05 September 2019, The Tablet

Sometimes magnificent, sometimes abominable

Sometimes magnificent, sometimes abominable

Passionate Spirit: The Life of Alma Mahler
(BLOOMSBURY, 496 PP, £26)
Tablet bookshop price £23.40 • Tel 020 7799 4064

In 1898 Alma Schindler (pictured) met the painter Gustav Klimt. At 35, he was nearly twice her age but she was certain that he was “the only man I ever loved, and shall ever love”. As proved often to be the case, she was deluded. Klimt was only the first: by the time she died, aged 85, her tally of lovers was such as to make the Wife of Bath seem maidenly. Looking back on them all, she was loftily dismissive. They were just clouds, she wrote: “some mighty thunder-claps, others mere curls on the horizon”.

What made them remarkable was that they included most of the top creative men in central Europe. She married, serially, Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel, but within her orbit circled innumerable others, most of whom, as she frequently recorded in her voluminous diaries, fell immediately, hopelessly in love with her. Habitually, she would casually beguile, seduce and then reject them.

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