The Artist’s Muse : Inspiration for a novel
The novel The Artist’s Muse by Kerry Postle is set in early 20th century Austria and is a fictional account of the life of Walburga ‘Wally’ Neuzil and her relationships with the artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
Interview with Kerry Postle, author of The Artist’s Muse by Connie
What inspired you to write the novel The Artist’s Muse?
The early 20th century in general, that most revolutionary of times, for both art and politics, has always fascinated me and after a trip to Vienna I knew that I had to write a novel set in that period in that city. An age and place of supreme cultural importance, where Freud, Klimt, Tito, Stalin, Schiele, Hitler, Mahler and many more angels and devils of European history rubbed shoulders. Sometimes sublime, usually challenging, often inspirational, occasionally rotten. I had to write about it. And after a visit to the Egon Schiele exhibition at the Leopold Museum in 2015 I knew what to write. The artist’s relationship with his model encapsulated much of this conflicted spirit of the age. It was perfect.
Why did you choose to write The Artist’s Muse from Wally Neuzil’s point of view?
I had Wally as the narrator because I wanted her voice to be the one you heard. I had no true sense of what she thought, what she felt, as I walked around the Leopold, even though there were so many images of her on the walls. I had to tell her story and that’s why it was important to use her voice : to bring her vividly to life.
Why did you call the novel The Artist’s Muse?
I didn’t. It was the publisher who chose the title. I’d chosen ‘Matter without a Soul’, an Otto Weininger quotation which describes what many people at the time believed women were without men – formless, soulless, mere lumps of flesh waiting for a man to mould them into meaningful shape. The Artist’s Muse, however, is a far better title as it describes precisely what Wally is. The story illustrates the extent of her influence and how she inspired Schiele to achieve his greatest work as only a great muse can.
I’ve been told that you regard The Artist’s Muse as a feminist novel. Why?
So she doesn’t lead a women’s march. She doesn’t turn into a super woman. However, she does think like a woman who questions the fairness of how she is treated, the inequality between men and women, between different classes of women… She is trapped in the cage society has created for her and she has no way out of it while the world goes on as it does. It is ironic that what does eventually give her the chance to break free is war, which in itself destroys so many lives, making her survival/ victory bitter-sweet.
There’s a lot of art in the novel. Why?
The title is The Artist’s Muse – she inspired so many of the great paintings of some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. She was not only the subject but also the inspiration and not to have made reference to at least a handful of them would have been a grave omission. The aim of this novel is to weave art and life together and to explore how the former inspired the latter.
Egon Schiele. A great artist?
Yes, undoubtedly. However, he was flawed. Blessed with a precocious artistic talent, he was immature and suffered from the same overbearing hypocrisy of which he accused others.
Why did you end the novel when you did?
It’s true that Wally’s life does not end at the end of the novel. However, without giving away what does happen in her life, I wanted to end the novel on a positive note. She’d had a miserable life until then and I didn’t have the heart to make her experience within the novel unerringly bleak. After all that she’d endured I wanted the novel to end with hope as for me Wally represents all women.
Many readers have commented on your style of writing. It’s clearly worthy of comment. Why do you think that is?
While I was writing The Artist’s Muse I wanted to play with the writing. I read many of my favourite novelists again and used them as guides, inspiration. I hope that the joy that comes from playing with words comes across.
What are you going to write next?
I’m currently working on a novel set in Franco’s Spain, where the human spirit has to battle in order to stay strong in a chaotic world.
To find out more about the background go to – https://theartistsmuseblog.wordpress.com/