Neryssa

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

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Wow, great review by Joel Lobenthal: http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/culture/2012/02/5366853/muse-many-faces-ballerina-tanaquil-le-clercqs-life-and-times-and-aft

He should write a pictorial biography since he wrote such a great article in Ballet Review.

I don't find it a good "review" really. However the information he provides is very interesting and appears to be factual. As it has been

said, time for Lobenthal and Brubach to team together and produce that tome!

The article is actually a generally favorable review of the book.

Why wouldn't a biography violate Le Clercq's privacy as much, if not more, than this novel? Lobenthal notes that Le Clercq's father was a lush and there was much tension with Mom. I didn't know that before, but I do now......

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I don't agree about the review and that is my prerogative. He calls her out on a number of "details" AND what he shares is from his research and his association with those who knew her. Not invented fictional thoughts told in the fictional first person.

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We're all free to disagree here, of course. However, I think it's quite a stretch to call Lobenthal's review a negative one and readers can make that judgment for themselves. My point was that if the preservation of Le Clercq's treasured privacy is the concern, as many seem to suggest, a full biography is potentially just as invasive as a respectful and sensitive piece of fiction based on fact, if not more so.

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My point was that if the preservation of Le Clercq's treasured privacy is the concern, as many seem to suggest, a full biography is potentially just as invasive as a respectful and sensitive piece of fiction based on fact, if not more so.

We don’t know if L’Clerq would have seen a good posthumous biography as a violation of her privacy, or if she wouldn’t have cared what people wrote after she was gone. But we do know that a good biography isn’t pretending to be something it’s not, and that a good biographer respects his subject in refusing to engage in wholesale speculation. I can understand a writer being moved by L’Clerq’s story and wanting to use it. But she should also be able to understand that for people like me, for whom L’Clerq is at the top of the list of dancers I wish I’d seen, the author’s project seems tasteless.

It seems like the heart of the dispute here is who L’Clerq’s legacy belongs to, a casual ballet fan who stumbles upon her story, or the kind of fans who go out of their way to find out all that can truly be known about her and her dancing. L’Clerq may have said neither. But I wouldn’t pretend to put words in her mouth.

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To each his own, as they say.

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I don't know what to say: a lot has been published already.

Moira Shearer first published rumours about Le Clercq and the canal water in Venice but I always thought that was some kind of urban myth. Reading about that again was painful.

Barbara Milberg Fisher briefly mentioned Le Clercq's father (and his drinking) in her literary memoirs In Balanchine's Company. I thought her chapter on Le Clercq's polio was well written and tasteful but I remember feeling devastated after reading it. I thought the implications were enormous; Le Clercq did not develop polio overnight as it is often written but within a week or two of receiving questionable treatment by persons who were not doctors. After reading the latest biography of Lincoln Kirstein which mentioned Balanchine's illness and tuberculosis during the 1930s and Balanchine's unusual ideas about medicine and doctors, I knew that it wasn't just my interpretative reading of Milberg Fisher's memoirs...

Is all of this better left unsaid or unwritten, I don't think so but I wish O'Connor had consulted primary sources and written in the third person.

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To each his own, as they say.

I don't think so. We disagree about what's tasteful, respectful and classy, and what's not, but that doesn't make them to-each-his-own questions.

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To each his own, as they say.

I don't think so. We disagree about what's tasteful, respectful and classy, and what's not, but that doesn't make them to-each-his-own questions.

Sure it does. To-each-his-own questions are those that are value oriented, and cannot be resolved in some sort of objective fashion. Whether Lobenthal's review is positive or negative seems to be the issue here. One person writes positive, another negative, ergo to each his own.

Personally, I found the review quite positive. Recall that Lobenthal's final sentence was this:

Yet I was glad, as I read the novel, that this extraordinary artist and woman had stimulated yet another imaginative act of creation.

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Personally, I found the review quite positive. Recall that Lobenthal's final sentence was this:

Yet I was glad, as I read the novel, that this extraordinary artist and woman had stimulated yet another imaginative act of creation.

Minor quibble: Le Clercq was not proactive in stimulating O'Connor's imagination. O'Connor projected her own ideas on a fascinating story; obviously, the author was influenced by her father's experience with polio. However, Lobenthal is correct when he discusses Le Clercq's ambivalence. She could have destroyed her personal correspondence and archive as Balanchine instructed Lincoln Kirstein to do with a portion of his papers (from the 1950s?). Anyway, thank god we have the correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins. It was so touching to read in Amanda Vaill's biography of Robbins.

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To each his own, as they say.

I don't think so. We disagree about what's tasteful, respectful and classy, and what's not, but that doesn't make them to-each-his-own questions.

Sure it does. To-each-his-own questions are those that are value oriented, and cannot be resolved in some sort of objective fashion. Whether Lobenthal's review is positive or negative seems to be the issue here. One person writes positive, another negative, ergo to each his own.

For me the issue is the book, not the review. Anyhow, I imagine we can agree that while values disagreements can’t always be resolved, they can be illuminated by discussions like the one on this thread. “To each his own” suggests it’s a purely private matter, a matter of mere taste. To which I would reply, there is good taste and bad..

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You seem to be taking a harder line than you did earlier in the thread, where you said that you weren't knocking O'Connor for taking up the subject. To each his own, though.

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You seem to be taking a harder line than you did earlier in the thread, where you said that you weren't knocking O'Connor for taking up the subject.

I'm trying to show respect to the author, but I think she made a poor decision.

To each his own, though.

Meaning you do think there is no right or wrong here? Then why express an opinion?

