The Washington Post
The Meaning of Night: A Confessionby Michael Cox
"Superb.... An engrossing and complicated tale...that touches on every aspect of Victorian society."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book WorldSee more details below
"Superb.... An engrossing and complicated tale...that touches on every aspect of Victorian society."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World
The Washington Post
— 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
— 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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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.
Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction
University of Cambridge
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