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New novel about Tanaquil Le Clercq and Balanchine"The Master's Muse" by Varley O'Connor


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#16 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 05:21 PM

It's natural to feel protective toward artists who mean something special to us. However, novelists do this sort of thing all the time, nor is it unusual for writers of fiction to do research. Le Clercq has been dead for some time and can't sustain any personal hurt. Fiction can be preferable to biography for the writer's purpose precisely because it allows greater freedom in the way of speculation and imagining than is permitted to a biographer (a responsible biographer at any rate). I have no idea what this effort will be like, but it's not by definition a disrespectful or exploitative endeavor.

Thanks for the heads up, Neryssa - much appreciated. I hadn't heard about this.

#17 Bonnette

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 05:33 PM

Yours is a strong voice of reason and moderation, dirac. I take your point. For me, the sense is that Ms. Le Clercq was robbed once by polio - and I bristle at even the suggestion that her closet might be picked through again in a posthumous work of fiction. But you're right, I feel protective to a degree that might be excessive or unwarranted. And I certainly echo your thanks to Neryssa for this heads-up.

#18 kfw

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 06:22 PM

It's natural to feel protective toward artists who mean something special to us. However, novelists do this sort of thing all the time, nor is it unusual for writers of fiction to do research. Le Clercq has been dead for some time and can't sustain any personal hurt. Fiction can be preferable to biography for the writer's purpose precisely because it allows greater freedom in the way of speculation and imagining than is permitted to a biographer (a responsible biographer at any rate). I have no idea what this effort will be like, but it's not by definition a disrespectful or exploitative endeavor.


You make good points, dirac. But I wouldn't feel wary if you, for example, had written the novel. But when I read that the author is apparently not a real balletomane, but just "came across the facts about" Le Clerq, and her research included watching hundreds of hours of nonexistent footage to "capture" her "essence," a description which is purple prose or at least a cliche, as if the essence of someone's dancing could be captured in prose anyhow . . . all that makes me pretty skeptical. But I'm not knocking O'Connor for taking up the subject.

#19 Neryssa

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 06:39 PM

You make good points, dirac. But I wouldn't feel wary if you, for example, had written the novel. But when I read that the author is apparently not a real balletomane, but just "came across the facts about" Le Clerq, and her research included watching hundreds of hours of nonexistent footage to "capture" her "essence," a description which is purple prose or at least a cliche, as if the essence of someone's dancing could be captured in prose anyhow . . . all that makes me pretty skeptical. But I'm not knocking O'Connor for taking up the subject.


Exactly. I am not under the impression that the author has a background in dance history. However, the subject is quite compelling. I will request the book from my library's interlibrary loan in April and post my thoughts here. I thank everyone who contributed to this topic.

#20 atm711

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 07:18 AM

I am very wary.....I am now in the process of reading Colum McCAnn's book on Nureyev ("Dancer") and I frankly find it to be so much schlock---he took the man's life which he garnered from the many documentaries and biographies out there and gave it his own spin. It reminds me of the controversial bio of Reagan by Edmund Morris.

#21 dirac

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:11 AM

The title (The Master's Muse) is equally annoying - as if Tanaquil Le Clercq's entire identity revolved around her contribution to Balanchine's genius. Please.


Well.....she was an inspiration to Balanchine, trained in his school, and her place in ballet history is defined by the roles he made on her, not to mention the socially recognized link of marriage. If anything the title's a bit obvious.

I agree with atm711 that these projects tend to be more schlocky than not.

#22 puppytreats

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:19 AM

It's natural to feel protective toward artists who mean something special to us. However, novelists do this sort of thing all the time, nor is it unusual for writers of fiction to do research. Le Clercq has been dead for some time and can't sustain any personal hurt. Fiction can be preferable to biography for the writer's purpose precisely because it allows greater freedom in the way of speculation and imagining than is permitted to a biographer (a responsible biographer at any rate). I have no idea what this effort will be like, but it's not by definition a disrespectful or exploitative endeavor.

Thanks for the heads up, Neryssa - much appreciated. I hadn't heard about this.


I agree with the role of fiction and research, but disagree about sustaining personal hurt. Collateral damage cannot be ignored. One's personal legacy can be hurt. One's family can be hurt. One's dignity can be hurt. And, if you believe the Romantic ballets, or other sources, one can still sustain personal harm.

