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Casey Abell

Shows that opinions differ. Edmund Wilson - the critic who did the flip-flop-flip on the ghosts in the Turn of the Screw - thought Miriam Rooth of The Tragic Muse was one of James' sexiest creations. I tend to agree, and in fact her clothes do come off late in the novel...when she beds an actor instead of James' painter-hero.

The lady novelists? Nope, you got the wrong story. That would be The Next Time, the sad and funny account of a good (male) novelist trying to write a bad book, and a bad (female) novelist trying to write a good one.

Casey Abell

One more note: The Tragic Muse also offers some of James' most hilarious satire. Unfortunately, the target of the satire is partisan politics. So if you're a strongly committed partisan yourself, you probably won't appreciate James' ribbing.

A sample: James' hero, Nick Dormer, gets elected to Parliament on the Liberal ticket. Of course, he soon discovers that Parliament is full of partisan hacks and nonentities - on all sides. He tries to communicate his disillusionment to Mr. Carteret, his elderly political advisor.

The old man, a veteran Liberal of many decades, misunderstands completely. He gasps: "God forgive you, are you a Tory - are you a Tory?"

If you can laugh at political hackery on both sides of the aisle, The Tragic Muse gives you plenty to smile about. If you're committed strongly to one side of the aisle or the other, you better avoid the book.



It's been four years since I read the book and wrote that letter, but I think I was talking about the scenes between Nick and Miriam rather than the characters themselves. Nick Dormer is one of James' most sexually dynamic males, almost as dynamic as Basil Ransome, and I remember wondering why the scenes between him and Miriam---between an artist and his actress model weren't more erotically charged. They struck me as almost ridiculously passionless and intellectual, whereas the scenes between Nick and his fiancee seemed full of sexual tension to the point that I thought the fiancee was going to burst into flame. Which is probably why I thought she was a far more interesting character than Miriam.

I was surprised at not being more intrigued by Miriam, actually, since she should have been just my type. In fact, I dated at least three different real life versions of her in college and grad school. Maybe that was the problem. No mystery.

I also remember liking the political sections much better and wishing James had stuck with writing a political satire.

But like I said, it's been four years. Maybe I should re-read it. I would except that now you have me wanting to have a go at The Next Time.

Casey Abell

Julia Dallow isn't unsexy, if you're hot for political types. But her zealotry turns me off. When she says: "There's one thing I always desire - to keep out a Tory," it's a nice bit of satire but hardly makes me always desire her.

Miriam gets a lot more interest from me. I like how she spars and scuffles (not physically) with the hopelessly smitten Peter Sherringham. Now that's a hot lady.

The Tragic Muse is a sprawling, untidy novel because of the double plot. But it's hardly "unfunny" as Laura Demanski pronounced. The book is actually one of James' cheeriest and wittiest - and I haven't even mentioned Gabriel Nash yet...who was NOT based on Oscar Wilde but talks a lot like him.

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