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The Tragic Muse

Henry James

Book Overview: 

Art or politics, this is the question Nick Dormer deals with in the course of this novel. Mirian Ruth, an aspiring actress, is the "tragic muse" of the title. Her concerns are a bit different: would proper society accept her as an actress, or would she have to choose between giving up acting and marrying well? A large and interesting cast of secondary characters accompany them along the way, for good or bad. This novel is for lovers of Trollope and Dickins, while James's sharp and keen observations and wit are there at all times. Enjoy a stroll in the park listening to this overlooked masterpiece.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .isliked her usually found her and sometimes even a little made him believe her. The spirit of mirth in some cold natures manifests itself not altogether happily, their effort of recreation resembles too much the bath of the hippopotamus; but when Mrs. Dallow put her elbows on the table one felt she could be trusted to get them safely off again.

For a family in mourning the dinner was lively; the more so that before it was half over Julia had arranged that her brother, eschewing the inferior spectacle, should take the girls to the Théâtre Français. It was her idea, and Nick had a chance to observe how an idea was apt to be not successfully controverted when it was Julia's. Even the programme appeared to have been prearranged to suit it, just the thing for the cheek of the young person—Il ne Faut Jurer de Rien and Mademoiselle de la Seiglière. Peter was all willingness, but it was Julia who settled it, even to sending for the newspaper—he was by a ra. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Two young men, well-born English cousins, are faced with conflicts between their professional careers and their passion for the arts. One, an ambitious diplomat and amateur connaisseur of the theater, is madly in love with the young muse of the title, whom he has mentored from a gifted nobody int...more

You know I did read this once but it was in one ear and out the other.

Henry James : Blah blah blah

Me : Yeah sure

I can finally put aside this warm, well-thumbed and softened paperback. I think it is the first social kunstlerroman I've ever read. Joyce's 'Portrait of the Artist as Young Man' and Nabokov's 'The Gift' are anchored in the artist's point of view, and we see the world warping and changing as the...more

A tale of the theater, and of painting, and of politics, and of art versus love. I've read it four or more times, at least once for the pleasure of it and about three times as I adapted it into an (as yet unused) opera libretto.

Superlative writing, with excellent dramatic scenes. I suspect Powys includes because of the intense discussions of art.

So I'm sitting in the dentist's chair, with a dental dam in my mouth, listening to the dentist and her assistant talk. The assistant says to the dentist "I had the weirdest dream last night, you quit your job to become a painter!" The dentist replies "Well, that wouldn't be a very smart financial...more


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 N...more

An entertaining read, once you get used to the elliptical language. But the linguistic style soon becomes part of the enjoyment, along with the droll characterizations. The world of politics and respectable society meets that of the arts, via an exemplary actress and an unlikely artist, stirred u...more

Despite the title, the Tragic Muse doesn't really have the tragic intensity of James's greatest work. It's basically a comedy. One of his wittiest books. James can be so hilariously bitchy, and the opening sentence is one of the best ever:

"The people of France have made it no secret that those o...more

This 1890 novel is the best longer work James produced since his 1881 masterpiece _The Portrait of a Lady_. The basic conflict (politics vs. Art) is played out through the representation of two different (but linked) romantic relationships between rising artistic talents and people who are engage...more

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