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

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  685 Ratings  ·  94 Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the classical world, the muses -- all nine of them -- were daughters of Zeus who inspired poets, musicians, and other creative types to produce works of genius. Today, says Francine Prose, the word has been weakened and is used almost exclusively to refer to the chic women who help fashion designers inform their latest lines. But in her scho
Paperback, 448 pages
Published October 7th 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published September 1st 2002)
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Community Reviews

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Oct 17, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Interesting, fascinating and most of all thought provoking examination of nine muses who inspired famous artists/writers/performers. Francine Prose does a good job of dissecting the artist/muse relationship. She does not do this in a neutral way though; prose is opinionated and sharp in judgement: punches are not pulled. Sometimes I vehemently disagreed with her opinions, sometimes she opens new lines of thought about old subjects, but dull it never was.
The muses Prose picks are a very diverse
Nov 01, 2007 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book fell like a bolt from the sky and landed in my lap. I had been thinking for months about what it means to be a muse, or an artist, and what the relationship between muse and artist means for modern men and women, and where gender fits into all of it. I'd been writing and processing and wondering why it was I craved artists--not art, which I love and which is nourishing, but artists, and their creative minds--so constantly.

And then I read The Lives of the Muses. Francine Prose dug de
Nov 15, 2011 Hayley rated it it was ok
Prose’s ‘The Lives of the Muses’ is a mediocre take on the worlds of nine women who inspired (respectively) authors, poets, musicians, philisophers, and painters. From the titular Alice in Wonderland (and her Lewis Carrol), to the photographer Man Ray’s infatuation with Lee Miller, females have inspired male artists since the dawn of art. (Prose herself makes the case for the men inspiring the women, but she does not spend nearly enough time proving this thesis.) Also featured are Yoko Ono. ...more
Michele Renatta
Apr 04, 2013 Michele Renatta rated it did not like it
Omg I wanted to beat my head in reading this book was doing research on muses was loaned the book to read this book did have a few interesting point but, quite frankly my research online was much more productive then the hours it took me to wade through and force myself to finish this book
Linda Robinson
Dec 13, 2009 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Muses were created 2500 years ago, each of The Nine given a realm in which to inspire: theater, writing, music, dance. Originally 3, they were trebled later. The Romans gave them water nymph duty as well. Shakespeare called upon all; Chaucer, Herodotus, the list is huge.

Prose's nine are modern women, beginning with Alice Liddell, who at 7 began the musedom to Oxford don Charles Dodgson that would result in "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" and later "Through the Looking Glass." The book begi
Jun 14, 2010 Lana rated it it was ok
This was disappointing, but I think that is mostly b/c I misunderstood what the subject matter would be. I was hoping for a collection of biographies on the "muses" themselves, but they were secondary to the content on the artists. The background of each woman is only briefly mentioned and they are mostly described only in their relationships to the artists. In almost every case the woman is depicted darkly (bordering on cruelly). There are countless biographies written about famous artists but ...more
Aug 22, 2011 Ana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm probably being too kind by giving two stars to this book, but then again i usually reserve one star ratings to books i wasn't able to finish. And i did finish this one. It made me angry pretty much throughout it, but i did finish it.

