I almost didnt buy this book. There were mixed reviews and the general tone of the negative reviews were that the book was superficial or possibly inaccurate. Well I bought the book in spite of those warnings. I am very glad I did. To begin with Prose has done an outstanding job of weaving together 9 separate and unique lives. She does not claim to have written the definitive work on artisitic influence or motivation. She did not claim to corner the market on thoughts of Eros and Art. What she did was describe nine woman and the artists they inspired. It was clear from her references and asides that she had done research on far more than these women. She freely borrowed from other muses and interests in other relationships and wove together not only nine separate stories but craftily connected them into a thread that takes us from the most simple and reticent muse -- Alice Liddell to a modern woman artist whose own identity and influence is lost in the artist and his in hers, not always in a positive way -- Yoko Ono. I found that Prose walks briskly through each life but also is telling us a greater story. A story of feminine influnce and the evolving way women have been viewed as muses, lovers, artists and people. Often I stopped to examine or reexamine an artist or their work. As Prose open a new semiotic eye on a work, not from the reader's perspective of the work, but from the artist's perspective and intent. Not so much to say what the artist was trying to describe to the viewer, but why he was creating it at all. I can't say if Prose' work is accurate or inaccurate. I dont know enough of these lives. I do know that I have a new perspective on some of the artists and a desire to learn more of these women and their influence. Buy it and read it.
Taking a cue from the Greeks and their nine muses, author Francine Prose selects nine muses of nine famous artists of one sort or another, and writes short biographies of each. They include Hester Thrale (Samuel Johnson), Lou Andreas-Salomé (Rilke, Nietzsche, Freud), Suzanne Farrell (George Balanchine), Lee Miller (Man Ray), Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll), Elizabeth Siddal (Dante Gabriel Rossetti), Yoko Ono (John Lennon), Gala Dali (Salvador Dali), and Charis Weston (photographer Edward Weston). Missing is that serial muse Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel who married each of her artists; perhaps she's missing because she has already been written about so much.
Prose makes the point that many of these women had artistic ambitions of their own, although most of them abandoned or stifled their own wishes in order to be the source of inspiration for their men. The most interesting tales are those of the women who inspired photographers and the author's musings about photography are informed and engaging. [Let us not forget that although Lewis Carroll is, of course, remembered primarily for the 'Alice' books, equally memorable are his photographs of his 'child friend', Alice Liddell.]
Prose has hit upon a clever and attractive means of examining one of the factors that may inspire artistic creation. And not coincidentally she casts light on the damage that being a 'muse' can bring to these women's lives.