Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler

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In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time center stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.


“Historical fiction at its finest, an absorbing tale sparkling with authentic nuggets on every page, whether musical, sartorial, architectural or political. And it brings an important female composer to light who has not received the attention she is due.”


“In ECSTASY, Mary Sharratt plunges the reader into the tumultuous and glamorous fin de siècle era, bringing to life its brilliant and beguiling leading lady. Finally, Alma Mahler takes center stage, surging to life as so much more than simply the female companion to the brilliant and famous men who loved her. Sharratt’s portrait is poignant and nuanced, her novel brimming with rich historic detail and lush, evocative language.”

Allison PatakiNew York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress

“Both during her life and after, Viennese artist Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) received countless love letters; Sharratt’s passionate novel is another, one notable for its focus on Alma’s artistic talent and early feminism as well as her beauty. . . . this winning historical novel offers an enjoyable portrait of an ambitious woman whose struggles are as relevant today as they were a century ago.”

- Publisher’s Weekly

“This novel is brilliantly written, impeccably researched, and a real page-turner. I cannot believe it took this long for someone to write a truly sympathetic and realistic portrayal of the fascinating woman Alma Maria Schindler. It shows her full complexity as a woman and an artist and captures the details of her time and place with great clarity. An enjoyable and satisfying read.”

- Saoirse, Vine Voice,




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ECSTASY Book Group Discussion Guide


A Conversation with Mary Sharratt about ECSTASY

The Composer Alma Mahler: What’s Her Name Podcast in conversation with Mary Sharratt

Alma Mahler Reading List, Discography, and Filmography





“All of Sharratt’s fiction is about a woman’s place in the world, but ECSTASY is her most ‘modern’ in that Alma Mahler is faced with the stark choice that echoes for women today — what do we give up for love?”

- Mary Ann Grossmann, St. Paul Pioneer Press

“Mary Sharratt has made an impressive career fleshing out the lives of women rendered one-dimensional in the pages of history. . . .  Sharratt, with this fine work, has us wanting more.”

-Christine Brunkhorst, Minnesapolis Star Tribune

“Minnesota native Sharratt has built a career writing meticulously researched, fascinating historical novels about strong women forgotten by time . . . . ECSTASY takes up the cause of Alma Schindler, a composer in turn-of-the-century Vienna. Men fall at her feet — painter Gustav Klimt, composer Gustav Mahler, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, poet Franz Werfel — but Alma dreams of becoming a composer. She falls in love with Mahler, who demands she give up music if they are to marry. This book comes out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and I, for one, cannot wait.”

Laurie HertzelMinneapolis Star Tribune

“A timely tale despite its turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna setting.”

- Erin Kodicek, Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review

“Utterly delightful. Sharratt is gifted at creating characters that jump off the page and hook the reader immediately, and her incarnation of the fascinating Alma Mahler is the first one to finally do justice to a brilliant, compelling and complicated woman. An irresistible and wonderfully-written novel that readers won’t be able to put down. Highly recommended!”

- Olivia Meikle, What’s Her Name Podcast

“Sharratt’s book is a fascinating look at fin de siècle beauty Alma Maria Mahler (1879-1964), the Viennese-born composer and socialite. . . . . Eloquent one minute and fiercely passionate the next, Sharratt unfurls a powerful, sensual saga that explores the high cost of artistry.”

- Michael Leonard, Curled Up with a Good Book

“. . . extolling the magic of the arts is Mary Sharratt’s Ecstasy, a fictionalized reimagining of the life of Austrian composer Alma Schindler. Married to composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius, and novelist Franz Werfel, Schindler struggled to accomplish her own word in a culture and time when women were not encouraged to do so. Given the many well-known artists who surrounded Schindler–she was friendly with iconic painter Gustav Klimt, among others–Sharratt’s vivid novel makes a great, gossipy historical read.”

- Lynette Lamb, Minnesota Magazine

“It’s a stunning backdrop, brought to life with the detail of someone that could have lived next door to [Alma] Schindler. But even more impressive than the setting is Sharratt’s characterization. . . . Sharratt quickly establishes a sympathetic character whose life is fraught with challenge—but one who rose above and, for better or worse, is revered for her beauty and fierce resolve.”

