Cover image for The lives of the Muses : nine women & the artists they inspired
The lives of the Muses : nine women & the artists they inspired
Prose, Francine, 1947-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 416 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Hester Thrale -- Alice Liddell -- Elizabeth Siddal -- Lou Andreas Salomé -- Gala Dalí -- Lee Miller -- Charis Weston -- Suzanne Farrell -- Yoko Ono.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NX160 .P765 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
NX160 .P765 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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-Salom#65533;, who captivated Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud--as impressive a list as any muse can boast? Salvador Dal#65533; was the only artist to sign his art with his muse's name, and Gala Dal#65533; 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.

Author Notes

Francine Prose was born on April 1, 1947. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968. She received the PEN Translation Prize in 1988 and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. Francine Prose novel The Glorious Ones, has been adapted into a musical with the same title by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It ran at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City in the fall of 2007. Prose has served as president of PEN American Center, a New York City based literary society of writers, editors, and translators that works to advance literature in 2007 and 2008.

Prose novel, Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. One of her novels, Household Saints, was adapted for a movie by Nancy Savoca. In 2014 her title Lovers at the Chameleon Club - Paris 1932, made The New York Times Best Seller List.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The Greeks envisioned nine muses, or divine female entities, as the capricious sources of artistic inspiration. When mortal women assumed this treacherous role, musedom evolved in sync with changes in women's social status, a phenomenon that Prose, a critic and novelist (Blue Angel [2000] is her latest) of cunning acumen and lacerating wit, dissects with verve and nerve in nine strongly composed, brilliantly synthesized, and deliciously anecdotal and opinionated portraits of real-life muses: Hester Thrale, Dr. Johnson's guiding light; Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland; Elizabeth Siddal, prey to the morbid Dante Gabriel Rosetti; Lou Andreas Salome, a serial muse (and writer and psychoanalyst) who entranced Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud; the dreadful Gala Dali; the photographer Lee Miller, who "graduated from being seen to seeing"; Charis Weston, a muse demoted to "art wife"; dancer Suzanne Farrell, whose artistry suggests that choreographer George Balanchine was as much her muse as she was his; and the "reviled and despised" Yoko Ono. Always fascinated by the complicated dynamics between men and women, Prose expertly analyzes the conflicts between romance and dependence, sacrifice and exploitation, passion and genius that generate the volatile chemistry between muse and artist, thus deepening our insights into human behavior and art, the ridiculous and the sublime. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

"I have never seen you without thinking that I should like to pray to you," says the poet Rilke. The object of his devotion is the astonishing Lou Andreas-Salom the woman who played muse not only to Rilke, but also to Nietzsche and Freud. The idea of the muse seems an initially quaint, if not flatly sexist charge. Acclaimed novelist Prose (Blue Angel, etc.) confronts that honestly when she asks: "Doesn't the idea of the Muse reinforce the destructive stereotype of the creative, productive, active male and of the passive female?" Politically incorrect or not, the muses, as Prose presents them, genuinely "illumine and deepen the mysteries of Eros and creativity, as each Muse redraws the border between the human and the divine." In nine biographical narratives, Prose examines a range of relationships between artists and the women who gave them their divine spark. Though the artists, among them Lewis Carroll, Salvador Dal! and John Lennon, can easily be viewed through the lens of obsessional pathology, Prose makes a remarkable case for the exceptionality of these women in their own right. Lee Miller for example was not merely the muse to Man Ray, but an accomplished photographer, and Suzanne Farrell, Balanchine's muse, a virtuosic ballerina. Prose's project is to probe the mystery of inspiration, not to solve it once and for all: "one difference between magic and art is that magic can be explained." From Samuel Johnson's caretaker and trusted friend Hester Thrale to Dali's wife, Gala, Prose demonstrates the strength and unique quality of influence each muse had on her artist. (Sept. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A noted novelist turns to nonfiction to explore the concept of the muse, showing that women from Gala Dali to Lou Andreas-Salome and Suzanne Farrell were not passive recipients of male regard but powerful in their own right. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.