Neryssa

"The Master's Muse" by Varley O'Connor

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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:)

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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.

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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

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This has just given me a nightmarish image of bookshelves full of series of novels based on Balanchine and his wives just like the seemingly endless supply of fiction based on Henry VIII.

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...as a friend, I can’t help regarding “The Master’s Muse” as a violation, made even more brazen by the fact that it’s narrated in the first person. Nothing in this book is more farfetched than the premise that it’s Tanny herself telling us her story, inviting total strangers to spend 244 pages inside her mind — a place that was off-limits even to her closest friends.

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This has just given me a nightmarish image of bookshelves full of series of novels based on Balanchine and his wives just like the seemingly endless supply of fiction based on Henry VIII.

I suppose the only thing one can do is: NOT buy such books - maybe not even read, review or mention them; and if one does, point out the inaccuracies and bad literary devices. I wonder if Ms. Brubach's well-intended "Talk" piece will stoke curiosity.

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Belated thanks, Neryssa, for the link to the Times article by Hollly Brubach. In my early days attending NYCB it was possible to meet many who saw LeClercq dance, and a few who -- like Ms. Brubach -- had been and continued to be her friends. I love the following:

I got to know her when she was already in a wheelchair. It was only later, when I saw the films, that I made her acquaintance as a ballerina and realized that, though a life like hers cleaves into 'before' and 'after,' her personality was continuous.

Brubach's conclusion about the "novelization, " quoted by Mme. Hermine, is rather devastating:

Below is a link to my favorite non-dance photo of Leclercq because of the way she looks -- and because it suggests the range of friends and admirers she had even outside the world of ballet: Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, etc.

http://images.huffin...landfriends.jpg

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Below is a link to my favorite non-dance photo of Leclercq because of the way she looks -- and because it suggests the range of friends and admirers she had even outside the world of ballet: Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, etc.

http://images.huffin...landfriends.jpg

Thank you for posting this photo, bart. It is a wonderful photograph and I've always been fascinated by New York literary life during this period. I love the way Donald Windham is gazing at her. I still find Frank O'Hara's poem "Ode to Tanaquil Le Clercq" so haunting: "...and the world holds its breath/to see if you are there, and safe/are you?"

I can understand why she was so fascinating to writers and artists including Balanchine. The fact that she was so down to earth and unsentimental about her talent is extraordinary.

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As someone who has read The Master's Muse, I have been following this thread with much interest. I'd like to make the following points:

Holly Brubach, in her T Magazine piece, writes:

Ferociously private, she bridled at the first sign of prurient curiosity, and as the years went on refused most invitations. Talking to her, you got the sense that there were subjects you didn’t dare broach.

and:

And yet, as a friend, I can’t help regarding “The Master’s Muse” as a violation, made even more brazen by the fact that it’s narrated in the first person. Nothing in this book is more farfetched than the premise that it’s Tanny herself telling us her story, inviting total strangers to spend 244 pages inside her mind — a place that was off-limits even to her closest friends.

This I think is the central point of Brubach's criticism of O'Connor's book. It reflects a certain proprietary attitude that Brubach holds regarding Le Clercq, and it cannot be denied that as a friend of Le Clercq's for 23 years, and as the person who wrote the text for Le Clercq's memorial service and who interviewed her in print more than once, she is certainly an expert in this regard. However, to assume that Le Clercq lived totally in the present — that she never reflected on her past because she never did so in her friend's presence — is an assumption that I believe is untenable. Brubach writes that Le Clercq contemplated suicide for 10 years and once she got over that, she was fine. Le Clercq may have said those words, but really?

It is true that Tanaquil Le Clercq was a very private person; had her friend Holly Brubach decided to write a novel about her, I could see how that might be considered an act of betrayal. But when a writer comes upon the circumstances of a life that take hold of her, and that excite her imagination to the boiling point, she doesn't say to herself, "No, I won't do it, because she wouldn't have wanted me to do it, and neither would her friends have wanted it." Literature doesn't work that way. The novelist forges ahead, does her research, and writes. If the resulting book is good, it accomplishes something very special — it aligns a person's inner and outer life in a harmonious and satisfying whole. Moreover, it connects something important in that person's life to something important in the lives of many readers.

