Tag Archives: Harriet Burden

Women who roam The Blazing World, Part II

The Blazing World_HustvedtThere are some intriguing and inspiring real-life creative women mentioned in Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, The Blazing World, which is about a fictional artist, Harriet Burden, who believes that she does not receive the recognition her art deserves because she is a well-off, middle-aged woman. To remedy the situation Burden employs three young, upcoming male artists to front her next three exhibitions. The project has some unexpected consequences. I reviewed the novel a few weeks ago.

Yesterday, I presented three of the amazing women who roam The Blazing World. Here are three more:

Simone WeilSimone Weil (1909 – 1943)
Guided by compassion, the French philosopher, activist, and Christian mystic Simone Weil wrote consistently throughout her life, but her work began to be truly appreciated only after her death. She was prepared to suffer hunger or fight in Spanish Civil War for her beliefs. Shortly before her death, she joined the French Resistance in London, but never returned to France because of her poor health. For an introduction to her writings see Simone Weil: An Anthology (1986, reprinted in 2005 as a Penguin Classic). Apparently, Albert Camus said of her that she was “the only great spirit of our times”. And she herself said: “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.

Susanne LangerSusanne K. Langer (1895 – 1985)
An American philosopher who specialised in art and the mind. Best known for her Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art (1942), she was a pioneer in her field as one of the first women to lead a successful academic career in philosophy. It is interesting to note that the book has ten customer reviews on Amazon.com which were written between 1998 and the present. All but one reviewer gave the title a five-star rating. The latest review (14 June 2014) by LOGICRAT is titled “EVERYONE on the internet needs to read this book” and includes the following quote: “This is a profoundly important book, and is extraordinarily relevant to human life today.”

Fraces YatesFrances A. Yates (1899 – 1981)
Yates was an English Renaissance scholar renowned for her studies Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964), The Art of Memory (1966), and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972). The Art of Memory is considered as one of the most significant non-fiction books of the past century. Between 1964 and 1981, Yates regularly contributed to The New York Review of Books. Yates was also a Shakespeare scholar and author of Shakespeare’s Last Plays: A New Approach (1975). Her last review for the NYRB, “An Alchemical Lear”, of Charles Nicholl’s The Chemical Theatre (1981), appeared posthumously with this note from the Editors: “We mourn the death of this brilliant and original scholar, a longstanding contributor and friend.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Brainy Quote, The New York Review of Books Homepage

Interested in receiving a copy of The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt? Please take part in my BOOK GIVEAWAY this month and stand a chance of having it (among others) sent to you. Good luck!

Women who roam The Blazing World, Part I

the-blazing-worldThere are some intriguing and inspiring real-life creative women mentioned in Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel, The Blazing World, which is about a fictional artist, Harriet Burden, who believes that she does not receive the recognition her art deserves because she is a well-off, middle-aged woman. To remedy the situation, Burden employs three young, upcoming male artists to front her next three exhibitions. The project has some unexpected consequences. I reviewed the novel a few weeks ago.

Here are some of the amazing women who roam The Blazing World:

Cavendish-BlazingCavendish readerMargaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623–1673)
A scientist and writer who dared to publish under her own name at a time when this was not encouraged in women, Cavendish is the author of, among many other writings, the utopian romance The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666). In its epilogue she refers to herself as Margaret I, the ruler of the philosophical world. It is one of the earliest pieces of science-fiction writing. Modern readers can turn to Sylvia Bowerbank’s and Sara Mendelson’s (eds.) Paper Bodies: A Margaret Cavendish Reader (2000) for a taste of the Empress’s work.

