New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
$34.21
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $15.40
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 67%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (15) from $15.40   
  • New (6) from $29.90   
  • Used (9) from $15.40   

Overview

"New York Nocturne is a wonderfully rich plum pudding of a book on the evolution of the modern urban environment and how it has been perceived, especially in New York. Teeming with little-known history and keen critical insight, this study illuminates how artists and writers made imaginative capital of the changing New York nightscape. Their vision helped construct the image of New York as we still see it today: a city that never sleeps, a brilliantly lit stage set that comes alive in dramatic, even thrilling ways after dark."--Morris Dickstein, CUNY Graduate Center

"New York Nocturne is a tour de force of scholarship and an instant classic. I cannot think of another book that so convincingly shows the connections between technological innovation, spatial transformation, and cultural change."--Steven Hoelscher, University of Texas, Austin

"New York Nocturne raises important questions concerning the history of cities, urban modernism and modernity, and the relationship of technology to the urban experience. The breadth is ambitious and the text is studded with lovely analyses of individual works."--Rebecca Zurier, University of Michigan

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Sharpe says that the 'first dark glimmer' for his book came as he was looking at work by the expatriate American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. . . . Sharpe shows how the aesthetics of [Whistler's] 'nocturnes' abroad shaped paintings and photographs of night in New York, including work by such figures as John Sloan, Arthur Stieglitz, and Edward Steichen. The nocturne form, he says, helped photography claim status as an art. Beyond words, the book offers nearly 150 often haunting and sometimes touching images.
— Nina C. Ayoub
The Village Voice
A beautiful volume that would sit proudly on the coffee table of any city dweller and city lover. William Chapman Sharpe details the way in which the city evolved after the Civil War into a world metropolis of leisure, politics, the arts, and commerce.
Reviews in American History
The challenge and accomplishment of the book is the way it cuts a swathe across New York's modernisms. . . . Sharpe covers a remarkable range of territory here.
— Andrea L. Volpe
New York Daily News
By now an archetypal image, the New York skyline at night captures the excitement and beauty of a city still humming long after bedtime. . . . William Chapman Sharpe offers an academic tour through a landscape that was transformed by gaslight and the advent of electricity. . . . Artists such as Joseph Stella, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Faith Ringgold were drawn to the new glow, and writers from Joseph Conrad to Ralph Ellison came to investigate urban life after dark. Sharpe's examination of nocturnal art and storytelling tracks the ways illumination changed city life forever.
— Patrick Huguenin
San Francisco Chronicle
New York City claimed the title 'capital of the 20th century' not owing to its magnitude and energy but for its hold on the imagination of people around the world. While we wait to see what will succeed it as capital of the 21st, Columbia University Professor of English William Chapman Sharpe provides a brilliant look back in New York Nocturne. . . . Ranging freely between the literary and visual arts, Sharpe seeks the roots of American modernism in nighttime city life. He has something involving and informative to say about every topic he touches.
— Kenneth Baker
Choice
Night has long been the frontier of the urban world, a place where crime is an omnipresent danger, where sexual violence or fulfillment hides just around a darkened corner, and where loneliness triumphs over human connectedness. For a society that has grown up taking electricity for granted, New York Nocturne is illuminating. . . If electricity has transformed, if not completely solved the mysteries of the night, Sharpe skillfully interprets how artists have approached the meanings of darkness and, in a Melvillean touch, of light itself.
— D. Schuyler
Soho Journal
My favorite book of the year. New York Nocturne is a chronicle in words, photographs and paintings of New York City at night. . . . Although this is a book about New York City, it's also a book about artists, writers and photographers who were drawn to and inspired by the evolution of the illumination of the city and all that it brought about. The social and cultural changes that light brought about are examined here and strung together magnificently by author William Chapman Sharpe. . . . The art and photography are brilliantly reproduced—the color plates are especially handled with great care and one can see that the author has taken pain-staking pride in his research and efforts.
— Norman Maine
History News Network
Treat yourself to an elegantly written, beautifully illustrated, copiously researched sojourn into New York City's night. With William Chapman Sharpe as your guide, you will get a tantalizing new perspective on the city as reflected in art, literature, and history. . . . Set within historical contexts without being mired in historiography, this book balances in-depth analyses of specific works with a broad discussion of patterns over time. It will enlighten any urbanist. . . . Sharpe's study provides a provocative historical perspective on creativity in and about the city. A book of breadth, depth, and grace, it must be savored slowly to fully appreciate 'the relation between the human, the urban, and the dark.'
— Joanne Reitano
ABC Journal
[A] monograph as electrifying as its theme that illuminates from within the making of New York City, a reference work in absence of which, invaluable aspects in New York culture history would be left in the dark.
— Adriana Neagu
American Studies
For anyone interested in the art and writing of modern New York . . . Sharpe provides a rich, encompassing, and informed story.
— William B. Scott
Barnes and Noble.com