As for whether a biography would have been preferable to a novel, I don't think this is an either/or supposition. Many biographies, even those claiming to be meticulously researched by their authors, have met with incredulity by friends and family of the subject. Brubach presents a pretty good summary of Le Clercq's life in her T Magazine piece — but to go beyond the facts, to make assumptions concerning Le Clercq's inner life, would probably raise her hackles as well as the hackles of others who knew Le Clercq.

Finally, I'd like to also point out that there is nothing in the book even remotely derogatory about Le Clercq in The Master's Muse. It is a sympathetic portrait of a nearly forgotten great artist, and I believe that any interest it reawakens in Tanaquil Le Clercq is all to the good. The Kirkus Reviews review concludes as follows, and I hope it will persuade at least some of you to reconsider the negative attitudes that have been expressed toward the book in this thread:

This is not a novel about victimization or the malevolence of genius, but rather about the painful accommodations all of us make for the things and people we love.

Thoughtful, tender and quite gripping, even for readers unfamiliar with the historical events the author sensitively reimagines.

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Thanks for helping us see the other side to this, joelrw. Your point regarding Brubach's "proprietary feeling" about the Leclercq story is well taken. A number of us here have strong proprietary feelings of our own, so I'm glad to be reminded that this can sometimes limit us.

So far, you are the only poster who has actually read the book. I clicked the Amazon link (bottom of page; a portion of each purchase made via this link helps Ballet Alert) and found an advance offering of the Audio version, though not the printed book or ebook. Reading some of the advance reviews -- and making inferences based on the names and bios of the reviewers -- is interesting.

http://www.amazon.co...29579697&sr=1-3

I'm a big fan of serious historical novels, though have not been tempted by imagined reconstructiosn like Anne Beattie's recent take on Patricia Nixon. it's good to hear that this book is based on serious research and aims at accuracy. I'm looking forward to reading the reviews -- including those by dance specialists and historians -- when they appear. I'm also hoping that there will be a chance to read, on Amazon, some selections from "Inside the Book," which would give us a sense of style as well as content.

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Thanks for letting us hear from someone who's actually read the book, joelrw. Welcome to Ballet Alert! and I hope you'll introduce yourself in the Welcome forum.

The novelist forges ahead, does her research, and writes. If the resulting book is good, it accomplishes something very special — it aligns a person's inner and outer life in a harmonious and satisfying whole.

That's true when something of the inner life is already known but O'Connor has no way of knowing it here. I'm sure L'Clerq engaged in an awful lot of reflection in the years after she could no longer dance and before she decided not to take her own life. But the fact that she kept her reflections private makes me all the more loath to read someone's guess work. A third party's fantasy . . . I just don't see the attraction. unsure.png But that's just me.

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I'm sure L'Clerq engaged in an awful lot of reflection in the years after she could no longer dance and before she decided not to take her own life. But the fact that she kept her reflections private makes me all the more loath to read someone's guess work. A third party's fantasy . . . I just don't see the attraction. unsure.png But that's just me.

Whether or not the novel is satisfactory as prose, it remains an exercise in hubris - for the reasons alluded to by kfw (above), and which reverberate throughout this thread. "Novelization," "creative non-fiction," and other euphemisms aside, there is to me something profoundly repugnant about this choice of subject as the object of the form.

