Insofar as Muses have paled into trite figures of speech, we are better off without them. Besides, the age of feminine servants posing as Muses is hopefully over. It is no secret that veneration for what Germans used to call ‘das Ewig Weibliche’ (‘the eternal feminine’) often masks disdain. An example of this stance is found in William Hazlitt’s Lectures on the English Poets (1828), where he describes ‘women as objects rather than subjects of the contemporary scene, modern Muses who, as such, inspire rather than being inspired.’1
That said, we may wonder how many muses and offspring of muses have entered, as a sort of fifth column, the literary imagination in the form of alluring heroines. At the same time, let us not forget that bold lady authors like Colette, Yourcenar, or Dumas—to name but a few examples among many more—have turned the tables on men; for instance, in Colette’s Cheri, an eponymous novel where the main masculine character serves as a languid backdrop to female aspirations. Perhaps it’s not so much Muses we tire of, but sexist stereotypes.
Insofar as they function as symbols, the nine Muses quite accurately reflect the various paths our imagination may tread. An author of novels may be inspired by Euterpe (Muse of Epic Poetry); but after entering the realm of historical fiction, he may find that Clio gradually takes over. And where would Erato be, the one who hatches erotic poems, without moving her feet to Terpsichore’s heartbeat?
Literature and poetry are inclusive utterances. They may refer to a worldview, an episode in history, a dystopian future, or a homely reality; to various forms of madness and human extremes; to a series of seemingly random observations. Fiction may pertain to humans, animals, aliens, even to ‘forces’ such as Fate or Evil. Yet in the end, all genres express in some way what it means to be human. The author is a witness to that, his tale a testimony of existence in a myriad forms, disguised as various characters.
Of course the Muses need not enter our fiction as characters in their own right; usually, they do not. Yet they do personify our drives––and by visualizing them, we enable ourselves to get in touch with our deepest urges and desires. ‘Finding your Muse’ can be an exciting way to go about you writing, but it is certainly not the only one.
1 See Lilla Maria Chrisafulli and Keir Illam, the introductory chapter of Woman’s Romantic Theatre and Drama. History, Agency, and Performativity )