The Meaning of Night: A Confession

The Meaning of Night: A Confession

4.1 138
by Michael Cox
     
 

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"Superb.... An engrossing and complicated tale...that touches on every aspect of Victorian society."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book WorldSee more details below

Overview

"Superb.... An engrossing and complicated tale...that touches on every aspect of Victorian society."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

Editorial Reviews

Maureen Corrigan
Cox knows his stuff -- and some of his characters and plot elements faintly recall the books he's learned from, such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas. The Meaning of Night even comes replete with footnotes, Latin chapter titles and quotations, as well as a sprinkling of contemporary argot and slang. The editor's pseudo-scholarly preface cautiously describes the manuscript as "one of the lost curiosities of nineteenth-century literature."

It is that and more. However you judge Edward Glyver himself, he certainly tells an engrossing and complicated tale of deception, heartlessness and wild justice, one that touches on nearly every aspect of Victorian society. At 700 pages, it should while away more than a few chilly autumn evenings.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Resonant with echoes of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, Cox's richly imagined thriller features an unreliable narrator, Edward Glyver, who opens his chilling "confession" with a cold-blooded account of an anonymous murder that he commits one night on the streets of 1854 London. That killing is mere training for his planned assassination of Phoebus Daunt, an acquaintance Glyver blames for virtually every downturn in his life. Glyver feels Daunt's insidious influence in everything from his humiliating expulsion from school to his dismal career as a law firm factotum. The narrative ultimately centers on the monomaniacal Glyver's discovery of a usurped inheritance that should have been his birthright, the byzantine particulars of which are drawing him into a final, fatal confrontation with Daunt. Cox's tale abounds with startling surprises that are made credible by its scrupulously researched background and details of everyday Victorian life. Its exemplary blend of intrigue, history and romance mark a stand-out literary debut. Cox is also the author of M.R. James, a biography of the classic ghost-story writer. 10-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This stunning first novel by Cox (editor, The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories) opens with a murder on a misty night in 1854 London. The perpetrator, Edward Glyver, is an erudite bibliophile and resourceful detective who assumes different names and personas with disquieting ease. He stabs a total stranger as a precursor to murdering his cunning adversary, Phoebus Daunt, a literary genius who expects to be adopted as heir by the wealthy Lord Tansor. When Glyver discovers that Daunt has destroyed the only evidence that Glyver, in fact, is Tansor's real son, he becomes obsessed with seeking revenge and claiming his rightful inheritance. From the whorehouses, pubs, and opium dens of Victorian London to the ancient beauty of Tansor's ancestral estate, Cox creates a strong sense of place, a complex narrative full of unexpectedly wicked twists, and a well-drawn cast of supporting characters. His language is mesmerizing, and his themes of betrayal, revenge, social stratification, sexual repression, and moral hypocrisy echo those of the great 19th-century novelists. Written in the tradition of Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White and Sarah Waters's Fingersmith, Cox's masterpiece is highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.]-Joseph M. Eagan, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A bibliophilic, cozy, murderous confection out of foggy old England. Mystery writers who have taken up residence in the Victorian era have concentrated mostly on the later years, when Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London. Cox, biographer of M.R. James and anthologist of other Victorian scary storytellers, plants his pleasantly meandering story early in Victoria and Albert's rule, a time when the old class system was fraying at the edges while hungry country folk and proletarians began to push for a bigger piece of the butterpie. Our dark hero, Edward Glyver, aka Edward Glapthorn, has many a grievance to lodge: He is, or at least believes himself to be, or at least professes to be-he's a most complex fellow, and we can never be sure-a bastard in the classic sense, sired by a booming war hero whom only Aubrey Smith could play. He has also been sorely wronged by the deeply class-conscious, deeply disagreeable Phoebus Daunt, who survives boarding school and all its buggeries and betrayals only to spill out Swinburnesque verse. Annoyed, jealous, downright irritated, E.G. does the natural thing: A bookish sort with a criminal streak a league wide, he slaughters an apparently innocent fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time. "You must understand," he intones, "that I am not a murderer by nature, only by temporary design." Ah, but someone has seen, and now neatly nibbed notes are arriving under his door and that of his intended, warning her that she had better steer clear and that he had better watch his back. Who is writing these notes? Who would want to harm our blameless E.G.? Whom should E.G. massacre next to protect his assets?Cox has a fine time putting allthese questions into play in this long, learned and remarkably entertaining treat, which begs comparison with the work of Patricia Highsmith.
From the Publisher
“A blockbuster novel…. Bravo!”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Worth staying up all night for.”
The Times

