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

by Francine Prose

Hardcover, 2002




Harper/Collins (2002), Edition: 1st, 416 pages


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.… (more)


(76 ratings; 3.4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Carmenere
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member aaronbaron
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
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Alice. A lot of the modern examples were out of my range and I hardly remember a thing about them.
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LibraryThing member rmariem
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
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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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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Francine Prose covers the lives of nine muses; the women who inspired creativity and passion in their artists. Prose's introduction sums up the impetus behind the book saying, "The desire to explore the mystery of inspiration, to determine who or what is the "moving cause" of art, resembles the
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impulse to find out a magician's secrets" (page 2). Prose begins Lives of the Muses with Hester Thrale. Despite being a married woman, her influence on Dr. Samuel Johnson was profound. Prose then moves on to such well known muses as Alice Liddell, Gala Dali, Lee Miller and of course, Yoko Ono. She also includes lesser known muses (to me, at least) such as Elizabeth Siddal, Lou Andreas Salome and Suzanne Farrell. The residual appreciation I gleaned from reading Lives of the Muses was an education in Rossetti and Miller's art. I couldn't read another word without looking up such pieces as Awakening Conscience, Found, Remington Silent and Night and Day, respectively. Attaching the visual to the imagination was a bonus, especially when it came to Dali's over-the-top creativity and strangeness. The only aspect of Lives of the Muses I found detracting was the myriad of speculative opinions Prose insisted on voicing.
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LibraryThing member shulera1
Informative while remaining enjoyable and engaging. I would recommend to anyone interested in the lives of artists and the people who inspire them, or just the creative process in general. I didn't even know most of the work Prose referred to and still enjoyed the book, so don't let that stop you
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from picking it up.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Well, reading this showed me that I like Francine Prose's...prose...her wit, her insight, and her attitude. So that's good. But the subject matter just made me uncomfortable most of the time. I find I don't want to know about the often icky relationships between artists and their "muses"...usually
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male artists and female muses who seem more servants than inspiration, at least in this collection. The exceptions, women who struck out on their own (photojournalist Lee Miller is the most notable example) or were actual collaborators in the artistic process (ballerina Suzanne Farrell, who worked so closely with George Balanchine that neither could have produced their masterpieces without the other) are truly interesting. In several instances, however, I found knowing what was going on behind the scenes absolutely spoiled my appreciation for some of the resulting creations. Most of these pairings were temporary, based on questionable sexual dynamics and doomed to failure, serving neither artist, muse, nor Art in the long run. I confess to skimming or abandoning at least 3 of the sections, and to finishing a couple more only because the writing is that good.
May 2020
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8.25 inches


0060196726 / 9780060196721
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