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The Tragic Muse Paperback – Jun 17 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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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: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,699,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Henry James was born the son of a religious philosopher in New York City in 1843. His famous works include The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square, Daisy Miller, and The Turn of the Screw. He died in London in 1916, and is buried in the family plot in Cambridge, Massachusetts. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
the story though not well known among james stories or novels keeps you with a theme in james work so is well worth reading. It deals with an artist who is also up for political office and is about to get married to cement his political ambitions and is set to receive a large amount of money in a will. All this comes for not as Nick dormer the artist in question gives up his political quest and the money and the proposed wife to concentrate on his artistic quest. The novel is interesting for the models who sit for the artist here a painter they are mostly artists from the theatrical world and James introduces subplots about mothers and nick's family and the various people who represent the theatrical world . The novel takes place almost entirely in England so is the most English of james novels though there are subpl;ots in france and the u.s. as the characters travel to these spots or are supposed to or stand for political offices in these parts of the world. Good novel of the twin worlds of politics and art and how the artistic world is the highest of personal ambitions.
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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 Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9e02f414) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e1cfef4) out of 5 stars The Lessons of the Master Feb. 11 2006
By R L B - Published on Amazon.com
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e281fa8) out of 5 stars A Wonderful Surprise June 9 2004
By M. Nesbit - Published on Amazon.com
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!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e352dd4) out of 5 stars There Are NO Americans in This Novel! March 7 2011
By Gio - Published on Amazon.com
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
HASH(0x9db68d14) out of 5 stars Crossroads Jan. 21 2012
By H. Schneider - Published on Amazon.com
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.
HASH(0x9dedf660) out of 5 stars I love reading this novel and how Gabriel Nash challenges everyone ... Oct. 24 2015
By Glenn Russell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Originally serialized in the Atlantic Monthly and subsequently first published as a book in 1890, “The Tragic Muse” is one of the most highly polished, aesthetically attuned novels ever written, featuring one of the most provocative, aesthetically attuned characters in all of literature – Gabriel Nash. I love reading this novel and how Gabriel Nash challenges everyone he encounters, all those men and women who discount feelings and sensations and who take the world and life in other than purely aesthetic and artistically refined terms.

So, rather than synopsizing the plot or making allusions to the many intricate relationships, for example, diplomat Peter Sherringham with Biddy Dormer or actress Miriam Rooth (many pages are dedicated to reflections on theater and the dramatic arts) or politician/painter Nick Dormer with his politically ambitious cousin, Julia Dallow, I will focus on the tensions established in the very first chapters between two contrary sets of values: on one side, adhering to the conventional and establishmentarian as represented by Lady Agnus and her friends and family, and on the other side, taking a stand for the beautiful and fine by developing aesthetic awareness and cultivated feelings as represented by Gabriel Nash.

Firstly, Nick Dormer and his sister Biddy meet Gabriel Nash in a museum garden where both Nick and Gabriel are delighted to reconnect, not haven’t seen one another since their college days at Oxford. Gabriel goes on about how he drifts and floats through life, letting his feelings direct him and how, unlike other people who define themselves by what they do, he defines himself by what he doesn’t do – outside the realm of action, he is an exalter in shades of impression and sensibilities, living in the world of his feelings, urging others to train that special sense, their faculty of appreciation. To which, Biddy asks: “Are you an aesthete?” Gabriel answers graciously, recoiling at being defined or delimited by any unoriginal category or set formula.

Meanwhile, Nick’s mother, Lady Agnes, knows full well her son should be following in his dearly departed father’s footsteps, pursuing a political career and doing the sensible, honorable thing by marrying his beautiful, charming, rich cousin Julia. Nick and Biddy return to luncheon with their mother, sister Grace and their cousin, the diplomat Peter Sherringham, but, unexpectedly, Nick brings along Gabriel Nash. Nick is informed that he can run for political office in Harsh since the current representative, Mr. Pinks, has suddenly died and the seat is now open. Gabriel Nash comments jocularly and somewhat roguishly on the sound of these two words: Harsh and Pinks. And this jibe is only the beginning - in the course of conversation as they all sit down (Nick seats Gabriel next to his mother) Nash attacks the provinciality of English pocket-boroughs along with positing how politics is a rather nasty, foolish business inferior to everything else, even the theater, since all those political comedians are less honest than comedians one finds on stage. Gabriel Nash might as well have picked up his water glass and emptied its contents over Lady Agnes’ head.