In this gorgeous, erudite book, [Sharpe] examines the myriad ways that writers, painters, and photographers have represented New York nightlife, beginning in the mid-19th century, when works by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe dramatized the moral perils of the artificially lit city. . . . Sharpe, whose own affection for the city is charmingly apparent here, insists throughout that artists and writers haven't simply reacted to the changes in urban existence; rather, they have 'helped turn the unscouted terrain of the urban night into a legible part of contemporary life.'
— Barbara Spindel

The Chronicle of Higher Education - Nina C. Ayoub
Sharpe says that the 'first dark glimmer' for his book came as he was looking at work by the expatriate American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. . . . Sharpe shows how the aesthetics of [Whistler's] 'nocturnes' abroad shaped paintings and photographs of night in New York, including work by such figures as John Sloan, Arthur Stieglitz, and Edward Steichen. The nocturne form, he says, helped photography claim status as an art. Beyond words, the book offers nearly 150 often haunting and sometimes touching images.
New York Daily News - Patrick Huguenin
By now an archetypal image, the New York skyline at night captures the excitement and beauty of a city still humming long after bedtime. . . . William Chapman Sharpe offers an academic tour through a landscape that was transformed by gaslight and the advent of electricity. . . . Artists such as Joseph Stella, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Faith Ringgold were drawn to the new glow, and writers from Joseph Conrad to Ralph Ellison came to investigate urban life after dark. Sharpe's examination of nocturnal art and storytelling tracks the ways illumination changed city life forever.
San Francisco Chronicle - Kenneth Baker
New York City claimed the title 'capital of the 20th century' not owing to its magnitude and energy but for its hold on the imagination of people around the world. While we wait to see what will succeed it as capital of the 21st, Columbia University Professor of English William Chapman Sharpe provides a brilliant look back in New York Nocturne. . . . Ranging freely between the literary and visual arts, Sharpe seeks the roots of American modernism in nighttime city life. He has something involving and informative to say about every topic he touches.
Choice - D. Schuyler
Night has long been the frontier of the urban world, a place where crime is an omnipresent danger, where sexual violence or fulfillment hides just around a darkened corner, and where loneliness triumphs over human connectedness. For a society that has grown up taking electricity for granted, New York Nocturne is illuminating. . . If electricity has transformed, if not completely solved the mysteries of the night, Sharpe skillfully interprets how artists have approached the meanings of darkness and, in a Melvillean touch, of light itself.
Barnes and Noble.com - Barbara Spindel
In this gorgeous, erudite book, [Sharpe] examines the myriad ways that writers, painters, and photographers have represented New York nightlife, beginning in the mid-19th century, when works by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe dramatized the moral perils of the artificially lit city. . . . Sharpe, whose own affection for the city is charmingly apparent here, insists throughout that artists and writers haven't simply reacted to the changes in urban existence; rather, they have 'helped turn the unscouted terrain of the urban night into a legible part of contemporary life.'
Soho Journal - Norman Maine
My favorite book of the year. New York Nocturne is a chronicle in words, photographs and paintings of New York City at night. . . . Although this is a book about New York City, it's also a book about artists, writers and photographers who were drawn to and inspired by the evolution of the illumination of the city and all that it brought about. The social and cultural changes that light brought about are examined here and strung together magnificently by author William Chapman Sharpe. . . . The art and photography are brilliantly reproduced—the color plates are especially handled with great care and one can see that the author has taken pain-staking pride in his research and efforts.
History News Network - Joanne Reitano
Treat yourself to an elegantly written, beautifully illustrated, copiously researched sojourn into New York City's night. With William Chapman Sharpe as your guide, you will get a tantalizing new perspective on the city as reflected in art, literature, and history. . . . Set within historical contexts without being mired in historiography, this book balances in-depth analyses of specific works with a broad discussion of patterns over time. It will enlighten any urbanist. . . . Sharpe's study provides a provocative historical perspective on creativity in and about the city. A book of breadth, depth, and grace, it must be savored slowly to fully appreciate 'the relation between the human, the urban, and the dark.'
Reviews in American History - Andrea L. Volpe
The challenge and accomplishment of the book is the way it cuts a swathe across New York's modernisms. . . . Sharpe covers a remarkable range of territory here.
ABC Journal - Adriana Neagu
[A] monograph as electrifying as its theme that illuminates from within the making of New York City, a reference work in absence of which, invaluable aspects in New York culture history would be left in the dark.
American Studies - William B. Scott
For anyone interested in the art and writing of modern New York . . . Sharpe provides a rich, encompassing, and informed story.
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2009 Peter C. Rollins Award, Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association

