FRANCINE PROSE IS an elegant and perceptive writer. The author of several highly praised novels, she has chosen nine women who show the muse in all her guises, as inspiration, monster, angel, partner and independent spirit. A few - Lee Miller, Charis Weston, Suzanne Farrell - are unlikely to be familiar to English readers. A surprising absence, since Robert Graves is frequently quoted, is Laura Riding, without whom it is unlikely that Graves would ever have dreamed up that mother of all muses, the White Goddess, queen of the woods and legitimiser of the poet's right to seek out beautiful young women and crown them, one by one, as his source of inspiration.
The problem for the muse, according to Graves, was that her reign was necessarily curtailed by her rash urge 'to commit suicide in domesticity'. This, as he should have known better than most, was a blatant untruth: the nearest Laura Riding came to sharing a domestic life with Graves was