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Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood

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Dangerous Muse

The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood

By Nancy Schoenberger

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Format: Paperback / softback, 416 pages
Published In: United States, 26 September 2002
"A juicy tale of privilege...accompanied by genius, scandal, and eventual dissolution." -Village Voice. You can see her dark-eyed beauty in photos by Walker Evans, and her bewitching figure in paintings by Lucian Freud. She is the mermaid of whom poet Robert Lowell writes in The Dolphin (and he was clutching her portrait when he died). She was Lady Caroline Blackwood, legendarily witty and alluring but also a legendary drunk. Raised an heiress to the Guinness fortune, Blackwood (1931-1996) moved easily among the aristocracy, the bohemians of postwar England and the liberal intelligentsia of 1960s New York. She has been called a muse to genius-though her marriages to Lucian Freud, the composer Israel Citkowitz, and Robert Lowell were as troubled as they were inspiring-and she was an author herself, short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1977. In this first biography of Blackwood, Nancy Schoenberger deftly paints a complex woman who was captivating to her dying day.

About the Author

Nancy Schoenberger, award-winning author of three books of poetry and co-author of a biography on Oscar Levant, is a former executive director of the Academy of American Poets and was an associate producer of the PBS film series Voices and Visions. She teaches creative writing at the College of William and Mary, and divides her time between Virginia and New York.

Reviews

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.

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 Cahners Business Information.

EAN: 9780306811876
ISBN: 0306811871
Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc
Dimensions: 23.06 x 15.24 x 2.77 centimetres (0.73 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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