DANGEROUS MUSE: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood

Nancy Schoenberger, Author . Doubleday/ Talese $27.50 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-48979-9

Lady Caroline Blackwood (1931–1996), with her wealth, fame, brilliance, eccentricity, dysfunction and illness, is an ideal subject for an absorbingly juicy (albeit tragic) biography. Perhaps best known for marrying painter Lucian Freud, then Aaron Copland's prize student Israel Citkowitz, then patrician poet Robert Lowell, the mysterious Blackwood, with her enormous, unflinching eyes, was "one of the great beauties of her day"; she was also a writer in her own right. Schoenberger (Girl on a White Porch), former director of the Academy of American Poets, never met Blackwood (the day of their proposed meeting, Blackwood was hospitalized and died soon thereafter). The author traces this troubled, fascinating life from a childhood on a grand family estate in Northern Ireland, through her marriages to brilliant yet tortured and unstable men, and then through widowhood, when Blackwood inhabited a former funeral home in Sag Harbor, on New York's Long Island, reputedly haunted still by her dark presence. Blackwood inspired her husbands' brilliant works—such as Freud's photograph Girl in Bed (it was clutched by Lowell when he died of a heart attack) and Lowell's The Dolphin, dedicated to Caroline. But Schoenberger calls her "both a muse and an anti-muse," for she also undermined their creativity with her alcoholism and cruel wit, provoking their worst qualities, like Freud's gambling and womanizing, Citkowitz's passivity and Lowell's bipolar illness and abusiveness. Alternately vibrant and pathetic, Blackwood alienated and insulted everyone around her. Schoenberger targets the general reader over the scholar—particularly with her exploration of Blackwood's "curse"—but those interested in literary biography, particularly in the lives of artists and the sources of their creativity, will find relevant material here. Agents, Joy Harris and Leslie Daniels. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.(July 3)

Forecast:Though already chosen for the Wall Street Journal's summer reading list, with first serial rights sold to Vogue, this myth-making bio will have to show unexpected reach to appeal to a mass of readers. The author will do some regional publicity in New York and Washington, D.C.

Reviewed on: 06/04/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-306-81187-6
Open Ebook - 265 pages - 978-0-307-82235-2
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