- The Big Thrill

“The story and the marriage between Alma and Gustav reads like a musical composition at times with staccato and legato, diminuendo, and crescendos, Molto and Sempre, melody and harmony. I enjoyed the high drama, I must say. . . .  I also enjoyed Alma’s journey back to the place where she was able to take charge of her life and music again, was able to express herself musically and artistically, feeling more fulfilled and more independent, perhaps learning that lesson the hard way. In the end, Alma was more of a trailblazer for women than she is credited with, eventually leaving behind her own musical legacy, despite her continual attraction to men driven by their careers. . . . This is quick, fascinating read, I found to be quite interesting and very absorbing.”


“Thankfully, Mary Sharratt has written Ecstasy: A Novel which does a great deal to rescue Alma’s reputation as some kind of Helen of Troy leading men to their doom. . . . Ecstasy lets Alma step out of the shadows of Mahler and into a spotlight of her own. Anyone who is interested in Fin-de-siècle Vienna, the world of Klimt, and Schnitzler should pick up a copy of this novel. It gives a vibrant portrait of the bohemian, artistic world and the sacrifices that artists have to make to get ahead (Mahler converted from Judaism to Catholicism). The novel also offers a glimpse of what life was like in New York in the early 20th century, a snapshot of the Metropolitan Opera and the nascent New York Philharmonic. Ecstasy is a thoroughly enjoyable, impeccably researched book.”

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, Scandalous Women-Book of the Month

“If you have not read this book, you need to read this book . . . . this book delivered more than I could have ever imagined as far as historical fiction and biography. It was written so beautifully.”

Michelle Dunton, Writing Fun

“An intimate deep-dive into the thoughts of the composer Alma Schindler Mahler during her marriage to Gustav Mahler.”

- Historical Novels Review

“Luscious in language and beautiful in execution, ECSTASY is a novel to savor. Though the belle époque world it evokes in brilliant detail might be distant in time, the challenge Alma faces–that of extracting her self from the confines of duty and expectation to relish the fullness of life–is one that women continue to face today. Alma Schindler Mahler–muse, mother, and musician–can help them triumph.”

- Julianne Douglas, Writing the Renaissance

“Terrific . . . An intimate, absorbing portrait of a complicated woman whose talents and passions propelled her to the center of fin de siècle Vienna.”

Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

“Evocative and passionate, ECSTASY illuminates through its tempestuous and talented heroine a conundrum that resonates across the centuries: how a woman can fulfill her destiny by being both a lover and an artist.”

Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers

“A tender, intimate exploration of a complicated woman, Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY renders in exquisitely researched detail and fiercely imagined scenes the life of Alma Mahler — daughter, wife, mother, lover, and composer — and the early 20th Century Vienna and New York in which she came of age. I loved this inspiring story of an early  feminist standing up for her art.”

Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Race for Paris

“Sharratt has composed a passionate symphony for Alma Mahler, a woman who was more than a muse to the greats. She was also a talent in her own right, stifled by society and the passions of the many men who pursued her. This heartfelt, feminist tribute makes for a compelling and sophisticated tale!”

- Stephanie Dray, New York Times Bestselling author of America’s First Daughter

“The early years of thwarted artist Alma Mahler, a still-controversial woman. Bourgeois bohemian dilettante? Genius foiled by early-20th-century gender bias and bad romantic decisions? These historical appraisals receive equal airing in Sharratt’s (The Dark Lady’s Mask, 2016, etc.) thought-provoking novel, which takes Alma, nee Schindler, from age 19 to 31. Beautiful and musically gifted, Alma is viewed by her mother and stepfather as ripe for the marriage market: they refuse to allow her to enter a conservatory and only grudgingly agree to her taking counterpoint lessons from composer Alex von Zemlinsky. The two fall in love, appearing to be true soul mates, but her parents won’t allow her to marry a Jew. They reverse this position when Alma, at 22, transfers her infatuation to the much older and more successful Jewish composer Gustav Mahler, director of the Viennese Court Opera. Although Mahler’s proposal comes with the condition that Alma forego composing, she marries him anyway. Over the years, as Alma gives birth to two daughters, the marriage founders. Alma regrets the loss of her own creative soul, and Mahler grows increasingly obsessed with work, treating her more as hausfrau than muse. Vienna’s entrenched anti-Semitism drives the couple to New York, where Mahler escapes European critical ridicule to enjoy acclaim and riches, first as principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and then of the newly reorganized New York Philharmonic. Their eldest child’s death from diphtheria and Alma’s subsequent miscarriages further strain the relationship, particularly since Mahler seems to blame Alma for these tragedies. Crises mount as Alma takes a rest cure for a nervous breakdown and Mahler is diagnosed with a heart condition. At the sanatorium, Alma meets 27-year-old architect Walter Gropius, and once more she confuses her desire for self-realization with other desires. Sharratt is adept at presenting the internal conflicts that dog her protagonist, with the close third-person narration capturing her often skewed perspective. The known biographical facts suggest that Alma could never reconcile her ambitions with her era’s constraints on women. In Sharratt’s bracing portrayal, though, Alma’s limits seem largely self-imposed. Readers will enjoy forming their own opinions on who was really the victim here.”

