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Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood Hardcover – June 19, 2001

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lady Caroline Blackwood (1931-1996), with her wealth, fame, brilliance, eccentricity, dysfunction and illness, is an ideal subject for an absorbingly juicy (albeit tragic) biography. Perhaps best known for marrying painter Lucian Freud, then Aaron Copland's prize student Israel Citkowitz, then patrician poet Robert Lowell, the mysterious Blackwood, with her enormous, unflinching eyes, was "one of the great beauties of her day"; she was also a writer in her own right. Schoenberger (Girl on a White Porch), former director of the Academy of American Poets, never met Blackwood (the day of their proposed meeting, Blackwood was hospitalized and died soon thereafter). The author traces this troubled, fascinating life from a childhood on a grand family estate in Northern Ireland, through her marriages to brilliant yet tortured and unstable men, and then through widowhood, when Blackwood inhabited a former funeral home in Sag Harbor, on New York's Long Island, reputedly haunted still by her dark presence. Blackwood inspired her husbands' brilliant works such as Freud's photograph Girl in Bed (it was clutched by Lowell when he died of a heart attack) and Lowell's The Dolphin, dedicated to Caroline. But Schoenberger calls her "both a muse and an anti-muse," for she also undermined their creativity with her alcoholism and cruel wit, provoking their worst qualities, like Freud's gambling and womanizing, Citkowitz's passivity and Lowell's bipolar illness and abusiveness. Alternately vibrant and pathetic, Blackwood alienated and insulted everyone around her. Schoenberger targets the general reader over the scholar particularly with her exploration of Blackwood's "curse" but those interested in literary biography, particularly in the lives of artists and the sources of their creativity, will find relevant material here. Agents, Joy Harris and Leslie Daniels. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (July 3)Forecast: Though already chosen for the Wall Street Journal's summer reading list, with first serial rights sold to Vogue, this myth-making bio will have to show unexpected reach to appeal to a mass of readers. The author will do some regional publicity in New York and Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Lady Caroline Blackwood, who died in 1996, is best known in the United States for her turbulent marriage to poet Robert Lowell (the last of her three husbands). Born into the Anglo-Irish nobility in 1931, she was an heiress to the Guinness fortune and one of the most glamorous socialites of her day. Brilliant but moody, she first married the painter Lucian Freud, who commemorated her eerie beauty in several famous paintings. Although she had written sporadically throughout her life, it was not until after Lowell's death in 1977 that she began to concentrate on her haunting, often autobiographical fiction and nonfiction (e.g., Great Granny Webster, which was shortlisted for the Booker). Blackwood died before she and Schoenberger (creative writing, Coll. of William & Mary; Girl on a White Porch) could agree on this biography. The subsequent destruction of her papers, plus the refusal of Blackwood's children and family to contribute, has made this a rather thin study of a bewildering woman whose character is not entirely explained by hereditary eccentricity, alcoholism, and an unhappy life. For general and specialized collections. (Illustrations not seen.) Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (June 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038548979X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489799
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Diana A. Strelow on September 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Lady Caroline is extremely charming and repugnant at once, to this reader. Like another reviewer, I found the book to be impossible to put down, and I read almost straight through, until I was done. Beautiful, high-born, and slovenly, a constant smoker of cigarettes and a night-and-day-long consumer of vodka, Lady Caroline Blackwood nonetheless marries both a well known painter and America's leading poet of her time. She never stops attracting famous, wealthy men. Nancy Schoenberger peels off layer after layer to reveal both Lady Caroline and her aristocratic and wealthy set of friends and relations. I thought hard about those jet set and well born, many of them famous, friends of hers, as I read, and it occurred to me to think that they were blessed with money and talent and free time and fame, while the rest of us are even more blessed in that we have been given the work ethic, common sense, and bills to pay. The book inspires such thoughts and comparisons, whether or not they are on the money. I enjoyed it hugely.