“As beguiling as it is intelligent.”
New York Times Book Review

“This year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.”
GQ magazine

“Extraordinary.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Superb. . . . An engrossing and complicated tale of deception, heartlessness and wild justice.”
Washington Post

“Magnificent. . . . A monumental narrative that is deeply satisfying.”
National Post

“Thrilling. . . . An entertaining love letter to the bizarre and dangerous hypocrisies of Victorian England.”
The Independent

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393067125
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/17/2007
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
720
Sales rank:
65,064
File size:
1 MB

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Editor’s Preface

The following work, printed here for the first time, is one of the lost curiosities of nineteenth-century literature. It is a strange concoction, being a kind of confession, often shocking in its frank, conscienceless brutality and explicit sexuality, that also has a strongly novelistic flavour; indeed, it appears in the hand-list that accompanies the Duport papers in the Cambridge University Library with the annotation ‘(Fiction?)’. Many of the presented facts — names, places, events (including the unprovoked murder of Lucas Trendle) — that I have been able to check are verifiable; others appear dubious at best or have been deliberately falsified, distorted, or simply invented. Real people move briefly in and out of the narrative, others remain unidentified — or unidentifiable — or are perhaps pseudonymous. As the author himself says, ‘The boundaries of this world are forever shifting — from day to night, joy to sorrow, love to hate, and from life itself to death.’ And, he might have added, from fact to fiction.

As to the author, despite his desire to confess all to posterity, his own identity remains a tantalizing mystery. His name as given here, Edward Charles Glyver, does not appear in the Eton Lists of the period, and I have been unable to trace it or any of his pseudonyms in any other source, including the London Post-office Directories for the relevant years. Perhaps, after we have read these confessions, this should not surprise us; yet it is strange that someone who wished to lay his soul bare to posterity in this way chose not to reveal his real name. I simply do not know how to account for this, but note the anomaly in the hope that further research, perhaps by other scholars, may unravel the mystery.

His adversary Phoebus Daunt, on the other hand, is real enough. The main events of his life may be traced in various contemporary sources. He may be found, for instance, in both the Eton Lists and in Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, and is mentioned in several literary memoirs of the period — though on his supposed criminal career the historical record is silent. On the other hand, his now (deservedly) forgotten literary works, consisting principally of turgid historical and mythological epics and a few slight volumes of poems and poetic translations, once enjoyed a fleeting popularity. They may still be sought out by the curious in specialist libraries and booksellers’ catalogues (as can his father’s edition of Catullus, mentioned in the text), and perhaps may yet furnish some industrious PhD student with a dissertation subject.

The text has been transcribed, more or less verbatim, from the unique holograph manuscript now held in the Cambridge University Library. The manuscript came to the CUL in 1948 as part of an anonymous bequest, with other papers and books relating to the Duport family of Evenwood in Northamptonshire. It is written, for the most part, in a clear and confident hand on large-quarto lined sheets, the whole being bound in dark-red morocco (by R. Riviere, Great Queen Street) with the Duport arms blocked in gold on the front. Despite a few passages where the author’s hand deteriorates, apparently under psychological duress, or perhaps as a result of his opium habit, there are relatively few deletions, additions, or other amendments. In addition to the author’s narrative there are several interpolated documents and extracts by other hands.

I have made a number of silent emendments in matters of orthography, punctuation, and so on; and because the MS lacks a title, I have used a phrase from one of the prefatory quotations, the source of which is a poem, appropriately enough, from the pen of P. Rainsford Daunt himself. I have also supplied titles for each of the five parts, and for the five sections of the so-called Intermezzo.

The sometimes enigmatic Latin titles to the forty-seven sections or chapters have been retained (their idiosyncrasy seemed typical of the author), though I have provided translations. On the first leaf of the manuscript are a dozen or so quotations from Owen Felltham’s Resolves, some of which I have used as epigraphs to each of the five parts. Throughout the text, my own editorial interpolations and footnotes are given within square brackets.

J.J. Antrobus
Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction
University of Cambridge

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