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Passionate Spirit Reviews

Passionate Spirit by Cate Haste

Passionate Spirit: The Life of Alma Mahler

Cate Haste

3.43 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Basic Books
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 10 Sep 2019
ISBN: 9780465096718

Passionate Spirit restores vibrant humanity to a woman time turned into a caricature, providing an important correction to a history where systemic sexism has long erased women of talent.

4 stars out of 5
Hannah Beckerman
21 Jul 2019

"meticulously researched and absorbing"

In this meticulously researched and absorbing biography, Haste reassesses the life of Alma Mahler: socialite, composer and muse. Through extensive reference to diaries, previously unpublished letters and interviews with Mahler’s granddaughter, Haste draws a portrait of a complex, ambitious, highly accomplished woman. Married three times – to composer Gustav Mahler, architect and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, and writer Franz Werfel – Mahler is depicted as a woman who not only facilitated the creative pursuits of her husbands and lovers, but was an intellectual and creative force in her own right.


4 stars out of 5
1 Jul 2019

"a welcome and engaging narrative"

Passionate Spirit does not answer all of the questions about this complex, flawed and contradictory character. But it is a welcome and engaging narrative of a life that, surely, has not yet been fully explored.

3 stars out of 5
30 Jun 2019

"a muse who inspired genius"

Haste’s biography makes clear that this fixity in Alma’s character – her utter refusal to move with the times or develop or mature in any significant way – was bound up with the great tragedy of her life: the early death of her father Emil Schindler, the painter. 

4 stars out of 5
Miranda Seymour
27 Jun 2019

"Cate Haste explores the muse who bewitched and tormented her famous husbands"

Lively, well illustrated and enjoyably juicy (we learn that one besotted admirer liked to kiss any chairseat that betrayed a lingering imprint of Alma’s bottom), Haste’s genial romp through Alma’s follies lacks only the rich historical context and shrewd insights of Oliver Hilmes’ fine biography of Alma (2015), a book which still awaits a British publisher.

3 stars out of 5
16 Jun 2019

"Haste makes a strong case for us to view her subject with more compassion"

When she looked back before her death at the age of 85 in 1964, she concluded that her “life was beautiful”, because “God gave me to know the works of genius in our time before they left the hands of their creators”. She made no mention of her songs, of which only 20 survive and are published. Nor does this book elucidate her artistic style or offer a critical view. Haste makes a strong case for us to view her subject with more compassion, yet Alma’s musical voice, her “bridge to life”, once again falls silent.

4 stars out of 5
8 Jun 2019

"attempts to portray a more sympathetic character than the monster of previous biographies"

The Alma of Passionate Spirit is a more sympathetic creature than the monster of previous biographies. She may still act abominably, but Cate Haste has wisely forsaken the harshly judgmental tone so often used about Alma, and corrected significant errors that have contributed to the monster legend.

3 stars out of 5
Frances Wilson
2 Jun 2019

"the racy life of Alma Mahler"

Being inside Alma’s mind is like being trapped with a lachrymose drunk, and it is clear that for most of her life she was indeed a lachrymose drunk. After finding early refuge in asti spumante, a bottle of Benedictine became her constant companion. Was she an alcoholic? Haste does not comment. Despite describing her as “a woman of extraordinary complexities”, Haste elides most of Alma’s complexities, and what is striking about the woman who appears in these pages is how simple she seems.