Burning Bright

Burning Bright

by Tracy Chevalier

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

From the author of the international bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, comes a stirring eighteenth-century coming-of-age tale

In the waning days of eighteenth-century London, poet, artist, and printer William Blake works in obscurity as England is rocked by the shock waves of the French Revolution. Next door, the Kellaway family has just moved in, and country boy Jem Kellaway strikes up a tentative friendship with street-savvy Maggie Butterfield. As their stories intertwine with Blake's, the two children navigate the confusing and exhilarating path to adolescence, and inspire the poet to create the work that enshrined his genius.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452289079
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/26/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,178,501
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

"I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

 

 

 

 

 

Hometown:

London, England

Date of Birth:

October 19, 1962

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.

Education:

B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Burning Bright

Burning Bright follows the Kellaway family as they leave behind tragedy in rural Dorset and come to late 18th-century London. As they move in next door to the radical painter/poet William Blake, and take up work for a near-by circus impresario, the youngest family member gets to know a girl his age. Embodying opposite characteristics – Maggie Butterfield is a dark-haired, streetwise extrovert, Jem Kellaway a quiet blond introvert – the children form a strong bond while getting to know their unusual neighbor and his wife.

Set against the backdrop of a city nervous of the revolution gone sour across the Channel in France, Burning Bright explores the states of innocence and experience just as Blake takes on similar themes in his best-known poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

 


ABOUT TRACY CHEVALIER

“I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Discuss your first impressions of the main characters. Who did you like best initially? Which, if any, surprised you by the end? Whose transformation was most complete?
     
  • The Kellaway and Butterfield families, though very different, also have some similarities. Compare and contrast the parental relationships, as well as the sibling relationships, within the two families.
     
  • Throughout the novel, attention is paid to the differences between city and country, with Maggie and Jem each representing their home turf. Which does Chevalier portray more sympathetically—city (Maggie) or country (Jem)? In what ways?
     
  • Why do you think Chevalier chose to set her novel in 1792? Why not a few years earlier, or later?
     
  • William Blake’s first two appearances in the novel are quite striking—first, in his bonnet rouge on page 19, and then when Jem and Maggie spy on him having sex in his backyard (page 27). What significance does this have for him as a character? What did you expect of him after these prominent glimpses?
     
  • Before reading Burning Bright, were you familiar with Blake’s work? How did it color your experience of the novel?
     
  • Read and discuss the poem from which the book’s title is taken, “The Tyger.” (An excerpt is on page 275.) What is its significance in terms of the novel and the characters? Why do you think Chevalier chose a phrase from this poem for her title?
     
  • Two of Blake’s most famous works are Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. How do those works relate to the characters of Jem and Maggie?
     
  • Life in Georgian times was unpredictable and dangerous—several characters lose family members, and fire is a constant threat. How does Chevalier use this precariousness to enrich the story? What role does economics—and class—play?
     
  • Reread the conversation about opposites on pages 71–73, and discuss your own take on the subject. Which character do you agree with most?
     
  • Burning Bright is set in and around Astley’s Circus, a popular real-life attraction in 1790s London. How does Tracy Chevalier use the circus as a character? What does it represent?
     
  • On page 86, Philip Astley tells Blake that the two men are in the same business: “We are both dealers in illusion.” In what ways is he correct, and how is he wrong? What purpose do these two characters serve in the novel?
     
  • On page 199, Laura Devine tells Maisie, “What you want is not worth half the value of what you’ve still got.” What did she mean by that? How might it resonate with Maisie later in the novel? And for the other principal characters?
     
  • Beginning on page 216, Maggie tries exceptionally hard to preserve Maisie’s virginity, eventually turning to William Blake for help. Why does she go this far when nobody else seems to care?
     
  • How much did you know about the political background of the story? Would you have signed the loyalty oath like the one on page 236? What did it reveal about Dick Butterfield’s character when he signed? About Thomas Kellaway’s when he refused?
     
  • When it is finally revealed on page 261, how does Maggie’s experience on Cut-Throat Lane color her character? Why does Jem react the way he does?
     
  • Chevalier has said, “I like writing about the past because I come to it fresh and clean. I feel more comfortable analyzing it and deciding what is important than I do about the present. Also, I live this contemporary life every day—I don’t feel the need to write about it too. I would rather write about something that I don’t know and want to learn about. I’m not an historian and so when I choose a time to write about—seventeenth-century Holland, early twentieth-century England, fifteenth-century France—I know nothing about it and so have no preconceptions or prejudices. I can be more objective. I learn a lot too, which keeps my mind active.” What are your reasons for reading historical fiction?

