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3.8 out of 5 stars
Dangerous Muse: The Life Of Lady Caroline Blackwood
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2001
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
on September 4, 2001
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. Schoenberger states she is `haunted' by Blackwood. Translation: she identifies rather too heavily with her subject. And we get, unfortunately, the smarmy romanticism typical of this type of `the-beautiful-and-the-damned' project. You need the talent of Fitzgerald to bring that off without gagging. What a book he would have made of this material! You get a clearer idea of Caroline Blackwood from her first husband's portrait of her than you do from this biography. That's the difference, I'm afraid, between genius and reportage. Put another way: a minor literary figure gets a minor-league biography.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2002
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
on August 27, 2001
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. I see on the book jacket that the author is a poet as well as a writer. If this book is any example, I hope she continues her writing.
My problem with the book was I found the subject most unlikable. Lady Caroline never lost her sense of entitlement in that however objectionable she looked, smelled or acted; she felt she was God's chosen. She emulated her mother in irresponsibility and neglect of her own children. Her outlook on life was pessimistic in the extreme, but she was stand-up proof for the adage `living well is the best revenge.' Recommended for the excellent writing and scholarship.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2002
This is a very romanticized viewpoint of Lady Caroline's troubled life but it was so well written and readable that it was impossible to put down. Like most of these type of lengends, Lillie Langtry comes to mind, she was famous mostly for who she bedded and who she knew. BUT, there is MORE. Like Langtry, Lady Blackwood inspired whomever she came in contact with. Some woman just have that persona and I don't feel it is fair to overlook that part of their history. Once again, we put all the blame on the woman and forget that the MEN also had a say in their attachments to her lure. Her beauty was more an entire package rather than the classic sense of beauty, per se. I highly recommend this book to all Langtry fans and the woman who are interested in these types of tastemakers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2001
Dangerous Muse is an intriguing biography of an underrated writer. Caroline Blackwood seemed to be one of those women doomed to live in the shadow of the men in her life (Lucien Freud, Robert Lowell), but managed to transcend the highs and lows of these relationships by becoming a distinctive novelist, short story writer and journalist. Schoenberger's bio is remarkable for its detail (especially Blackwood's Anglo-Irish background), empathy (Blackwood's drinking is put into context and not used as a magic key to explain everything) and lucid explication of Blackwood's eclectic output. If you are a sucker for books about off-beat literati then Dangerous Muse is your proverbial cup of tea. Nice photos too.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2012
Lady Carolyn was a mess, she may have been able to write stories based on her hidden pain, but she appeared to be devoid of feelings of empathy and compassion toward others. Her upbringing coincides, on many points, with the upbringing of so many of her class. She was raised by nannies or otherwise disinterested and cruel people, like her mother who gave very little if any attention to her children and placed an inordinate amount of value in keeping ties with royal and aristocratic society. Carolyn could have been one of the Mitford sisters. She had the same small mind about differences and a wicked sense of humor that found fodder in the weaknesses of others. She was perhaps unable to feel pity or even consideration for others, evidence of her loveless upbringing. The book is well written but could have benefitted from some editing making it at least 50 pages shorter.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2004
I was quite disappointed in this book. The writing is good, but seems mostly about people other than Caroline. There is little depth or insight to Schoenberger's portrait of her. We don't know much about who Caroline is, what she thinks, and the deeper motives behind her behaviour. About a fourth of the way through the book, I found myself paging ahead in the hope of discovering her.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 28, 2011
A fascinating biography of a complicated woman. I had just read the book by her daughter and found it hard to reconcile the daughter's views of her mother with this more complex biography. It will keep you reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I just finished reading my copy of this book at 7:10am CST and I found it hard to believe that it was over. The one question that burned through my mind was: why is it that the majority of writers and poets back in the day were so self destructive? Drug users, alcoholics, manic-depressives, etc., and yet they produced such brillant works of art and literarute. As a published author, I found myself longing for the days when poets were revered by the public and when writers were treated like celebrities after reading this work. Lady Caroline Blackwell was a genius in her own way, a talent that was raw and invigorating, and yet she posed to be such a tragic figure in the eyes of her peers and family. Now that I have read about her life, I want to experience her written words; I feel like I am truly ready to read the works of the Last Great Muse.
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