The Master's Muse

A Novel

The Master's Muse

An exquisite, unforgettable novel about the true love affair between two artistic legends: George Balanchine, the choreographer widely considered the Shakespeare of dance, and his wife and muse, Tanaquil Le Clercq.

Copenhagen, 1956: Tanaquil Le Clercq, known as Tanny, is a gorgeous, talented, and spirited young ballerina whose dreams are coming true. She is married to the love of her life, George Balanchine—the famous mercurial director of New York City Ballet—and she has become a star around the world. But one fateful evening, only hours after performing, Tanny falls suddenly and gravely ill; she awakens from a feverous sleep to find that she can no longer move her legs.

Tanny is diagnosed with polio and Balanchine devotes himself to caring for his wife. But after Tanny discovers she will never walk again, their relationship is challenged as Balanchine returns to the company, choreographing ballets inspired by the ever-younger, more beautiful and talented dancers. Their marriage is put to the ultimate test as Tanny battles to redefine her dreams.
  • Scribner | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451657753 | 
  • May 2013
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Master's Muse includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Varley O'Connor. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


It is often said, behind every great man, there is a great woman. In the case of celebrated and esteemed choreographer George Balanchine, there were several. The Master’s Muse is the spectacular reimagining of his fifth and final wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq. At just twenty-seven years old, Tanny’s brilliant career as a ballerina was ended and her entire world shattered when she contracted polio. She lost her ability to dance, and with that, feared the loss of her husband’s affection and desire. Varley O’Connor masterfully enters the mind of Tanny and delivers a first person perspective on life as a ballerina, polio victim, and muse to one of ballet’s most famous figures of the twentieth century.

Topics & Questions for Discussion 
1.  The Master’s Muse is broken up into three parts: “polio,” “Being Russian,” and “The Body.” Discuss the significance of these three part tit see more

About the Author

Varley O'Connor
Photograph by Joel Wapnick

Varley O'Connor

Varley O’Connor is the author of three novels. She teaches fiction and creative nonfiction writing at Kent State University and for the Northeast Ohio Universities Consortium MFA program.