Jonathan Mirsky

What The Dark Is For

At Day's Close: A History of Nighttime


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 480pp £20 order from our bookshop

‘This book’, A Roger Ekirch declares straight away, ‘sets out to explore the history of nighttime in Western society before the advent of the Industrial Revolution.’ Night-time, he observes, ‘embodied a distinct culture with many of its own customs and rituals, very different from daily reality – a chance for men and women to express inner impulses and realize repressed desires, however innocent or sinister in nature’. I paused there to draw up a mental list of nocturnal deeds and events that would occur to many residents of London in 2005. In no particular order: sex (licit and illicit), dreams, dressing up, crime, work, fear, fantasy, drinking and eating, many of these varied by social class and money. This was the case, too, we learn here, in the period from the Middle Ages to the mid eighteenth century in the countries of Western Europe, and nowhere more so than in Britain.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The lack of evidence ... of any definitive brain pathology in cases of schizophrenia and the absence of any reliab… ,
    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,