Customer Reviews

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Burning Bright 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
BeenToBaliToo More than 1 year ago
Although I am very much a Chevalier fan, this book misses the mark. I couldn't tell what the point of the book was until about three quarters of the way through. And, even at the end, it left me feeling like the entire read was a waste of time. However, I highly recommend all Chevalier's other books!
just-a-thot More than 1 year ago
This is about William Blake, and young people who live around him. It is very realistic historically, however, I didn't care for the poetry within the story. A very good story though, if you can skip the poetry.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, I bough up following novels by Chevalier. Loved them. Did not hesitate to buy Burning Bright without even reviewing it. I am very disappointed in this one. Will not even finish it. Nowhere near the complex, rich stories in former novels. She relies on all the sounds and smells of this old world to give color and atmosphere. However, the story and characters just do not matter. The whole thing seems very amateurish to me. Sorry. Hope Chevalier redeems herself with next novel. Please !
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was a bit skeptical reading this book after i read the reviews, but after reading it I loved it. I think it was one of her best novels, she gave life to all the characters and the time frame. I couldn't put it down. It reminded me of my favorite novel by her (Girl with a Pearl Earring), the way she used some part of history as a back drop of the story. This time using a person, William Blake, in Girl with a Pearl Earring using the picture. I recomend any Tracy Chevalier fan to read this, her flawless style comes alive in this book.
MELKI More than 1 year ago
For a writer I truly like, this book was rather dissapointing. So the real rating is two and half stars. There's something lacking in this book. I didn't totally dislike it but didn't like it that much either. As for the other reviews, you can notice some praise it and some say it's not a good piece of fiction. Personally, I think it is in between. It has some good things but, all in all, it doesn't satisfy.
pbenson92025 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not much to say except I couldn't finish this book. The frame story about the families was just not engaging and Blake does not appear often enough in the first half of the book to make much of an impact.
edecklund on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not as close a connection between the characters and the artwork as the previous Tracy Chevalier books. Like the previous books however, a fascinating history lesson from an artistic perspective.Somehow, I never considered that William Blake was married.
dw0rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not as close a connection between the characters and the artwork as the previous Tracy Chevalier books. Like the previous books however, a fascinating history lesson from an artistic perspective.Somehow, I never considered that William Blake was married.
KateBaxter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in London of 1792, we find the story focusing on two families: an idealistic country family in search of work within the dreariness of a crowded and dirty city and a local family, street-savvy, jaded and having strong survival skills. The story which focuses on the children of these two families, lays a background for the work of enigmatice poet and engraver, William Blake. It is a metaphor for his "Songs of Innocence and Experience". For the most part, I have enjoyed Chevalier's other writings and found them to be engaging and insightful. This book, however, did not draw me in and carry me to another world and time, which was a disappointment. In its defense, it is clearly written, well-researched and paints a rather clear picture of the London of 1792 with its oppressive atmosphere, both literally and figuratively. This is not a bad read just not one of Chevalier's best.
FlygURL on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another book from Julie's library. Julie originally brought Tracy Chevalier to my attention. I really enjoy her books - especially the way the historical person of interest is on the edges of the novel. Even with being on the edge of the novel, you get a good bit of information about them.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love Tracy Chevalier, so I was looking forward to another of her works. However, no matter how much I wanted to like this book, I never managed to enjoy it all that much.The storyline revolves around a family, the Kellaways, who have moved from the country into the busy city of London in 1792 - the eve of the French Revolution. Jem, the eldest Kellaway son, befriends a working girl named Maggie Butterfield and their next-door neighbor, a poet named William Blake. Jem's father spends his days working as a carpenter for the circus, while Maggie's father spends his days cheating people out of their money. As Jem and Maggie grow up and learn from each other, they unknowingly become the inspiration for a poem that Mr. Blake is writing.Even as I tried to write the above paragraph, I faltered quite a few times, staring blankly at the keyboard and flipping back through the book itself, hoping that some forgotten, important plot detail would jump back out at me.The truth is, however, that I wouldn't be able to name any vastly important plot details at all. There were possibilities of a plot when the novel started, but none of them ever seemed to go anywhere.My favorite book that Chevalier wrote, "Falling Angels," similarly has a loose, vague plot. However, while 'Angels' gathers strength off of this fact (by turning your attention to vivid, magnificent characters), it did no favors for "Burning Bright."I wanted something to happen! So much of this book reminded me of a Dickens-esque world, and I kept waiting for the rush of complex, melodramatic action to go along with it.However, none came.There were opportunities - such as, the mystery