Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel inspired passionate antipathies among her many acquaintances. She also inspired passionate admiration in the course of a long life that spanned the collapse of Hapsburg Austria and two world wars. Charming, privileged, ambitious and calculating, she was one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century, one whose magnetic aura touched an entire generation of creative artists.
She was wife to three famous husbands – composer Gustav Mahler, architect and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and author Franz Werfel – mistress to artist Oskar Kokoschka, and lover to many other prominent men.
Who was this alluring mass of contradictions? German author Oliver Hilmes probes the paradoxes in his even-handed, compulsively readable biography, “Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler.” Originally published in Germany in 2004, the book has been issued in an English translation by Donald Arthur (Northeastern University Press, 360 pages, $40).