The Blazing World was a very unique novel – Hustvedt has created an entirely fictional character yet has written of her as though she were a fully-realized person. The reader fully expected Harriet Burden to be an actual person that blazed bright in the art world. We discover everything about Harriet and her fight to expose sexism in the art world, through personal journals, articles and notebooks, to accounts from those in the art world, her family members and people that have interviewed her over the years. We even have the use of footnotes providing further detail and information about Burden’s work and those that influenced her. It was so utterly unique to me and I quite enjoyed embarking on this journey.
Harriet Burden is pissed that women, and most especially her work, is not considered or widely appreciated as those created by her male counterparts.
“Although the number of women artists has exploded, it is no secret that New York galleries show women far less than men. The figures hover around twenty percent of all one-person shows in the city, despite the fact that almost half of those same galleries are run by women. The museums that exhibit contemporary art are no better, nor are the magazines that write about it. Every woman artist faces the insidious propagation of a male status quo. With no exceptions, art by men is far more expensive than art by women. Dollars tell the story. After giving up on a public life as an artists, Burden decided to experiment with the perception of her work through the use of masculine personas. The results were striking. When presented as the work of a man, her art suddenly found an enthusiastic audience. (taken from Rosemary Lerner’s written statement.)
When opening the first pages of The Blazing World we are treated to an excerpt from the Editor that is writing this account of Harriet Burden. Here she explains how Harriet “used” three men to show three very different shows in art galleries. Each was met with resounding success and only after her death is it revealed that it was actually the work of a woman, Burden’s work. Henceforth, the countless articles written either denouncing, disproving and exposing what Harriet called her experiment.
However, as unique as Hustvedt’s own literary experiment was, for me there were moments when I began to skim through it, as the number of written statements and journal entries, etc., continued to increase, yet nothing new seemed to be added to the story. I will say however that I found The Blazing World to be one wonderful and very interesting read. I quite fell in love with Harriet. I also quite fell in love with Siri Hustvedt for creating and envisioning this remarkable woman. While the literary style used may not suit many, I thought it remarkable. 3.5 stars.
As Harriet is in her final days she continues to say great and wonderful things, and these pages were wonderful to read: “I have more to do. There are undiscovered worlds inside me, but I will never see them.”
“I, Harriet Burden, know I am going to die, and yet a piece of me refuses this truth. I rage against it. I would like to spit and scream and howl and punch the bedclothes, but these demonstrations would hurt this frail skeleton with its few putrid remaining organs far too much.”
Sadly, The Blazing World did not make the 2014 Shortlist. This is one I would have thought would have made the cut over a couple others that did, but what would the Man Booker’s be without some twists and surprises right?