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This type of writing goes back all the way to Shakespeare. Richard III probably never said "My kingdom for a horse," and he probably wouldn't have liked his portrayal. Whether he was a private person, kept his feelings to himself, etc. did not concern Shakespeare. It didn't concern Salman Rushdie either (though it should have!), nor Colm Toibin when he wrote about Henry James, etc., etc. Sure, any author who attempts to get into the head of a formerly or currently living person is committing an act of hubris. Call such an act repugnant if you wish, but keep in mind that we wouldn't have a whole truckload of great literature if one were to apply this criterion universally; same is true of many great movies — and while it is true that there are probably a hundred truckloads of schlock based on the lives of actual people compared to one truckload of great art, I wouldn't want to be without the great stuff. As for Ms. O'Connor's book — well, you can really judge it without reading it, right?

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This type of writing goes back all the way to Shakespeare.

Yes, but Shakespeare wrote about Richard III 100 years after his death, and it was a history play. Toibin wrote about James eighty years later, and another example of this genre, "Summer in Baden Baden" by Leonid Tsypkin, which stalks Anna & Fyodor and describes their long and sensuous swims together, was written 100 years after Doestoevky's death.

Tanaquil Leclercq's end date was 2000, she was not a significant historical figure, and she led a rather private life after her illness. That in part what makes this a somewhat tasteless exercise - also that, given the situation, the outcome would only be bad soap opera or 1950's B movie.

Biographical novels most often seem like boxing matches with the facts when they're not being surogate autobiographies. They only work when the writer writes at the level of Toibin or Tsypkin - after that there's a steep falling off.

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Just wanted to bump up the LINK to Holly Brubach's take on this story, now printed in the NYT Sunday Style Magazine.

DANCING AROUND THE TRUTH. A novel of Tanny Le Clercq's life riles her friend Holly Brubach

This time I looked more closely at the three superb photos, two of which I've never seen before. In one, Leclercq (wearing a Western Symphony costume???) holds a glove and looks to the side. Balanchine, to her left, has an almost identical pose, looking like a Georgian prince, his elegance and grandeur softened by that sweet and silly western bow tie. (Was this a formal dress version of the string ties he wore so often at the studio?)

The third photo is something everyone who cares about Leclercq (and Balanchine as well) HAS to look at .... (Can anyone find a photographer credit for this one?)

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It's terribly sad to see all this battling over a literary investigation into LeClercq's life when the reason for her greatness is almost entirely inivisible - two video clips totaling less than 10 minutes are accessible publicly. One 8-minute clip of her dancing with Jacques D'Amboise in Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and another 1:22 minute clip of her dancing La Valse with Nicholas Magallanes. Whatever viideo clips exist in the NYC Library at Lincoln Center continue to be denied public viewing, and my question is why? Doesn't NYC Ballet, which clearly owns copyright, wish to promote their great ballerina and enhance their prestige? It's more than frustrating to see this lack of initiative - the one thing people want to experience is ballet in the only medium that resonates. Yet ballet organizations continue to act in their worst self-interest by denying the public access to this visual record.

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This time I looked more closely at the three superb photos, two of which I've never seen before. In one, Leclercq (wearing a Western Symphony costume???) holds a glove and looks to the side. Balanchine, to her left, has an almost identical pose, looking like a Georgian prince, his elegance and grandeur softened by that sweet and silly western bow tie. (Was this a formal dress version of the string ties he wore so often at the studio?)

The third photo is something everyone who cares about Leclercq (and Balanchine as well) HAS to look at .... (Can anyone find a photographer credit for this one?)

I'm looking at the print edition. The photo credits are in very tiny type and easy to miss.

(1) Balanchine with the strange tie: AFP Photo/Intercontinentale. Still Life by Lucas Zarebinski

(2) LeClercq in The Concert: Gjon Mili/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

(3) Balanchine and LeClercq at home: Gordon Parks/Tme Life Pictures/Getty Images [This credit is on the inside margin opposite the photo.]

