Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler by Oliver Hilmes

Malevolent Muse

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It’s always fascinating to read about a woman who achieved fame by being a muse to someone of renowned talent. One can’t help but wonder, was it merely being at the right place at the appropriate time? Was she sacrificing her own career to support her husband, lover, or dear friend? And when does a woman cease to be simply a loyal supporter and earn the esteemed title of “muse”?

Labeling Alma (Schindler) Mahler a muse is even more of a mystery. She inspired both love and hate amongst her peers. Based on the documented sources presented in this book, she was described as everything from a femme fatale and sex crazed circe- the most beautiful woman in Vienna- to a self-aggrandized social climber… a boozy, bigoted, vengeful harlot, and “a grande dame and at the same time a cesspool.” And after reading Malevolent Muse one can attest that she was all of those things.

It is very much a conundrum that a person with such a narcissistic, self-centered, and narrow-minded personality could possibly be a muse to anyone. If you are at all curious, you may find this book entertaining.

The lack of her own personal achievement does not detract from the substance of the biography or the quality of the writing. Aside from details of Alma’s own personal life, Malevolent Muse enlightens the reader of the cultural and social attitudes prevalent in Austria in the early 1900s. The story of Alma and her third husband Franz Werfel’s escape from the hands of the Nazi’s is gripping. And despite the fact that two of her three husbands were Jewish, it is astonishing to learn she was an avid, outspoken, Nazi sympathizer. Malevolent muse indeed.

Along with a collection of photographs and the citing of his extensive list of sources, the author did a magnificent job of documenting Alma’s life using excerpts from her personal diaries and letters.

Rated 4 Stars.

All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.

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