Here's the main thing i don't understand. Why did the author write this book? She seems to have felt contempt and/or pity for most if not all of the women featured here. Why would you spend unknown amounts of time researching someone's life if you didn't respect
Oct 10, 2008 J.P. rated it liked it
Recommends it for: biography fans, artsy-fartsy types
Recommended to J.P. by: nobody; I ran across it in Borders
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 20, 2009 Jeanne rated it liked it
I've never read Prose's fiction, but love this book! Each essay is a biographical sketch of the relationship between a muse and her artist. Prose does a great job examining the problematic nature of muse relationships, especially for women and the different ways women reacted/profited/grew or were destroyed by/from these associations. The most contemporary muse is Yoko Ono, but honestly while I loved the book so many of the critical observations Prose made in each of the essays seemed to repeat ...more
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 theories deeper each time, but instead she simply repeats herself... I feel like a strict editor could have been very helpful.
Apr 28, 2013 Shivani rated it really liked it
This is one of my favourite books of all time. Made me fall in love with the creative non-fiction format.
Jul 16, 2012 Jayne rated it really liked it
More than simple biographies of women on the outskirts of famous men’s careers, this book offers a fascinating look at the lives of nine women who lived between Shakespeare’s time and the present. The introductory essay discusses the concept of the muse, from the early Greek myths of the nine muses ─ Thalia, Melponene, Euterpe, Erato,Terpsichore, Calliope, Urania, Polyhymnia, and Clio ─ to the modern woman’s role as simultaneous muse and creator. The muses chosen reflect the breadth of women’s ...more
Jan 19, 2008 Mymuseisme rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people watchers
Offers engaging narratives and provided insightful details of the women's unconventional relationships with their artists and, in my opinion, the illusions/disillusionments that pervaded many of their relationships. Those who read The Meaning of the Oxford English Dictionary might be interested to read the chapters on Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale and Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell. Ms. Thrale's friendship and support quite literally enabled Johnson to survive and write his dictionary. The ...more
Dec 10, 2010 Brian rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by:
Whew! Finally finished it. Most of the book is a tedious long slow slog through the lives of partners of tortured artists. By shifting the focus from the creator to the person ostensibly driving and suffering with the artist, the author has perhaps opposite her intended effect. Other than Alice Liddel and to a much less extent Lee Miller and Yoko Ono, the muses seem tangential to the artists lives.

Prose's choice of subjects is arbitrary and disappointing. She mentions in several places Beatrice
Jeff Howells
What is a muse? This book attempts to tell us. It consists of 9 pen portraits of women who are said to have inspired a variety of 'artists'. It's difficult not to feel slightly uncomfortable as it's clear that on this reading to be a muse you a) are a woman b) likely to be the subject of an often unhealthy sexual fascination by a man. This isn't always the case (both Gala Dali & Yoko Ono were older than the men they are linked to, whilst Lee Miller became a truly inspiring photographer in ...more
Jun 19, 2010 Catherine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
The Lives of the Muses is a consistently compelling non-fiction work. It both looks at the idea of the muse over the years and picks 9 muses to create short biographies of them and their relationship with their artist as a representation of the undefinable role of the muse. It also uses the muse to go into the role of the female, how the muse is quite obviously a sexist responsibility but how each muse either redefined it in their own way or submitted themselves fully to the idea of the muse. ...more
Aug 02, 2009 Alison rated it really liked it
A book I read by accident that became a text for my course on Women in the Visual Arts. After all, at least 4 of these muses were "in the visual arts." I find the chapter on Lee Miller the most fascinating, and the most likely to inspire me to research her more. Why don't more people know about Lee Miller? It's a travesty, except...her own son knew nothing of her life before she became an ex-pat housewife to Sir Penrose, and took up gourmet cooking. The muses are all fact stranger than fiction, ...more
Oct 29, 2015 Diana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new
I found it interesting and, in places, pleasant reading. I must admit, the chapter on Suzanne Farrell really spoke to me, because I remembered seeing her as a young girl and because later in life, I was close to a woman who had danced with her. However, for the most part, I just didn't find the book especially insightful. I felt that what the author really wanted to say was that these girls/women were used/misused by the men they inspired. And in some cases they were. I thought the quote that ...more
Jul 06, 2007 Rachel rated it really liked it
A fabulous book. I became completely engrossed in these symbiotic lives. Some of the muses and artists were familiar to me but a few were new and exciting. I particularly liked the section on Salvador and Gala Dali as well as Louis Andreas-Salome and her three gentlemen: Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud. The book showed several different muse relationships. The muse as simply inspiration kept at a distance to ensure their pedestal status, the muse in unconventional ...more
Sep 13, 2007 Bess rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: girls... and the boys who love them
Ed. note: the hardcover jacket for this book is a million times better and more appropriate, and if I achieve "librarian" status, I will in fact be uploading it. Fixed it. This is the hardcover jacket.

Francine Prose is perhaps #1 on my list of writers discovered in recent years who make me happy to be alive. This book in particular was exactly what I needed at the time it came out: excellently crafted modern verse about little-known women in history who secretly inspired big & important men.
Jul 14, 2016 Joyce added it
Shelves: librarybook
The subtext of this book is all about the difficulty of not projecting feminist ideals onto women from the past... but in the end it's pretty hard not to come to the conclusion that the happiest women were the ones who actually accomplished more with their lives than inspiring and nurturing men.