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Does anybody have access to Publisher's Weekly. Usually I do through my University library. However, I am unable to access it from home for some reason. Here is an excerpt from an article by Varley O'Connor from the March 16 edition:

Finding the Truth in Fiction

A novelist defends delving into the psyche of famous women

By Varley O'Connor

Mar 16, 2012

In a recent New York Times T magazine article, Holly Brubach, a writer I admire and a friend of Tanaquil Le Clercq, took umbrage at my audacity for depicting the life of the late great ballerina and fifth wife of George Balanchine in my forthcoming novel, The Master's Muse. Brubach contends that fiction which imagines the lives of "real, usually famous people" aren't novels at all, but a sort of lesser form, "custom-made for a culture fixated on celebrity." Examples she cites are Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife: A Novel and Ann Beattie's Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. I assume she would include Paula McLain's The Paris Wife and Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, two recent books in the category that have captivated many readers.

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Tobi Tobias published a short comment on this book in her web column. Here is the link.

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Tobi Tobias published a short comment on this book in her web column. Here is the link.

Thanks.

Tanaquil LeClercq was not a heroine in a middle-brow tale.

Perfectly put.

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Tanaquil LeClercq was not a heroine in a middle-brow tale.
Perfectly put.

Indeed.

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I guess it would be all right if Le Clercq were the heroine of a novel with a higher brow? Hemingway wrote about real (and living) people in The Sun Also Rises and he was rather less respectful than Varley O'Connor is reported to be. Sure, he was Hemingway, but less reputable novelists have done the same.

I'd be more impressed if Tobias was actually able to cite something outrageously exploitative (sorry, BTW, to see Tobias making use of the unfortunate "exploitive"). I suppose if you think the project is by definition outrageous then there you are, but we've already had that discussion. (I get the impression that Tobias might have been more forgiving if she'd enjoyed it more.)

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I guess it would be all right if Le Clercq were the heroine of a novel with a higher brow? Hemingway wrote about real (and living) people in The Sun Also Rises and he was rather less respectful than Varley O'Connor is reported to be. Sure, he was Hemingway, but less reputable novelists have done the same.

I'd be more impressed if Tobias was actually able to cite something outrageously exploitative (sorry, BTW, to see Tobias making use of the unfortunate "exploitive"). I suppose if you think the project is by definition outrageous then there you are, but we've already had that discussion. (I get the impression that Tobias might have been more forgiving if she'd enjoyed it more.)

For one thing, Hemingway wrote his own story. For another, he was a good enough writer to do it justice. I would feel differently if Holly Brubach, a friend of LeClerq’s, or Tobias, who has long been part of the ballet world, had written the book and written it well. I wouldn't love the idea, but it wouldn't seem in such bad taste. For an outsider to come in and take a beloved and somewhat mysterious figure and imagine her life in an apparently pedestrian manner is something else entirely.

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I posted a message to Tobi Tobias's blog yesterday, in which I pointed out that either (1) she hasn't read O'Connor's book or (2) her description of it is so far removed from what the book actually is as to be a gross distortion. Everything Tobias writes from "Do we really need to hear the couple's pillow talk?" onward is beyond ludicrous.

I also left O'Connor's response to such criticism, published in Publisher's Weekly, in my message ( I've given it here earlier in this thread). But perhaps needless to say, Ms. Tobias deleted my message soon after I posted it.

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I should think that for a friend like Brubach to write such a fiction would be a considerably worse bit of exploitation, given the various reasons already presented for objecting to such a project on principle, unless she and Le Clercq had some sort of understanding on the matter.

Hemingway wrote his own story, but he used people and incidents from life and not always fairly. It turned out a classic but I'm not sure that made all the people concerned feel better.

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I should think that for a friend like Brubach to write such a fiction would be a considerably worse bit of exploitation, given the various reasons already presented for objecting to such a project on principle, unless she and Le Clercq had some sort of understanding on the matter. Hemingway wrote his own story, but he used people and incidents from life and not always fairly. It turned out a classic but I'm not sure that made all the people concerned feel better.

Regardless of whether she had LeClerq's permission, Brubach would not be a stranger imagining her. Likewise, Hemingway knew the people he wrote about and had lived through what he described. A roman a clef can be kind or unkind, fair or unfair - it's not the genre per se that I object to.

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I'm not sure how Brubach could properly undertake such a project, given how she described Le Clercq's zeal for privacy in her article and the objections she raised to O'Connor's effort, but perhaps I'm missing something.

If there are in fact no objections to the book on principle but only to the fact of O'Connor's being an "outsider" and therefore unworthy and/or unqualified then it's hard to see what all the fuss is about.

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I'm not sure how Brubach could properly undertake such a project, given how she described Le Clercq's zeal for privacy in her article and the objections she raised to O'Connor's effort

That's true. I was trying to think of someone who could just possibly, just maybe, have some basis for conveying LeClerq's experience, but as I said, the idea still wouldn't appeal. But given LeClerq's nature, there apparently is no such person anyhow.

If there are in fact no objections to the book on principle but only to the fact of O'Connor's being an "outsider" and therefore unworthy and/or unqualified then it's hard to see what all the fuss is about.

I object to this particular roman a clef on principle, for reasons explained.

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For the record, "The Sun Also Rises" is a roman à clef, not The Master's Muse, which is more along the lines of the Irving Stone novels mentioned earlier in this thread (and could be regarded part of a contemporary trend with female public figures as subjects). I brought up the former to point out that "violations of privacy" by novelists are nothing new and from what I understand of O'Connor's treatment, hers seems respectful enough, whereas some of Hemingway's friends got the back of his hand.

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