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The Tragic Muse Paperback – Jun 17 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 540 pages
  • Publisher: Kessinger Pub Co (June 17 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1419185659
  • ISBN-13: 978-1419185656
  • Product Dimensions: 19.1 x 2.8 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 885 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,311,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York and settled in Europe in 1875. He was a regular contributor of reviews, critical essays, and short stories to American periodicals. He is best known for his many novels of American and European character. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This James novel is an overlooked masterpiece. I'm not entirely certain I don't like it every bit as much as the often praised "Wings of the Dove".
Art with a capital "A" is the subject at hand and Miriam Rooth (the Tragic Muse), Peter Sherringham and Nick Dormer all have their own way of coming to terms with the idea of a life given over to Art.
Favorite chapters are those on a visit to the Green Room of the Theatre Francaise and the magnificent Chapter XLVI.
Considering that James made his choice of a life given up to literature at a very early age, one can't help seeing this book as his apologia. And a grand one it is, too!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The Lessons of the Master Feb. 11 2006
By R L B - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In an interview, Vladimir Nabokov once spoke of the distinction Russians draw between a genius (such as Tolstoy), and a mere "talent", and the example Nabokov gave of the latter was Henry James. Nabokov never did rate James highly (nor Thomas Mann, Hemingway and many other undoubtedly great writers). Nabokov was of course mistaken. Henry James is one of the true geniuses of literature. His capacity to portray nuances of character through subtle changes of light and shade has never been equalled.

The later James style is notoriously dense, elliptical and difficult to read. And yet through this density, the Victorianisms of the language spoken by James' characters, the important - often critical - things that are only half spoken, and sometimes never spoken, James reveals characters facing moral and personal dilemmas of a kind that seem startlingly immediate to us. James' characters are always complex, rarely do what we expect them to, and are often as frustrating and intriguing as any "real" people.

The Tragic Muse is a lengthy discussion of the role of the artist in society, and the choices - sometimes hard choices - people make in becoming artists and leaving the conventional world behind. James certainly would have been conscious of these issues from his own career. And yet The Tragic Muse is often very funny, with very sharp, witty dialogue, amusing characters and an engrossing story.

I agree with the previous reviewer, who described it as an overlooked masterpiece. I rate it as highly as, say, The Ambassadors, one of James' final three great completed novels.

The later Henry James can be difficult going, and I have found these books to be a taste slowly acquired. I would therefore not recommend this book to readers new to James (instead I would suggest Washington Square, The Europeans or the Bostonians). However, once you have acquired the taste for James his prose style, frustrating as it sometimes is, becomes addictive, especially for the deep insights into character that he offers and the ability to conjure up reality through a seeming haze of words.

For those who enjoy reading Henry James - and, like Nabokov, not everyone does - this book is very highly recommended.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Wonderful Surprise June 9 2004
By M. Nesbit - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This James novel is an overlooked masterpiece. I'm not entirely certain I don't like it every bit as much as the often praised "Wings of the Dove".
Art with a capital "A" is the subject at hand and Miriam Rooth (the Tragic Muse), Peter Sherringham and Nick Dormer all have their own way of coming to terms with the idea of a life given over to Art.
Favorite chapters are those on a visit to the Green Room of the Theatre Francaise and the magnificent Chapter XLVI.
Considering that James made his choice of a life given up to literature at a very early age, one can't help seeing this book as his apologia. And a grand one it is, too!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
There Are NO Americans in This Novel! March 7 2011
By Reviewer - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
No upstate New York belles with fresh cheeks and fresher manners! No self-made Ohio bachelors in Europe questing for culture and perhaps an ornamental spouse! All of the major characters are English, though we first meet them in Paris. That's a welcome departure from Henry James's favorite theme of cultural bewilderment between Americans and Europeans. And it's virtually all I knew about "The Tragic Muse" before I read it. It isn't one of the novel normally assigned in college lit classes, and it happened to be the only full-length James novel I'd never read. Imagine my surprise! It's surely one of the best! One of the wittiest, stocked with the most convincing characters, about whose travails the reader might genuinely care! And yet the critics pay it scant attention! Well, so much for critics then!

I was lucky in my choice of editions, I'm happy to mention. The Tragic Muse was first published in 1890, four years after The Bostonians and just at the onset of James's futile attempt to prove himself as a playwright. Eighteen years later, James the Master -- sometimes referred to as "James the Old Pretender" -- revised the novel drastically, changing phrases in nearly every paragraph, assiduously qualifying and obfuscating its forthright vigor. Unfortunately, the 1908 revision has been included in the so-called "Definitive Edition", a decision that may account for the relative unpopularity of this very fine novel. Be sure you read the the original edition of 1890!

For one thing, the descriptive passages of The Tragic Muse -- the prose, you might say, that frames the dramatic dialogue -- are among the most vivid and pictorial to be found in James's writings. Appropriately so, since the novel begins with a scene in a gallery of the Paris Salon, and since one of the seven principal characters is a young Briton of the "political" class who yearns to devote himself to Art. But this is a novel dominated by dialogue, and the dialogue is so finely written that one has to wonder why James had so little luck with the stage. Each palaverer in the sometimes quite extended conversations has his/her own authentic speaking voice, even including the minor figures. Of course the dialogues are wittier and more lucid than real-time conversations could ever be, but they're therefore both more entertaining and more revelatory of the personalities of the speakers than any stammering verisimilitude could make them.

