Cover image for The artist's wife : a novel
The artist's wife : a novel
Phillips, Max.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt, 2001.
Physical Description:
254 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A John Macrae book."
Format :


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An elegant reimagining of the life of Alma Mahler, the lovely, aristocratic fin-de-siècle composer who abandoned her own art to become the inspiration and collector of geniuses.

At the turn of the century, "the most beautiful girl in Vienna" stood at the threshold of a promising musical career. But instead, she turned her considerable talents to becoming a freelance muse. Passionate, fickle, brilliant, and alcoholic, she conquered a series of difficult geniuses, including the composer Gustav Mahler (whom she sent to Freud for marriage counseling); the architect Walter Gropius, who went on to found the Bauhaus movement; the writer Franz Werfel, author of The Song of Bernadette; and the revolutionary painters Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.

Deftly bling period detail and modern sensibility, Max Phillips presents the bold, unapologetic Alma, who narrates her own provocative story, bringing to life the luminaries of her era as she tells of her triumphs in the fading elegance of Central Europe's beau monde, her flight from Hitler's Anschluss, and her exile in golden-age Hollywood. A glittering, darkly sensual novel, The Artist's Wife turns the lens of history upon the nature of inspiration, ambition, and love.

Author Notes

Max Phillips is the author of the highly acclaimed novel, "Snakebite Sonnet" & his fiction & poetry have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Village Voice, & the Threepenny Review.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The crucial test of a successful historical novel is whether the past is brought to vivid and viable light. Phillips' second novel, passing with flying colors, takes the form of a memoir by Alma Mahler, widow of famous late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. She remembers her life not from the perspective of old age but from the vantage point of the grave, for as she observes, "the dead know everything." Alma was the daughter of a noted Austrian landscape painter, and she grew up to be remarkably beautiful. A minor composer herself, she attracted like bees to honey men of artistic consequence across three eras: fin de siecle, pre-World War I, and interwar Vienna. The roster of Alma's men included, besides Mahler, architect Walter Gropius and author Franz Werfel. For all her attractiveness, Alma proved emotionally stingy as a wife, lover, and mother. "I lived a long life and I was unkind to many men," she admits. Alma doesn't earn the reader's admiration; nevertheless, she and her world are made, yes, vivid and viable. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Alma Mahler Gropius, the "wild brat" of fin-de-si?cle Vienna, is the graceless subject of Phillips's (Snakebite Sonnet) bitingly sarcastic historical novel. The fetching and full-figured daughter of a celebrated landscape painter and a self-sacrificing lieder singer, Alma Shindler had little education, undeveloped musical talent dulled by a hearing defect and lifelong laziness, but a lot of spunk when it came to attracting admirers. Enamored of Nietzschean ideals and anti-Semitism, she could count among her lovers or husbands the director Max Burckhard, artists Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, Wagner interpreter and composer Gustav Mahler, Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and author Franz Werfel. In Phillips's version, Alma recounts her long and eventful life from the grave ("Death, also, I find to be a disappointment") with a prefacing remark that sets the chatty, ill-tempered tone for the rest of the narrative: "I was awfully interested in myself when I was alive." Phillips's well-informed presentation of the historical milieu is overpowered by the self-centered sensuality of his protagonist, who comes across as a spoiled and mean-spirited Moll Flanders. "I wanted to be with a man as awful as myself," she muses early on. At first, the tone is refreshingly astringent, but as the novel proceeds, Alma's exploits become increasingly grating, and the reader comes to believe that even Phillips can't abide his anti-heroine. Yet Alma's forthright narration succeeds in conveying the personality of a complex, indomitable woman who behaved "more like a man than a woman," fascinated Vienna's art world and, later, Hollywood's expatriate colony, and who lived life exactly as she wished, bravely and without hypocrisy. Agent, Henry Dunow. (June 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved