The wonderful new novel from the much loved author of ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ and ‘Falling Angels’.
Flames and funerals, circus feats and seduction, neighbours and nakedness: Tracy Chevalier's new novel ‘Burning Bright’ sparkles with drama.
London 1792. The Kellaways move from familiar rural Dorset to the tumult of a cramped, unforgiving city. They are leaving behind a terrible loss, a blow that only a completely new life may soften.
Against the backdrop of a city jittery over the increasingly bloody French Revolution, a surprising bond forms between Jem, the youngest Kellaway boy, and streetwise Londoner Maggie Butterfield. Their friendship takes a dramatic turn when they become entangled in the life of their neighbour, the printer, poet and radical, William Blake. He is a guiding spirit as Jem and Maggie navigate the unpredictable, exhilarating passage from innocence to experience. Their journey inspires one of Blake's most entrancing works.
Georgian London is recreated as vividly in Burning Bright as 17th-century Delft was in Tracy Chevalier's bestselling masterpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
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Praise for ‘Burning Bright’:
'A visual delight. Chevalier's meticulous brushstrokes allow us to hear the "youthful harlot's curse" and feel "the damp souls of housemaids"'
'Burning Bright is an ambitious, impressively-researched novel…You can almost smell the smoke and mildewed clothes, see the gaunt, pock-marked faces of people struggling to survive and sense Jem's wonder as he gazes across the murky Thames to a perplexing world'
'A subtle clarity of style, quirky but seldom over-drawn characters, engaging touches of domestic detail and a splendidly vital recreation of Georgian London'
'Vivid, romantic and pacey'
'Those who admired Chevalier's atmospheric evocation of 17th-century Delft will find much to enjoy in her vivid reconstruction of late 18th-century London'
‘Passionate and compelling it provides a fascinating historical insight.’
More praise for ‘Burning Bright’:
‘Marvellously plotted…Chevalier masterfully works the themes and images of Blake's poetry into a tale of pure souls "burning bright" in a tarnished, slippery world'
Susan Vreeland, Waterstone's Books Quarterly
'Her pen-sketches of the squalor, smells and sounds of low-life London flesh out the history into immediacy'
'Entertaining and involving'
'Chevalier's characteristic love of detail - from the smells of the cattle market to a grotesque description of a man eating a pie - brings Georgian London vividly to life, while meticulous research allows her to weave fact and fiction into a convincing and persuasive narrative'
'Great pleasure is derived from Chevalier's vivid sense of place. In her hands, late 18th-century London and Lambeth in particular spring to life, and you see a city teetering on the brink of the rapid expansion and industrialisation that is about to change it forever'
Historical Novels Review
‘great pleasure is derived from Chevalier’s sense of place. In her hands late 18th century London and Lambeth in particular spring to life.’ Historical Novels Review
‘this is an engaging novel of families and friendship’ Choice Magazine
‘Chevalier’s characteristic love of detail…brings Georgian London vividly to life while meticulous research allows her to weave fact and fiction into a convincing and persuasive narrative. Indeed her vivid portrayal of the soico political realities of the day …serves ultimately to vindicate Blake’s warning that “fear of originality will stifle those who speak with original voices.” In Burning Bright, Chevalier gives these people their voice.’ Irish Times
‘This is a book that sets out to paint an absorbing picture of a time, a place and a people – and it does the job wonderfully.’ Irish ExaminerFrom the Author:
THE INSPIRATION: In early 2001 I went to an exhibition of
William Blake's works at Tate Britain in London. This sprawling display
explored the many and varied strands of Blake's life: his paintings,
commercial engravings, books he printed and coloured, illustrated poems,
and prose and letters describing his radical thinking and bohemian world.
I was familiar with Blake's poems from studying them at college, and his
art from a semester I spent studying in London, but I had never seen it all
pulled together. I remember standing in the middle of one of the rooms,
bewildered by the variety and intensity of his work, and thinking, "This
guy was crazy, or on drugs, or both." At the end of the exhibition, I went
into the shop and bought a notebook with a Blake image on the cover,
thinking, "This is the notebook I will use for my Blake novel some day."
Two and a half years later, I opened that notebook and began taking notes.
I spent a whole year reading about Blake and looking at his work before I
began the novel itself. There is so much written about him it's kind of
ridiculous, and confusing. I think Blake is a bit of a mirror - hold him up
to yourself and you will see reflected in him your own interests and
preoccupations. Poetry, art, philosophy, theology, erotica, politics,
socio-economics: it's all there if you choose to look for it.
Blake's work is not easy to cope with. Much of his poetry is long,
personal, and obscure. His illustrations are dark and anxious. By the end
of the year I didn't understand him any better than I had at the start -
though I did at least come to realize that he was neither crazy nor on
drugs. I kept looking for that one work that would explain him to me, but
after a while I realized I was going to have to write it myself.
The works I kept coming back to were his two volumes, Songs of Innocence
and of Experience - short, simple poems I had always loved and felt I sort
of understood. I decided then that I would focus on Blake's writing of
Songs of Experience - to me the acquiring of experience contains more of a
story than being in a state of innocence. The story of Adam and Eve is
interesting because they tasted the apple, after all; otherwise there is no
Speaking of Adam and Eve, I also kept circling back to a story told about
Blake and his wife Catherine. Supposedly their friend Thomas Butts visited
them in Lambeth and found them sitting naked in their garden, reading
Milton's Paradise Lost to each other. Blake is meant to have said, "Oh,
don't mind us - it's only Adam and Eve, you know!" Scholars dismiss the
story as unlikely, but I love it, as it humanizes Blake. It also made me
wonder what it was like to be his neighbor. So I put that together with
Songs of Experience and came up with Burning Bright.
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