- Kirkus

“Alma Schindler enraptures every man she meets, including Gustav Klimt, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and Walter Gropius. Yet composer Gustav Mahler is the one the beautiful socialite chooses. Twenty years Alma’s senior, he forbids her own composing, subordinating her gifts to service his ego. Fin de siècle Vienna, with its explosion of art and music, is now a popular setting for historical fiction—see Stolen Beauty (2017), by Laurie Lico Albanese, for example—and it certainly provides a vibrant backdrop in Sharratt’s (Illuminations, 2012) tale of a woman seeking fulfillment in the male luminaries she encounters. Alma is an archetype of conformist discontent: despite the example of unconventional women in her circle, she believes that “my only hope of distinguishing myself . . . is by marrying a great man and sharing his destiny.” The result is domestic tragedy, stifled creativity, profound unhappiness, and envy of women with the fortitude to embrace the new era’s possibilities. Yet all is not lost, as Sharratt’s heroine ultimately finds the harmony she has long sought in a novel with surefire appeal for fans of romantic women’s fiction.”

- Booklist

“Sharratt (IlluminationsThe Dark Lady’s Mask) writes historical fiction focusing on strong women who have been overlooked by history. Her seventh novel tells the story of Alma Mahler, the much younger wife of composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. The author succeeds in making her sympathetic . .  . . The author has in-depth knowledge of classical music and turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna.”

- Library Journal

“A vivd and absorbing picture of a woman at war with herself. . . . Maybe it takes a woman author to get under the skin of this complex and contradictory character and unravel the mysteries of her soul. . . . I am impressed by the author’s depth of knowledge and commitment to her subject. . . . the descriptions of the music are particularly engaging and will make you want to listen.”

- Penelope Young, The Wayfarer: Newsletter of the UK Mahler Society

“Sharratt’s book ECSTASY shows extensive research into Alma’s life and with great empathy she has made her sufferings, inner conflicts, and the social pressures of the time come alive for her readers. The book has given me a new appreciation for the genre ‘historical fiction,’ because it was shown me that fiction can provide a deeper insight into long-past times than purely historical biography, and do so without disregarding or embellishing the facts.”

- Frank Fanning, International Gustav Mahler Society, Vienna

“Mary Sharratt makes a triumphant return to the page with this masterful portrait of Alma Mahler, the wife of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. Set in a time and place when a woman could only hope to be the power behind the throne, Sharratt brings a meticulously researched and richly illuminated account of a young woman who was a brilliant composer in her own right. Alma may have had to suppress her own talents to support Mahler; however, ECSTASY reveals that she was a woman who “contained multitudes.” ECSTASY is an important work of historical fiction, as well as a timely and topical addition to the canon of knowledge that needs to better represent important women and their contributions.”

Pamela Klinger-HornExcelsior Bay Books

“Alma Mahler’s unexpected, often heartbreaking journey from muse to independence comes to vivid, dramatic life in Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY. Sharratt skillfully evokes turn-of-the-century Vienna and the musical genius of the era, returning Alma to her rightful place in history as both the inspiration to the men in her life and a gifted artist in her own right.”

C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel

“Mary Sharratt has more than done justice to one of the most interesting, shocking, and passionate women of the 20th century. Overflowing with life and lust, ECSTASY explores this flawed but fascinating woman who was not only muse but a genius in her own right.”

- New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose

“A deeply affecting portrait of the woman rumored to be the most notorious femme fatale of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY is as heartbreaking and seductive as Alma Mahler herself.”

Kris Waldherr, author of Doomed Queens and Bad Princess