Sheldon novelSheldon biographyAlice Bradley Sheldon (1915 – 1987)
A ‘daughter’ of Cavendish, she was the woman hiding behind the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. She wrote feminist science-fiction which was seen as quite masculine until it was discovered a decade after her first publication that she was a middle-aged woman. She was a pioneer in many ways. Widely travelled and well-educated, she was promoted to major in the US Army Air Forces during World War II, ran a business, worked for the CIA, and had an annual literary award named after her pen name: The James Tiptree, Jr. Award. It is given to works of science fiction or fantasy “bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society”. It was initiated in February 1991 by science fiction authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler. For a biography of Sheldon/Tiptree see James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips (2006).

Kitty CityJudy Chicago (1939 – )
The American artist who is responsible for the coinage of the term “feminist art” and whose last name is all her own (she dropped her father’s and her first husband’s names when they both died to become Chicago). In her multimedia artworks and performances she knows how to use her knitting needles as well as her welding torch and incorporates both in her work. In the late 70s, she founded Through the Flower, a non-profit organisation which aims to educate people about women’s achievements in the art world. She is the author of several books, among them one co-authored with Frances Borzello about Frida Kahlo and one on our feline friends, Kitty City: A Feline Book of Hours (2005). Click here for Chicago’s Illustrated Career History.

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, The James Tiptree, Jr. Award Homepage, Judy Chicago Homepage, Through the Flower Homepage

Interested in acquiring a copy of The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt? Please take part in my BOOK GIVEAWAY this month and stand a chance of having it (among others) sent to you. Good luck!

Review: The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

the-blazing-worldThe Blazing World_HustvedtReading Siri Hustvedt’s work is always a stimulating treat. She is the author of six internationally acclaimed novels and the recipient of the International Gabarron Award for Thought and Humanities.

I first fell in love with her essays on art and psychology of which the most recent collection, Living, Thinking, Looking (2012), is a wonderful example. The clarity and beauty of her novelistic and essayistic vision is matched by her stylistic virtuosity. The result is a deceptively effortless execution that leaves the reader completely fulfilled.

The Blazing World, Hustvedt’s latest novel, is perhaps her best to date. Similarly to her other masterpiece, What I Loved (2003), it ventures into the treacherous world of art, greed and fame. The novel’s unusual format imitates an anthology composed of various pieces – interviews, letters, statements, notes, reviews, editorial comments, and diary entries – all of which centre on the life and art of Harriet Burden. Tellingly referred to as Harry by her family and friends, Burden feels that her artistic talents have been eclipsed by three unavoidable facts of her circumstances: her gender, age, and marital status. Hardly anybody wants to take her or her art seriously because she is a woman, she is middle-aged, and she is the rich widow of the famous art dealer, Felix Lord. A lethal combination for any artist trying to make her way in today’s world.

Her whole life Burden searches for a way to dodge misogyny. She grows up with a father who wishes she were a boy. Tall and curvaceous, she feels unattractive. Her intelligence and intellectual pursuits don’t help and turn her into an outsider. Feelings of inadequacy follow her into her marriage to Lord, a philanderer with many secrets. As a mother she finds how hard it is not to repeat the mistakes of our parents.

The art she creates is highly sophisticated, but largely ignored. She wants “to blaze and rumble and roar”, but something that is nearly impossible to articulate, “something horrible”, weighs her down and then rises like bile to her lips.

She wants revenge. She wants to have the last word. After Lord’s death, Burden employs three male artists to exhibit her artwork as their own: “There will be three, just as in the fairy tales… And the story will have bloody teeth.” One after the other, the exhibitions garner the recognition and success Burden had been craving for, but instead of proving a point, they cause a great deal of turmoil in the lives of people directly or indirectly involved in the project Burden aptly calls Maskings.

The novel cuts close to the bone. As a woman artist, I also found myself reading with this huge indigestible lump of “something horrible”, “fat, leaden, hideous”, stuck at the bottom of my intellectual and emotional stomach, and I knew exactly what Burden was experiencing when attempting to break down the prejudices she encounters in her life. However, Hustvedt’s rumbling and roaring is reassuring.

Her The Blazing World shines as brightly as Sirius.

Review first published in the Cape Times on 20 June 2014, p. 31.