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It's terribly sad to see all this battling over a literary investigation into LeClercq's life when the reason for her greatness is almost entirely inivisible - two video clips totaling less than 10 minutes are accessible publicly. One 8-minute clip of her dancing with Jacques D'Amboise in Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and another 1:22 minute clip of her dancing La Valse with Nicholas Magallanes. Whatever viideo clips exist in the NYC Library at Lincoln Center continue to be denied public viewing, and my question is why? Doesn't NYC Ballet, which clearly owns copyright, wish to promote their great ballerina and enhance their prestige? It's more than frustrating to see this lack of initiative - the one thing people want to experience is ballet in the only medium that resonates. Yet ballet organizations continue to act in their worst self-interest by denying the public access to this visual record.

I'm looking at some of the entries at the nypl.org on-line catalog. It does appear some things which includes LeClercq are available for public viewing at the library.

Symphony in C: http://nypl.biblioco...2_symphony_in_c

Serenade: http://nypl.biblioco...136052_serenade

But for some holdings at the Dance Collection, viewing restrictions are not just about the Balanchine Trust copyrights. Many of the older holdings are home movies, e.g., and various conditions were attached to the viewing. Copyrights attach not only to the choreography but also to the music, sets, costumes, etc. It appears that permissions for educational/research purposes at the Library are generous, but those don't extend to public distribution via DVDs or on-line.

In addition to the Faun and Valse clips you mention, I do recommend the Balanchine biography, still available on DVD (originally shown on PBS). It has fairly lengthy clips of her in Western Symphony and Concerto Barocco (which appears twice), as well as very brief clips from a few other things.

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The third photo is something everyone who cares about Leclercq (and Balanchine as well) HAS to look at .... (Can anyone find a photographer credit for this one?)

The third photograph is one of a series of Le Clercq and Balanchine at home during December 1958 taken by Gordon Parks. One can find them at Life magazine photo archives:

http://images.google.com/hosted/life/00d95c87a9886b39.html

http://images.google.com/hosted/life/06f533941451f398.html

Search Balanchine and New York City Ballet for a variety of photographs at: http://images.google.com/hosted/life

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I suppose the only thing one can do is: NOT buy such books - maybe not even read, review or mention them; and if one does, point out the inaccuracies and bad literary devices. I wonder if Ms. Brubach's well-intended "Talk" piece will stoke curiosity.

This has just given me a nightmarish image of bookshelves full of series of novels based on Balanchine and his wives just like the seemingly endless supply of fiction based on Henry VIII.

I suppose the only thing one can do is: NOT buy such books - maybe not even read, review or mention them; and if one does, point out the inaccuracies and bad literary devices. I wonder if Ms. Brubach's well-intended "Talk" piece will stoke curiosity.

I don't think Brubach's article will deter anyone interested in reading the book, particularly as Brubach has nothing really devastating to say about it. She admits that the writer gets some things wrong but did her homework and didn't or couldn't point to any particularly outrageous passages. She seems to object to the enterprise on principle, which casts too wide a net - some good works of fiction have been written by "going into the heads" of public figures as biographers cannot do. (I do not say this book is one of those.)

It is true that Tanaquil Le Clercq was a very private person; had her friend Holly Brubach decided to write a novel about her, I could see how that might be considered an act of betrayal. But when a writer comes upon the circumstances of a life that take hold of her, and that excite her imagination to the boiling point, she doesn't say to herself, "No, I won't do it, because she wouldn't have wanted me to do it, and neither would her friends have wanted it." Literature doesn't work that way. The novelist forges ahead, does her research, and writes. If the resulting book is good, it accomplishes something very special — it aligns a person's inner and outer life in a harmonious and satisfying whole. Moreover, it connects something important in that person's life to something important in the lives of many readers.

Just so, joelrw. Glad to hear from someone who's read the book.

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some good works of fiction have been written by "going into the heads" of public figures as biographers cannot do. (I do not say this book is one of those.)

And that's just it. As Brubach makes clear, the book may turn out to be good fiction, but it can't possibly get in to LeClerq's head, because no one could do that even when she was alive. As soon as it tries to do that, it's no longer about LeClerq.

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