that is hinted at right from the beginning. Did Maggie kill a man? Why?A couple times in the book, this is mentioned, and it seems to be a dark sort of secret that probably has hidden significance.The 'mystery' is revealed toward the end, but it wasn't even anything exciting, and it certainly didn't do anything to further any sort of plot.Chevalier is so amazing at writing personable, lovable characters, but I didn't feel any of that here. The main character, Jem, was not explored in any particular depth, and I never felt that I knew him. The other prominent character, Maggie, was a bit more life-like, but this is possibly just because she had such a springy, energetic character that was easier to write. I was constantly annoyed by her, leaving me with yet another person I didn't really feel that fond of.There are some 'bad' characters, such as John Astley, the son of the circus owner. He does one bad deed in one scene, and is never seen again.So much of this book, as I have said before, was left to go nowhere. At one point, a girl overhears a man speaking to the circus manager, and she learns that Philip Astley is not (as everyone assumes) the owner / manager of the circus - John (his son) is. Does John know this? Is his father taking advantage of him? Stealing the money from his son? Something?We never know.Countless other scenarios like this can be found through-out the book.John has an illegitimate son that his father will not accept. Mentioned once and then forgotten.Really - these things could have added a lot to the book if they were followed up on!The character of William Blake was one that I was curious reading, to see what Chevalier would do with him. I have read his poetry, but know little about the man behind it.He was a very neglected, minor character, even though I think that the author wanted him to play a large part in the story.Blake's garden is mentioned far more times than he is, and whenever he does actually come into the story in person (about three times for a page or two), he is always making these dramatic, profound speeches to the children. In every scene, he ponders aloud about deep, philosophical matters, or asks the children their opinions on in-depth topics. None of these topics are ever very relevant, and since this is all we ever see of Blake, he comes across
traci on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slice of life that really brings the time period and characters to life; however, I was uncaptivated by it, slogging through it without really being interested, as there didn't seem to be a climax to it that was worth it. I enjoyed Girl With a Pearl Earring much more.
lschilling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not one of her best books but a nice quick read.
irishwasherwoman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first half of this book was a difficult read. The country-come-to-city and street-wise characters were as you would expect. With the title of the book taken from William Blake's most famous poem and his presence in the book, I would have expected more about him. He would have been a much more interesting focus than many of the others. The last half of the book went more quickly as there was more action and a better historical tale to tell. The ending - with a major thread left hanging there was some character to it, but still much of it seemed too pat. Definitely not of the caliber that you would expect from Ms. Chevalier, having thoroughly enjoyed her other works. By far "Girl with the Pearl Earring" stands head and shoulders above them all. Fortunately the movie was well done - one of the most sensuous films I've ever seen. The passion and the attraction ran so deep. Not so with this book
Alirob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good, but not as good as her others.
ChickLitFan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book because I so enjoyed "Girl with the Pearl Earring" by the same author. I was disappointed, principally because of the lack of a strong story-line to keep things going. On the plus side, I enjoyed the historical setting, which is London in 1792-3. William Blake is used as a significant, but not major character, unlike the way Vermeer played a starring role in "Girl". The teenaged main characters are Blake's next door neighbors and make for pleasant but unremarkable protagonists. I continued to read to see if the plot line grew stronger, and it did, near the end. If you liked "Girl with the Pearl Earring", or are looking to try Tracy Chevalier's work, I'd pass on this.
spriink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To date, I have read all of Ms. Chevalier's books except "The Lady and the Unicorn". All of her books were truly amazing in her writing style and how deep the personalities of her characters go. Out of all the books of her's that I've read, this one is definitely my least favorite. In fact, I can't say I really liked it all that much as a novel. Ms. Chevalier paints these incredibly intricate portraits of all her characters. I know the people in these books so well that I can expect them to come walking into my house at any time. This includes even the most minor of the characters, like Mrs. Pelham or Bet Butterfield. Ms. Chevalier's ability to give so much detail without boring her reading is what I think I like most about her writing. This book shows off this ability.However, the book lacks any great story. A family from a small village moves to the crowded city of London in the late 1700s. William Blake and Astley's Circus weaves in and out of the tale. These are probably supposed to be highlights, but there wasn't any real plot to be highlighted. This book lacked the suspense from Ms. Chevalier's other novels. There was no story to be told, no tension to be broken, no mystery to be solved. However, if you are a fan of her previous novels, I would recommend reading this simply because her portraits of her characters are so real. If you have not yet picked up a book by Ms. Chevalier, I highly recommend that you start with "Girl with a Pearl Earring" or "Fallen Angels".