Winner of the 2009 MSA Book Prize, Modernist Studies Association

"Sharpe says that the 'first dark glimmer' for his book came as he was looking at work by the expatriate American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. . . . Sharpe shows how the aesthetics of [Whistler's] 'nocturnes' abroad shaped paintings and photographs of night in New York, including work by such figures as John Sloan, Arthur Stieglitz, and Edward Steichen. The nocturne form, he says, helped photography claim status as an art. Beyond words, the book offers nearly 150 often haunting and sometimes touching images."--Nina C. Ayoub, The Chronicle of Higher Education

"By now an archetypal image, the New York skyline at night captures the excitement and beauty of a city still humming long after bedtime. . . . William Chapman Sharpe offers an academic tour through a landscape that was transformed by gaslight and the advent of electricity. . . . Artists such as Joseph Stella, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Faith Ringgold were drawn to the new glow, and writers from Joseph Conrad to Ralph Ellison came to investigate urban life after dark. Sharpe's examination of nocturnal art and storytelling tracks the ways illumination changed city life forever."--Patrick Huguenin, New York Daily News

"New York City claimed the title 'capital of the 20th century' not owing to its magnitude and energy but for its hold on the imagination of people around the world. While we wait to see what will succeed it as capital of the 21st, Columbia University Professor of English William Chapman Sharpe provides a brilliant look back in New York Nocturne. . . . Ranging freely between the literary and visual arts, Sharpe seeks the roots of American modernism in nighttime city life. He has something involving and informative to say about every topic he touches."--Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

"Night has long been the frontier of the urban world, a place where crime is an omnipresent danger, where sexual violence or fulfillment hides just around a darkened corner, and where loneliness triumphs over human connectedness. For a society that has grown up taking electricity for granted, New York Nocturne is illuminating. . . If electricity has transformed, if not completely solved the mysteries of the night, Sharpe skillfully interprets how artists have approached the meanings of darkness and, in a Melvillean touch, of light itself."--D. Schuyler, Choice

"In this gorgeous, erudite book, [Sharpe] examines the myriad ways that writers, painters, and photographers have represented New York nightlife, beginning in the mid-19th century, when works by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe dramatized the moral perils of the artificially lit city. . . . Sharpe, whose own affection for the city is charmingly apparent here, insists throughout that artists and writers haven't simply reacted to the changes in urban existence; rather, they have 'helped turn the unscouted terrain of the urban night into a legible part of contemporary life.'"--Barbara Spindel, Barnes and Noble.com

"My favorite book of the year. New York Nocturne is a chronicle in words, photographs and paintings of New York City at night. . . . Although this is a book about New York City, it's also a book about artists, writers and photographers who were drawn to and inspired by the evolution of the illumination of the city and all that it brought about. The social and cultural changes that light brought about are examined here and strung together magnificently by author William Chapman Sharpe. . . . The art and photography are brilliantly reproduced--the color plates are especially handled with great care and one can see that the author has taken pain-staking pride in his research and efforts."--Norman Maine, Soho Journal

