"[An] empathetic and imaginative biography, deeply researched."
—The New Yorker
In 1902, Rainer Maria Rilke—then a struggling poet in Germany—went to Paris to research and write a short book about the sculptor Auguste Rodin. The two were almost polar opposites: Rilke in his twenties, delicate and unknown; Rodin in his sixties, carnal and revered. Yet they fell into an instantaneous friendship—and before long Rodin hired Rilke as his secretary.
With verve and great insight, Corbett transports readers to turn-of-the-twentieth-century Paris to explore this surprising friendship and the development of their influential ideas about art and creativity. She captures the dawn of modernism with appearances by such charismatic figures as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Isadora Duncan, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean Cocteau, as well as the rise of the concept of "empathy" amid the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Georg Simmel. Corbett also introduces the women in these men’s lives, many of them esteemed writers and artists in their own right: Rodin’s muse Camille Claudel, Rilke’s wife and fellow artist Clara Westhoff, and the remarkable Lou Andreas-Salome, who was Nietzsche’s lover and Rilke’s lifelong friend.
You Must Change Your Life is a vibrant portrait of Rilke and Rodin’s singular friendship, heartbreaking rift, and moving reconciliation, and it is a testament to the ways their work continues to reverberate to this day.