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57 of 68 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There is a problem with this book, and it's the sort of problem always encountered with books of this type. That is, it's a biography of someone who's only famous because of the people they
married and/or bedded. The biographer is thus left with a dilemma; they have to convince us to care. In order to do this, they have to bring the person's character to life. This requires a novelist's talent, or a reasonable facsimile therein. It requires what David Cecil brought to Lady Caroline Lamb in "Young
Melbourne: a conviction that in spite of infuriating self-destructiveness, we understand the bond between them and the famous person, and why that person loved them. Nancy Schoenberger may have such talent; alas, it's not evident here. Lady Caroline Blackwood was rich, aristocratic, and beautiful. Okay, got that. Schoenberger also tries to convince us that Blackwood's a major writing talent, with very little success. Her work seems at all times slight, when it isn't cruel. She was also alcoholic from a very early age; a sloven; a depressive; a neglectful parent, and an unsuccessful wife. She was apparently also ambitious-she only married artists. There are odd gaps in the book, which seem to come from threatened lawsuits. Her children did not participate; Schoenberger says she understands why (and so do we) but the result leaves holes in the narrative. Two out of her three husbands are dead, and the other apparently didn't talk. So we don't know why they married her, and the book supplies few hints. Ms. Schoenberger maintains that Blackwood was an artist and a `muse.' Yes, but. From the
evidence here you could just as easily conclude that these not very wealthy arty types married her because she was rich as well as beautiful and they were crashing snobs. Ms.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. McCourt-Roquelaure on April 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that when I first began reading this biography of Lady Caroline, it did not immediately enthrall me the way I thought it might, after having read the book's description. The first chapter or so deals almost exclusively with her family's history, and I found the endless names and descriptions of the different people boring. *However* as I began to read forward, I found myself fascinated with the sort of wit and charm Caroline Blackwood posessed (as is evident with her writings) The little excerpts from her fiction and non-fiction works scattered throughout the length of the biography were very important, as I think they fit perfectly with what Miss Schoenberger had been describing within Caroline's life. They provided a lot of insight into what was happening in her life, in an almost poetical manner. There is no doubt that the author has a strong talent for writing, but I think the fact that different members of Caroline Blackwood's family refused to contribute hurt Nancy Schoenberger's effort for a deeper story. All in all, by the end of the book, I definitely wanted more to read. The author's fluid style of writing fit the subject matter well and it wasn't repetitive or dull by any means. I was however, disappointed with one aspect of the novel, and that is why wasn't more written about the development as Lady Caroline as a writer? I've read a few of her books, and she is obviously extremely talented in the area of psychological prose...there was more emphasis put on Caroline Blackwood's relationships than what was really the most fascinating thing about her, and that was her ability to so vividly and acutely write a novel of the psychological aspect...that was her true genius, not the fact that she was beautiful and had famous husbands. Too bad that wasn't put across, and that that's what Caroline will be remembered for, instead of what she *should*. Nevertheless a great biography by Nancy Schoenberger, given what she had to work with.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on August 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This would be an excellent description of wellborn Lady Caroline Blackwood, legendary Anglo-Irish beauty. She had a penchant for marrying artistes. Her first marriage was to savage, wild man artist Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund. Her third and last husband was Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Robert Lowell. Lady Caroline became a fine writer in her own right. She began writing seriously while married to Lowell and continued to do so for about ten years after his death. This accounted for 15 years of her 65 years on earth. She lost her father at age 13, and was sadly neglected (emotionally) during her childhood.
To an upper-class English or Irish reader of her generation (1931-1996), her childhood would sound fairly normal with the nannies and the governesses and seeing her parents once a day for an hour at teatime. But Mother Maureen, a Guinness heiress, was a singularly spoiled, vain woman who had almost no interest in her children. There is no doubt Lady Caroline suffered and had almost no parental guidance. After the proper coming out and a debut year in London, she immediately embraced the bohemian life in Soho. Men fell at her feet, homo and heterosexual; all were in her thrall. She was a girl of great silences and steady gazes out of her magnificent eyes. She was also a drunk and slovenly her entire life. As she grew older, her beauty could not stand up to her lifestyle. She began to look like a ravaged Jeanne Moreau; yet never lost her tremendous appeal to men.
Ms. Schoenberger has done a beautiful job of detailing Lady Caroline's life. She is meticulous in her research and scholarship. Her writing skills are admirable; she neither intrudes, nor is she stiffly reserved. She at all times appears tolerant and non-judgmental.
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