Passionate Spirit (Hardcover)

The Life of Alma Mahler

By Cate Haste

Basic Books, 9780465096718, 368pp.

Publication Date: September 10, 2019

List Price: 32.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A new biography of Alma Mahler (1879-1964), revealing a woman determined to wield power in a world that denied her agency

History has long vilified Alma Mahler. Critics accused her of distracting Gustav Mahler from his work, and her passionate love affairs shocked her peers. Drawing on Alma's vivid, sensual, and overlooked diaries, biographer Cate Haste recounts the untold and far more sympathetic story of this ambitious and talented woman. Though she dreamed of being the first woman to compose a famous opera, Alma was stifled by traditional social values. Eventually, she put her own dreams aside and wielded power and influence the only way she could, by supporting the art of more famous men. She worked alongside them and gained credit as their muse, commanding their love and demanding their respect.

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.

About the Author

Cate Haste is a biographer, historian, and filmmaker. She is the author of a number of books, including Nazi Women and the award-winning biography Sheila Fell: A Passion for Paint. Haste lives in London.

Praise For Passionate Spirit: The Life of Alma Mahler

"In this sympathetic, engrossing biography of Viennese socialite and composer Alma Mahler, Haste traces Mahler's struggle to find equilibrium among her men (all creative geniuses), her erotic desires, and her own musical ambition."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A well-rounded portrait of an imperious woman and her eventful life."—Kirkus Reviews

"In this meticulously researched and absorbing biography... 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."—Hannah Beckerman, The Guardian

"Considering the sexism of the 19th and
20th centuries, Alma Mahler's status as a 'muse' can be understood as
a strategic attempt to signal her own talents to the world. Haste presents a
necessary update and reframing of Mahler's life and legacy."—Library Journal

"Haste... gives Alma room to
romp, drawing on unpublished diary entries and memoirs (along with a trove of
previous accounts) to reveal the full Alma in all her maddening, intoxicating,
intimidating variety.... This delectable biography assembles the awesome elements
of Alma's breathtaking life's work; it answers the questions of who, where, and
when; yet the question of how this one woman succeeded in filling her canvas so magisterially
remains as tantalizing and mysterious as Alma herself."—Liesl Schillinger, Airmail

"What does it mean to be a muse who is looking for her own?
That is the question Alma (whose first husband is the composer Gustav Mahler)
attempts to answer over the course of her life, marked by bouts of happiness
and tragedy... Haste uses previously unpublished letters and diaries to restore
Alma Mahler's place among the central figures of the Viennese fin de


"Fascinating... Haste paints a portrait of a woman who was born to triumph, not surrender."—Harper's Bazaar

accessible...Written in elegant, lucid prose, [Passionate Spirit]
is a treasure trove of European cultural riches and scandalous intrigue."—The Economist

"The Alma of Passionate
is a more sympathetic creature than the monster of previous
biographies... Cate Haste has wisely forsaken the harsh judgmental tone so often
used about Alma, and corrected significant errors."—The Spectator

"[Alma Mahler] does burst forth here with appealing force... Haste
make a strong case for us to view her subject with more compassion."—The Times

"Lively, well illustrated, and enjoyably juicy."—Financial Times