston's memoir suggests that any self-delusion was largely willed). Then again, the male artists don't come out of it much better - Prose is scathing about the 'talents' of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Weston, and apears less than enthusiastic about the art of Salvador Dali.Prose's ambivalence towards Yoko Ono is fairly typical of the book. She admits to finding Ono's art 'annoying', and suggests various ways in which she was positively detrimental to Lennon's work. On the other hand, she acknowledges that "Yoko's presence merely seems to have given John the courage to take a step that was, by then, inevitable".To be fair, many of these portraits are well-written and easy to read. And if Prose's opinions sometimes seem half-baked or wrong-headed, she's spot-on when she talks about beautiful but - above all - talented Lee Miller :-"Lee Miller...used her trained Surrealist's eye in her work as a courageous World War II photojournalist...To track Lee Miller's coverage of the war is to watch a muse discover her muse in the violence and horror of genocide and battle - and take an astonishing number of brilliant and lamentably undervalued photographs, underrated in part because of her beauty and her legend competed with, and detracted from, the seriousness of her accomplishment."I would imagine that many more people are familiar with Man Ray's photographs of Lee Miller than with Miller's shocking, and important, photographs taken (for Vogue, of all things!) of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. Miller's beauty and status as muse are unquestionable. If readers of this book gain nothing more than an appreciation of her talent and importance as a first-rate photographer, then I'm happy. [Sept 2005]read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A decent execution of a fantastic subject: the lives of women who figured into famous works of art. Of the nine biographical sketches, I preferred those that deal with the artists I know best: Ms. Thrale and Dr. Johnson is excellent, and perhaps the best is the sad case of Lewis Carrol and his Alice. A lot of the modern examples were out of my range and I hardly remember a thing about them.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In the book, Francine Prose has chosen to write about nine muses throughout the late 19th and 20th century’s. Women such as Gala Dali, Suzanne Farrell, Yoko Ono and Lou Andreas-Salome are presented in a haphazard examination of the years they spent with the artists who found them to be inspirational. In some cases the reader is plopped into a muses life at the time of meeting her artist then suddenly taken back to her childhood, back to her artist, only to time travel to her death or divorce and finally back to her life with the artist. This style proved to be very uneven and perplexing. Thus, I rarely felt any connection to either the artist or his muse and their attributes were often one dimensional.This collection does, however, supply some interesting information on Charles Dodgson and Salvadore Dali, information which was new to me but maybe known to others.After, finally, completing The Lives of the Muses I realized why I began this book so many years ago and put it aside. For one, the writing is as dry as my skin in January. Secondly, in some cases, I simply can’t understand why these pairs were chosen when so little was accomplished by the artist during their moment with their muse. Either their best work was behind them or to come, in which case the muse was sometimes given credit.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

I hoped that this book would give me some insight into the appeal of musehood - did these women seek to become muses, were they frustrated artists, were they as passive as we imagine a Muse must be?Frustratingly, this book answered few of my questions. The first chapter deals with the relationship between Hester Thrale and Dr Johnson. Thrale was well-educated for a woman of her time, but still married off at the relatively young age of 22, after which she was almost constantly pregnant until her husband died. The majority of her children died at appallingly young ages. She was, nevertheless, spirited, highly intelligent, independent and resourceful. She married a second time, for love, in spite of Dr Johnson's (and nearly everyone else's) disapproval.Having begun the book with a woman who, if not an artist in her own right, was certainly no passive doll, Prose then gives us a rather uncomfortable chapter on Alice Liddell. Whether or not Charles Dodgson's interest was sexual, I find it almost impossible to read about how Dodgson catalogued his 'girl-friends' (108 in 1863) with an entirely easy mind. Prose's conclusion, that in Alice and the other girls he found "a vision of...his own vanished childhood", seems to me at best an over-simplification. At worst, it feels that Prose, in her eagerness to counteract all those accusations of paedophilia against Dodgson, has gone out of her way to paint Dodgson as innocent, Alice as the manipulative schemer. She sits uneasily with the other eight muses presented in this book, all of whom were, at least, old enough to know what they were getting into.Her chapter on Elizabeth Siddal does reveal some interesting analysis, particularly the correspondences between Dante/Beatrice and Dante Gabriel/Elizabeth. She is fairly scathing about Siddal's artistic abilities, but hardly less so about Rossetti's. What I object to is the way she refers to Siddal throughout the book as 'poor Lizzie', thereby making a victim out of her. She does make one attempt to show that Siddal was actually quite witty and an acute observer, but ultimately seems bent on portraying her as the quintessential victim. Certainly, Siddal's life was pretty tragic, but that's not quite the same thing as being a natural victim.The portrait of Gala Dali is pretty much standard fare. Both Salvador and Gala were money-obsessed and unusual, difficult people. To her credit, Prose does point out that those who find the ageing Gala's sexual appetite for young men repulsive are probably the same people who shrug off - or even find admirable - the sexual exploits of the elderly Picasso.Although Prose seems to think that the muse is almost inevitably female, and the artist equally inevitably