PaperbackPirate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My book club selected this fictionalized story about artist/poet William Blake, who I hadn't even heard of before reading this book. This story takes place in England during the late 1700s. In order to overcome a family tragedy, a small town family moves to the city where they become neighbors with Blake and his wife. This is a tale of young love, the circus, the French Revolution, and especially of innocence, experience, and the crazy space between the two. I loved it and will definitely read more books by her!
debutnovelist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'A family moves to London from Dorset and hey, whaddya know, William Blake lives next door.'I'm a big fan of Chevalier but found this quite disappointing. Clearly a lot of research had been done, but there was a lack of narrative drive and a feeling that I was being told about the period rather than absorbing it throught the plot and characters. The involvement of William Blake felt contrived and I'm surprised to discover I don't know any more about him after reading the book. Do read everything else by Chevalier. Sorry I can't recomment this one.
AdonisGuilfoyle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A simple story neatly told, weaving history together history, biography and evocative descriptions of eighteenth century London. Three children - their ages, as with the style of writing, are presented as young and naive to begin with, but Jem, Maisie and Maggie are all in their mid-teens - are forced to 'cross the river' from innocence to experience during one tumultuous year in the late eighteenth century. The Kellaway family move from rural Dorsetshire to a smog-bound, cruel, hard-working London in 1792, and befriend a local girl, Maggie Butterfield. Living next door to the family, in a row of houses owned by Philip Astley (the man considered to be the father of the circus), is mad poet and radical William Blake. The children befriend him and his wife, admire his poetry (much quoted), and form a mutual protection society against the anti-revolutionary feeling building in the city.I picked up this book because of the tentative connection with the French Revolution, my pet subject, but apart from the year and the growing tension towards the end of the story, the characters and setting actually evoke more of a Victorian atmosphere, sort of Charles Dickens lite. Still, I wasn't disappointed - it is very easy to get carried away by the vivid descriptions of life back then, from London streets to the harsh working conditions of girls like Maggie, and there is also the occasional literary gem to be found in what could otherwise be read as a YA novel. I particularly love the imagery Chevalier uses to portray emotions - 'He gazed at his wife and she gazed back. To Jem it felt as if they were holding the ends of a rope and pulling it tight between them.' Also, the corruption of Milton's 'Paradise Lost' into 'pear tree's loss' by one of the characters has poignant associations for the Kellaways, and although the device is rather contrived, the effect is very emotional.The research into the background of the fictional characters is also fascinating - William Blake and circusmaster Philip Astley are real figures, of course, but I think Tracy Chevalier deserves special mention for placing Piddletrenthide, Dorsetshire, on the literary map! Some of the exposition can occasionally become heavy-handed, but the enjoyable story carries the infodumps well. Vaguely plotted, but good fun and a quick read.
drinkingtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Takes a while to get into the story, but well worth it!
m00nf1ower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Tracy Chevalier is an incredible author. Once again she has been able to capture life from long ago and wrap it around a master artist with a fantastic tale of overcoming change.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring, so I began this book with high hopes -- especially after reading the richly descriptive opening paragraphs. Unfortunately, the writing in this book is so awkward and clunky I just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Writer Tracy Chevalier leaves nothing to the reader's imagination. Not only did she tell me exactly how everything looked, she was determined to describe in detail how every character felt at every moment of the novel. If the characters had been three dimensional people who occasionally felt or thought something unexpected, this might have been a bonus. Reading the predictable feelings of dull characters, however, makes for a deeply boring book. Save your money and give this one a miss.
LaBibliophille on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Burning Bright is the latest novel by Tracy Chevalier, the author of Girl With a Pearl Earring. Like GWAPE, Burning Bright is based on a famous figure, in this case the poet, artist and engraver William Blake. Blake is best known for his poetry, particularly the collections Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. He was, however, a well-regarded painter, and experimented with new methods of engraving.In this book Blake is an important background figure who becomes involved with his neighbors in late 18th century London. He lives next door to the Kellaways, a family which has come to London from their village in Dorset. Jem Kellaway, the teenage son, becomes friends with a neighborhood girl, Maggie Butterfield. Jem and Maggie explore and experience London, with Jem's younger sister Maisie often in tow. They become friendly with William Blake and his wife.Life is not easy for the poor in 18th century London . In addition to learning how to manage their world, the children must contend with exploitative adults, family tragedies and political turmoil in England.This was another book I purchased to read on a long plane ride. It is well written, and very obviously well researched. It is not, however, of the caliber of GWAPE. It lacks emotional intensity and any kind of suspense. In other words, it's OK but not great.
Mumineurope on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jem, Maisie, Maggie Dorset and London. William Blake