A couple of days later at a gathering arranged by Peter Sherringham, Nick introduces Gabriel Nash to his cousin, Julia Dallow. Once seated next to Julia, Gabriel brims forth with observations on feelings and art, until, taken aback at his remarks, we read:

Julia Dallow was conscious, for a moment, of looking uncomfortable; but it relieved her to demand of her neightbour, in a certain tone, “Are you an artist?”
“I try to be,” Nash replied, smiling; “but I work in such difficult material.” He spoke this with such a clever suggestion of unexpected reference that, in spite of herself, Mrs. Dallow said after him –
“Difficult material?’
“I work in life!”
At this Mrs. Dallow turned away.

You bet she turned away. And if at that moment she had a loaded derringer in her possession and realized what a profound influence Gabriel Nash would have on her cousin, Nick Dorner, the future successful member of Parliament and perhaps, if Nick would become more serious in his political aspirations, even her husband, she might well have fired a bullet into Gabriel Nash’s highly refined chest. Afterwards. Julia tells Nick that she found Nash to be odious as well as impertinent and fatuous – or, in our current-day language: revolting, rude and stupid. Of course, Gabriel Nash is anything but stupid but since his very presence is a direct challenge and threat to Julia’s worldview and what she most highly esteems, she lashes out, degrading and debasing Nash as much as possible.

That very evening, Nick Dormer meets up with Gabriel Nash and the two friends take a stroll through the streets of Paris. Gabriel pontificates on how it his business to cultivate his personal style and have an interest in the beautiful. He states directly that, unlike other people, he is not ashamed to have feelings and to have sensations. And then he continues by telling Nick it is better to be on the side of beauty, to be on the side of the fine. Gabriel makes it clear, however, what he is describing isn’t so much a doing as it is a being, and goes on to underscore this important point by noting how if one were to judge in terms of having something to show for being on the side of the fine and the beautiful, that would amount to a confession of failure. Nick, in turn, admits if he followed his heart’s desire, he would devote himself to portrait painting. Nash is delighted and assures Nick that he will take his side in actualizing his artistic dream.

In the tradition of Indian classical music there is the tala, that is, the regular, repeating rhythmic phrase in any given raga or other piece of music and once the set pattern of tala is established, the music grows and evolves accordingly. What I have noted regarding the tension between the above two sets of values is the tala of this Henry James novel, manifesting not only with Nick Dormer and his family but also in the story of Miriam Rooth and her rise to fame and fortune as an actress. Henry James had a keen and abiding interest in acting and the theater (at one point in his life he expended great energy attempting to become an Ibsen) and the dramatic arts take center stage (no pun intended) in this novel.

Henry James also has an abiding interest in the visual arts and aesthetic theory, particularly the writing of John Ruskin and Walter Pater, and how aesthetic experience impacts character, so much so that, along with a number of his short stories, several of his novels feature men and women changed by aesthetic experience, for example, Isabel Archer in “The Portrait of a Lady” and Milly Theale in “The Wings of the Dove.” And this is one prime reason I focused on Gabriel Nash and what he stands for. Certainly, in vintage Henry James style, a reader will be treated to the richness and complexity of intertwining relationships between characters, in this case Lady Agnus, sister Biddy, cousin Julia, Peter Sherringham, actress Miriam Rooth, Nick Dormer and his friend, but Gabriel Nash is the rare jewel, each and every one of his appearances in the novel displaying a different facet of the aesthetic experience and what it can mean as a possible life transformer. As I read this nearly 600 page novel, I lingered with and relished everything Gabriel Nash.