The dramatis personae:
*Lady Agnes Dormer, the widow of a revered Parliamentary lion
*Her daughter Grace, hopelessly plain and literal, making her name painfully ironic
*Her younger daughter Biddy, charming and impressionable
*Her son Nick, upon whom the family's aspirations for sustaining Public Greatness rest uncomfortably, whose uncertainty about his future as a politician or as an artist is the core of the novel
*Peter Sherringham, a cousin of the Dormers, an ambitious young diplomat, whom Biddy adores
*Julia Dallow, the beautiful widowed sister of Peter and thus also a cousin, who has inherited significant wealth from her dead husband, whose ambition to play a large role in society as a statesman's wife is one of the driving forces of the narrative
*Gabriel Nash, not a cousin, a college friend of Nick's, a dilettante of enigmatic habits, an 'influence' on Nick for good or ill, depending on one's expectations of propriety
*Miriam Rooth, definitely not a cousin, not even certainly of the respectable class, the daughter of a Jewish merchant and a fabulating mother who has raised her erratically all around the Continent, who aspires to be a great actress at any cost

Every one of these characters is memorable and utterly plausible. Henry James never exceeded the psychological insight of his portrayals of these very distinct 'antagonists' in the acts of Will that determine a Life; it's the agony of incompatible Wills that give this novel its passion. Encapsulated in the drama, however, there are also some profound reflections on the value of art and the merit of the artistic life, measured against the more pragmatic values of public service and production of Wealth. I wonder how pointedly Henry James addressed this novel to his pragmatic brother, the psychologist William.

Miriam Rooth is surely the most triumphant portrayal of a spirited woman in any of James's novels, a character I'm sure women readers of today will accept more happily than the heroines of The Bostonians or The Portrait of a Lady. Gabriel Nash is the prototype of everyone's least reputable college friend, half Jiminy Cricket and half Mephistopheles, the guy whose escapades make the best wry anecdotes. Peter and Nick, cousins, lifetime friends, implicitly rivals... in the end it seems to me that this novel is above all about their relationship, about the possibility of empathy and sustained regard between two men of such divergent temperaments. Two brothers, shall we suppose ...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Crossroads Jan. 21 2012
By H. Schneider - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
There is not much tragedy in Henry James' not so well known novel from the year 1890, despite it's title. The young woman bearing the moniker of the tragic muse is ambitious. She is determined to be an actress, come what may, in the face of a seeming lack of talent. But we are not exposed to cheap Schadenfreude. James didn't do Schadenfreude.

This book is about crossroads. The heroes of this story have their inner conflicts.

Nick's conflict is between meeting the expectations of mother, sisters and the world, and pick up his dead father's political activism as Whig member of parliament, vs. following his own inclinations. The technical question of financing the election campaign is solved by his cousin, a rich widow. Why does he hesitate? He had dared to have other dreams in life. He was thinking of painting. He feels a bit overwhelmed by his imperious women, like mother Agnes and cousin Julia, the financier and prospective marriage haven. Nick hesitates to comply and rattles with his cage. His mother wants him to be independent by marrying Julia and her money, while his understanding of independence is different. On second thought, there is a tragic element in this: both know that and why their relation will fail, but they are stuck with it, for the time being.

Back to the 'tragic muse', the prospective actress. Nobody but her pushy dramatic mother believes in Miriam's talents. Hardly even herself, initially. There's a young man, Peter, Nick's cousin, who is something of a dandy with a diplomatic position, who fancies the idea of being the girl's mentor. She is awful, but then, she is attractive...and maybe she can learn?
She is one of James' many strong headed women. She is also entirely convincing, and hence one of James' best. In comparison, the men here drop off a bit, they are too conventional, despite or even because of their bohemian quirks. Maybe except the eccentric character Gabriel Nash, a flaneur and causeur against all conventions.

Peter's conflict is between his reasonable doubts in the tragic muse's future, his rational career interest in the diplomatic service, which wouldn't benefit from a scandalous passion, his growing infatuation with Miriam, and the prospect of a much easier life with the doting sister of cousin Nick.

Miriam's conflict is the choice between a risky acting career or a 'safe' marriage with Peter and a life as a diplomat's wife ... For which she might be entirely unsuitable, apart from the need to drop her ambition.

Nick, Peter,Julia and Miriam are first class characters, which make the book worth reading. Nash is for decoration. The supporting cast is a little flat, unfortunately. Nick's mother and sisters and Miriam's mother, and a few more are just filling material.

Are we dealing with very important issues here? All of James deals with First World problems. That's what he was. He dealt with them well, in his books. His life is a different question. Tragic Muse is one of his best novels in terms of psychological realism and plot development. Regrettably, it is at least 30% too long.
Mediocre Middle Period James Jan. 4 2014
By reading man - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
You have to be a true Jacobite (in Maxwell Geismar's phrase) to enjoy this novel.

Certainly it tells a story in prose that's less convoluted than what you'll find in most of later James, but the elongation of the plot, the sense of unreality that the characters exude, and the apparent conviction that the essential unit of dialogue is a very long paragraph indicate that James was already exiting the main line of English literature.

If James had died after writing THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY, or at least had stopped writing, he'd be the most significant American novelist of the 19th century, instead of a mind and talent gone terribly astray, a parallel to Joyce after ULYSSES (and even that opus is in large part the beginning of the end for Germs Choice).