#23 Neryssa

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 11:56 AM

I agree with the role of fiction and research, but disagree about sustaining personal hurt. Collateral damage cannot be ignored. One's personal legacy can be hurt. One's family can be hurt. One's dignity can be hurt. And, if you believe the Romantic ballets, or other sources, one can still sustain personal harm.


That is a good point about the Romantic Ballets, puppytreats (how I love that moniker). I struggle with this issue as a researcher who is ambivalent about publishing the results. I love the famous passage by Jung on the souls of our ancestors: "Moreover, my ancestors' souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house."

#24 dirac

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:01 PM


It's natural to feel protective toward artists who mean something special to us. However, novelists do this sort of thing all the time, nor is it unusual for writers of fiction to do research. Le Clercq has been dead for some time and can't sustain any personal hurt. Fiction can be preferable to biography for the writer's purpose precisely because it allows greater freedom in the way of speculation and imagining than is permitted to a biographer (a responsible biographer at any rate). I have no idea what this effort will be like, but it's not by definition a disrespectful or exploitative endeavor.

Thanks for the heads up, Neryssa - much appreciated. I hadn't heard about this.


I agree with the role of fiction and research, but disagree about sustaining personal hurt. Collateral damage cannot be ignored. One's personal legacy can be hurt. One's family can be hurt. One's dignity can be hurt. And, if you believe the Romantic ballets, or other sources, one can still sustain personal harm.


I don't know what to tell you, puppytreats. I agree with atm711 that these projects often turn out to be more kitschy than not, but I don't quite get all the clutching of pearls. I expect Le Clercq's legacy to remain exactly as it was no matter what happens with this book, but maybe it's me.

#25 Quiggin

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:10 PM

What can you say about her life in fiction that the hard facts don´t allow? The reality is so much more fascinating that the novel only dulls them or makes them into melodrama, or into kitsch as atm711 & dirac say - and with an awful lot of filler. Nureyev's life is like that too.

Ballet's a tough subject for a novel, in a way it's mute, opera would be much better - or little theater as in "Revolutionary Road." Maybe Don DeLillo could do it in a style like his last novel, a long interior meditation on watching it, then the intermission, people on stairs, etc.

#26 Bonnette

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:20 PM


The title (The Master's Muse) is equally annoying - as if Tanaquil Le Clercq's entire identity revolved around her contribution to Balanchine's genius. Please.


Well.....she was an inspiration to Balanchine, trained in his school, and her place in ballet history is defined by the roles he made on her, not to mention the socially recognized link of marriage. If anything the title's a bit obvious.


I know, and that's what sticks in my craw. The external circumstances and trappings of Le Clercq's life are there for all to see, but the author claims to have performed a heroic work of research in order to recover and proclaim Le Clercq's "essence"...which presumably involves deeper levels of significance than the title suggests.

The author's bio on the publisher's website says that she teaches writing, both fiction and "creative non-fiction." Oh, my.


(Edited to add: I went back to the publisher's site just now in order to post a link to the page, and all of O'Connor's biographical information has been removed. She does have a cute cat, though. :wink:)

#27 Neryssa

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 12:58 PM

I would love to see the book proposal. As a member of her "target audience" I agree that the "hard facts" are more interesting than fiction not to mention the imagined facts. Le Clercq's legacy and/or the mystery and aura of her dancing was enhanced by the tragedy of her illness and the privacy that she maintained during her later years. I don't think anyone can taint her legacy so to speak but they can make money from her personal life. Certainly I cannot control that or even insist upon high quality writing but I can be concerned about dubious claims (regarding research).

How ironic that O'Connor's biography was removed. Has anybody here read Janet Malcolm's The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. It is about the nature of biography, privacy and the publishing industry of Sylvia Plath.

#28 bart

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Posted 07 February 2012 - 02:46 PM

I'll wait until I read the reviews, especially here on Ballet Alert.

LeClercq's legacy lies in the memories (and written memoirs) of those who knew her, worked with her, watched her dance, and (invariably) adored her. There are many photographs accessible on the web, along with some fuzzy movie clips.

LeClercq's life, work, and relationships with a circle of some of the most important creative artists in New York City during the 40s and 50s justify a serious book, well-researched book. Preferably with lots of illustrations. Somehow I suspect that Ms. O'Connor's book will not be the one I'm looking for.

Here's something rg just posted, in case anyone missed it:
http://balletalert.i...__fromsearch__1

#29 Neryssa

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 01:57 PM

Interesting article in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.c...lercq.html?_r=1

#30 Bonnette

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 04:04 PM

Wonderful article, Neryssa! Thank you so much.


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