ISBN is

978-0-06-055525-2 / 9780060555252

The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired

by

Publisher:Harper Perennial

Edition:Softcover

Language:English

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About the book:

When Alice Liddell Hargreaves stood before a crowd of scholars at Columbia University in 1932 to accept her honorary Ph.D. for having inspired one of the masterpieces of English literature, she shone a long-dimmed light on the seminal role of the muse in the creation of a work of art. The book she inspired was, of course, Charles Dodgson's (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll's) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a tale that was born one legendarily "golden afternoon" when Alice was a mere lass, and that would transform the enigmatic Oxford mathematician into one of the most original and controversial authors of all time. In The Lives of the Muses, Francine Prose takes this episode as the starting point for her spirited and enlightening exposť of nine women who fired the imaginations of some of the most inimitable artists and thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. With wicked wit, she shows how these women were both exemplars of their times and iconoclasts struggling to assert their own identity within the unconventional relationships they formed with these men. In doing so, she undertakes an examination of the concept of the muse in all its permutations--from the static nine Muses of classical Greek mythology, through Dante's oft-recycled Beatrice, to its ironized figuration in contemporary popular culture.

In addition to Alice Liddell, Prose looks at the following women: Hester Thrale, a long-suffering brewer's wife whose romantic friendship allowed the depressive Dr. Samuel Johnson to continue writing; the tormented Elizabeth Siddal, an opium-addicted artist who became Beatrice to Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Lou Andreas-Salome, who captivated and aroused a triumvirate of original thinkers, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Sigmund Freud; the "imperious" Gala Dali, who continued to sleep with her ex-husband, poet Paul Eluard, even as she transformed herself into a phenomenal marketing machine for Surrealist Salvador Dali; Lee Miller, a model who mastered the techniques of Man Ray and others, and became a talented photographer; Suzanne Farrell, a ballerina who incarnated, animated, and was inspired to great heights of artistry by the compositions of choreographer George Balanchine; Charis Weston, one in a long line of the erotically restless Edward Weston's cast-off art wives and lovers; and the infamous Yoko Ono, who fought fiercely for recognition as an avant-garde artist as she sought to subserve John Lennon into the role of muse.

This book becomes a thoroughly absorbing study of the muse in recent history on the basis of several women who, thanks to Prose's sharp intellect and verbal flair, emerge as intriguing figures and subjects worthy of attention in their own right. Prose draws on photographs, diaries, correspondence, memoirs, and original works of art that reveal the complexity of these artist-muse relationships, and that direct her readers to other books should their curiosity be piqued (as it undoubtedly will). On full display and put to good purpose is Prose's talent for writing provocative, invigorating prose that engages and excites the reader, inspiring them to undertake wider reading. --Diana Kuprel

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