"A beautiful volume that would sit proudly on the coffee table of any city dweller and city lover. William Chapman Sharpe details the way in which the city evolved after the Civil War into a world metropolis of leisure, politics, the arts, and commerce."--The Village Voice

"Treat yourself to an elegantly written, beautifully illustrated, copiously researched sojourn into New York City's night. With William Chapman Sharpe as your guide, you will get a tantalizing new perspective on the city as reflected in art, literature, and history. . . . Set within historical contexts without being mired in historiography, this book balances in-depth analyses of specific works with a broad discussion of patterns over time. It will enlighten any urbanist. . . . Sharpe's study provides a provocative historical perspective on creativity in and about the city. A book of breadth, depth, and grace, it must be savored slowly to fully appreciate 'the relation between the human, the urban, and the dark.'"--Joanne Reitano, History News Network

"The challenge and accomplishment of the book is the way it cuts a swathe across New York's modernisms. . . . Sharpe covers a remarkable range of territory here."--Andrea L. Volpe, Reviews in American History

"[A] monograph as electrifying as its theme that illuminates from within the making of New York City, a reference work in absence of which, invaluable aspects in New York culture history would be left in the dark."--Adriana Neagu, ABC Journal

"For anyone interested in the art and writing of modern New York . . . Sharpe provides a rich, encompassing, and informed story."--William B. Scott, American Studies

Choice
Night has long been the frontier of the urban world, a place where crime is an omnipresent danger, where sexual violence or fulfillment hides just around a darkened corner, and where loneliness triumphs over human connectedness. For a society that has grown up taking electricity for granted, New York Nocturne is illuminating. . . If electricity has transformed, if not completely solved the mysteries of the night, Sharpe skillfully interprets how artists have approached the meanings of darkness and, in a Melvillean touch, of light itself.
— D. Schuyler
San Francisco Chronicle
New York City claimed the title 'capital of the 20th century' not owing to its magnitude and energy but for its hold on the imagination of people around the world. While we wait to see what will succeed it as capital of the 21st, Columbia University Professor of English William Chapman Sharpe provides a brilliant look back in New York Nocturne. . . . Ranging freely between the literary and visual arts, Sharpe seeks the roots of American modernism in nighttime city life. He has something involving and informative to say about every topic he touches.
— Kenneth Baker
Soho Journal
My favorite book of the year. New York Nocturne is a chronicle in words, photographs and paintings of New York City at night. . . . Although this is a book about New York City, it's also a book about artists, writers and photographers who were drawn to and inspired by the evolution of the illumination of the city and all that it brought about. The social and cultural changes that light brought about are examined here and strung together magnificently by author William Chapman Sharpe. . . . The art and photography are brilliantly reproduced—the color plates are especially handled with great care and one can see that the author has taken pain-staking pride in his research and efforts.
— Norman Maine
The Barnes & Noble Review
The blackout of 2003 offered New Yorkers their most recent opportunity to experience something exceedingly rare: the city enveloped in darkness. William Chapman Sharpe begins New York Nocturne at a time when nighttime darkness was the norm and light -- first in the form of gas, then of electricity -- was radically disorienting, eventually transforming patterns of commerce and leisure. In this gorgeous, erudite book, the Barnard College professor examines the myriad ways that writers, painters, and photographers have represented New York nightlife, beginning in the mid-19th century, when works by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe dramatized the moral perils of the artificially lit city. Sharpe's journey takes him to the middle of the 20th century, by which time artists like Edward Hopper and Weegee exploit the nighttime's theatrical, voyeuristic potential. In between he covers James McNeill Whistler, Stephen Crane, John Sloan, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Joseph Stella, and many others, with close readings of the literature and black-and-white and color reproductions of the art. Sharpe, whose own affection for the city is charmingly apparent here, insists throughout that artists and writers haven't simply reacted to the changes in urban existence; rather, they have "helped turn the unscouted terrain of the urban night into a legible part of contemporary life." --Barbara Spindel
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691133249
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/13/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

William Chapman Sharpe is professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of "Unreal Cities" and the coeditor of "Visions of the Modern City".