male, she does suggest that musedom can be a two-way process. She uses ballerina Suzanne Farrell as her example. "Consequently, the paradox of Suzanne Farrell's career as a muse involves both her rare willingness to be termed a muse and an equally uncommon situation in which the artist and his muse were genuine partners, true collaborators. In fact, both were artists of extraordinary stature..." Farrell also comes across as a well-balanced, 'nice' person, which is more than can be said for some of the women in this book. Charis Weston comes across as singularly humourless and is presented as somewhat self-deluded (although extracts from Weston's memoir suggests that any self-delusion was largely willed). Then again, the male artists don't come out of it much better - Prose is scathing about the 'talents' of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Weston, and apears less than enthusiastic about the art of Salvador Dali.Prose's ambivalence towards Yoko Ono is fairly typical of the book. She admits to finding Ono's art 'annoying', and suggests various ways in which she was positively detrimental to Lennon's work. On the other hand, she acknowledges that "Yoko's presence merely seems to have given John the courage to take a step that was, by then, inevitable".To be fair, many of these portraits are well-written and easy to read. And if Prose's opinions sometimes seem half-baked or wrong-headed, she's spot-on when she talks about beautiful but - above all - talented Lee Miller :-"Lee Miller...used her trained Surrealist's eye in her work as a courageous World War II photojournalist...To track Lee Miller's coverage of the war is to watch a muse discover her muse in the violence and horror of genocide and battle - and take an astonishing number of brilliant and lamentably undervalued photographs, underrated in part because of her beauty and her legend competed with, and detracted from, the seriousness of her accomplishment."I would imagine that many more people are familiar with Man Ray's photographs of Lee Miller than with Miller's shocking, and important, photographs taken (for Vogue, of all things!) of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp. Miller's beauty and status as muse are unquestionable. If readers of this book gain nothing more than an appreciation of her talent and importance as a first-rate photographer, then I'm happy. [Sept 2005]
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
A decent execution of a fantastic subject: the lives of women who figured into famous works of art. Of the nine biographical sketches, I preferred those that deal with the artists I know best: Ms. Thrale and Dr. Johnson is excellent, and perhaps the best is the sad case of Lewis Carrol and his Alice. A lot of the modern examples were out of my range and I hardly remember a thing about them.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In the book, Francine Prose has chosen to write about nine muses throughout the late 19th and 20th century’s. Women such as Gala Dali, Suzanne Farrell, Yoko Ono and Lou Andreas-Salome are presented in a haphazard examination of the years they spent with the artists who found them to be inspirational. In some cases the reader is plopped into a muses life at the time of meeting her artist then suddenly taken back to her childhood, back to her artist, only to time travel to her death or divorce and finally back to her life with the artist. This style proved to be very uneven and perplexing. Thus, I rarely felt any connection to either the artist or his muse and their attributes were often one dimensional.This collection does, however, supply some interesting information on Charles Dodgson and Salvadore Dali, information which was new to me but maybe known to others.After, finally, completing The Lives of the Muses I realized why I began this book so many years ago and put it aside. For one, the writing is as dry as my skin in January. Secondly, in some cases, I simply can’t understand why these pairs were chosen when so little was accomplished by the artist during their moment with their muse. Either their best work was behind them or to come, in which case the muse was sometimes given credit.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is about 9 sets of modern artists and muses, beginning with Hester Thrale and Samuel Johnson and ending with Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Each relationship is different, but the common thread is that they are all dysfunctional. Many of them were romantic relationships in which one or both of the artist and muse were already married to someone else. Prose spends a lot of time trying to puzzle out whether Charles Dodgson was a pedophile and what exactly his relationship with Alice Liddell was about. The only slightly-normal relationship Prose examines is between Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine. Although George wanted it to be sexual, Farrell refused; plus, they are they were, in a way, muses for each other but not competitors. I found all the stories to be tremendously interesting. Prose is a good writer, and she makes the relationships between the artists and muses come alive, despite the fact that they are so bizarre.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Hester Thrale and Samuel Johnson, Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll, Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Andreas-Salome and Nietzsche, Rilke and Freud, Gala Dali and Salvador Dali, Lee Miller and Man Ray, Charis Weston and Edward Weston, Suzanne Farrell and Balanchine, Yoko Ono and John Lennon: some of these arrangements were really strange, but they all worked to the benefit of art and intellect. Even though a little bit repetitive in places, this book had enough bite to be interesting.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This books serves as a fine introduction to the artist/muse concept, but Prose sacrifices a lot of page space to repetition, even though the ideas she explores would benefit from further investigation. Each section recycles ideas from earlier chapters, which would be helpful if she had taken her theories deeper each time, but instead she simply repeats herself... I feel like a strict editor could have been very helpful.
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