Some of the biographical details are surprising. The vast majority of the muses in this sample did not have a "normal" sexual relationship with their artists; often the muses married men of little or no t
John P
Oct 30, 2012 John P rated it liked it
A good topic and an easy read. However, I suspect that Ms. Prose has injected some of her own desire to titillate her audience into this narrative, whether unconsciously or deliberately to pique interest. After reading this book, I had a strong desire to check other sources to help verify some of the details. I also found myself doubting the efficacy of assigning arbitrary titles and roles to people, such as 'muse' and 'art wife.' Perhaps this is a common issue in all phases of human experience ...more
Felipe Lerma
Feb 14, 2014 Felipe Lerma rated it liked it
Generally pretty interesting, though almost always more so when it's a muse-artist combo in a field I was more interested in. Which leads to my one suggestion for improvement, adding the name of the artist after the name of the muse in the Table of Contents. It would have given me a much easier time seeing which pairings I might be interested in reading about. I had to browse the beginning of each chapter to see who was involved, and some I just wasn't interested in, but other people might key ...more
Mar 20, 2008 Jane rated it liked it
I only read the parts about Dali/Gala and Yoko Ono/John Lennon. I didn't bother with the other couples. Every time I read anything about Dali and Gala I am astounded at how odd their relationship was. Why does brilliant art so often flow from such troubled souls?

I haven't read much about Lennon before, so it was interesting to learn about his ideas and his relationship to Yoko Ono. Their relationship seems to embody all that was controversial at the time. They were the couple to display social i
Oct 26, 2010 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I recall thoroughly enjoying this book, though I remember little of the subject matter. Having recently seen a very interesting Dali exhibit that focused on his later life, including his relationship with Gala, I'd like to read this again. I also think that it would be an interesting reread six years on as my concept of healthy relationships is SO DIFFERENT than it was at the time of my first read.
Jul 13, 2008 Miki rated it it was amazing
After you read this book, ladies, you will never want to date an artist again. (Okay, some artists are just fine. I can personally vouch for some of them. But still, caveat girlfriend, I say. Know what you're getting into. And don't lend them money!)

P.S. I rarely buy books in hardcover first edition, but that's what I did w/ THE LIVES OF THE MUSES, and it was worth it. Poignant, moving, and beautifully, beautifully written. Francine Prose lives up to her last name.
May 03, 2007 Melissa rated it liked it
I only read two of the three essays in this book. I read about Alice Lidell for an article I am writing and I read about Charis Weston because I am interested in Edward Weston as a photographer and I had read some about them before and it is an interesting (if immoral) relationship.

The book is factual and presents some interesting ideas - but I do not find Prose's writing style particularly compelling.
Jul 17, 2008 Rosemary rated it really liked it
This is an amazing look at the women behind (or occasionally in front of) famous artists and writers, from Hester Thrale (Samuel Johnson) to Lou Andreas Salome (Nietszche and Rilke), to Yoko and John. In between we have Charles Dodson and Alice Liddell, as well as Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (scandalous!) and others. I was blown away by how debauched people have been for a long time! Wonderful history in there too. Fascinating reading.
Elizabeth Desole
Feb 01, 2015 Elizabeth Desole rated it liked it
I would have preferred if the author didn't interject her own opinion of the women profiled quite so much. I also found it baffling that Alice Liddell got the longest section. Really, more than Gala Dali, Yoko Ono, Lee Miller?! Despite her snide comments about some of her subjects, that passion didn't come across enough to make the book a more interesting read. However, there was enough interesting information to keep me going
Jul 15, 2007 Emma rated it really liked it
I appreciated the insight and history the book provided and enjoyed it in spite of some unnecessarily wordy passages. A good non-fiction read which maintains its coherence and relevance throughout even though it spans a huge time frame. Very informative. After reading The Lives of Muses, I happened to watch a documentary on Balanchine (linked with Suzanne Farrel in the book) and was stunned that there was no mention of Farrel at all and was glad I had read the book.
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Francine Prose (born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American novelist. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968, and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. She has sat on the board of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own Award, and her novel Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is now teaching at Bard College.

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“Throughout her life, she behaved as if she had never heard anyone suggest that a woman couldn't do entirely as she pleased.” 2 likes
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