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

New York Nocturne
By William Chapman Sharpe Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13324-9


Introduction Now the nights of one period are not the nights of another. Neither are the nights of one city the nights of another. -Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

The Dream Site

In the early 1850s, Henry David Thoreau took a series of long nocturnal strolls in the countryside near Walden, mapping out lectures on night and moonlight. Thoreau had his eyes on the shadowy forest, yet his eagerness to subdue the kingdom of night for poetical purposes echoes the exploitative fervor with which urbanites were beginning to explore the city after dark. "I shall be a benefactor," wrote Thoreau,

if I conquer some realms from the night, if I report to the gazettes anything transpiring about us at that season worthy of their attention,-if I can show men that there is some beauty awake while they are asleep,-if I add to the domains of poetry.

Writing of natural processes that had changed little in thousands of years, Thoreau seems unaware of how desperately outmoded his projected conquest is. He gives no hint that artificial lighting and feverish nighttime activity had already rendered his slumbering landscape an object of nostalgic curiosity for city dwellers. By the mid-nineteenth century, the silvery dreamland that Thoreau wandered while his neighbors slept would have seemed to many New Yorkers as remote as the African interior. And yet, although he was seeking something primeval, Thoreau's desire to "add to the domains of poetry" by aesthetically annexing the land of the night put him in the mainstream of modernity. Like many other writers and artists, capitalists and pioneers, he was participating in one of the epoch's great adventures: the colonizing of the night.

While his timing was perfect, Thoreau was simply in the wrong place. The action was elsewhere, in the great cities. It had been only a few decades since urban life in Europe and the United States had begun to feel the radical alteration caused by the advance of light into hitherto dark hours. But now the race was on to capture broad swaths of nocturnal territory for profit and pleasure. The installation of gaslight in London's West End in 1807 ignited a series of innovations that permanently rearranged the rhythms of everyday life, transforming traditional patterns of industry, commerce, leisure, and consumption. The concept of "nightlife" was born, along with the twenty-four-hour workday. With reliable lighting came safer streets, late shopping, and vastly expanded entertainments. The illumination of the city changed the very way people thought about-and thus lived in-the night. Darkness, so long a barrier to human activity, quickly became a stimulant.

The ability of the city to transcend the rhythms of nature, to banish night so that its own artifice could reign supreme, came to symbolize the essence of progress, the culmination of technical prowess and cultural sophistication. Drawing human moths to its flame, the decked-out city of night ostentatiously burned its candle at both ends. By the twentieth century, a shimmering skyline and a blaze of electricity signified human life at its richest, most promising, and most seductive: "bright lights, big city." The physical paraphernalia of light, from the lamppost to the gasworks or the power plant, became permanent daytime reminders that a visual newfound land was being charted every evening. Artistic renderings played a vital role in this revolution, not merely recording the novel sights of the city after dark, but also educating their audiences in the modes of perception through which this "darkness visible" might be experienced. In ways we are only beginning to appreciate, the impact of gas and electricity reshaped the arts and the psyche, not to mention the experience of urban life. City dwellers realized that a new arena of human interaction had opened up. Its joys and perils needed to be interpreted-morally, aesthetically, and socially. How did the city look to those who ventured forth, the flâneurs prowling the streets in search of inspiration? How were their responses communicated through poems and novels, guidebooks, paintings, prints, and photographs? How did nocturnal imagery evolve as people made efforts to comprehend first the gaslit and then the electric city? And how was the cityscape framed and transfigured, so that it came to seem like a stage set, a fantasyland, or an intimate interior? New York Nocturne explores how writers, painters, and photographers helped turn the unscouted terrain of the urban night into a legible part of contemporary life.

As we read the map of nocturnal modernity made by such figures as Walt Whitman and Ralph Ellison, Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper, Alfred Stieglitz and "Weegee," I want to stress that my emphasis is not so much on social or technological transformation as on how that transformation was registered in literature and the visual arts. The works of innovative image-makers, rather than the experiences of ordinary people, are the focus here. But along the way, I refer to the still-unfolding histories of illumination and nightlife as a means of establishing concretely how technological change altered urban experience, something implicit in my interpretation of art and literature. Thus, New York Nocturne concentrates not on nocturnal urban "reality" as lived by various socioeconomic groups but on how creative individuals have in memorable ways depicted and reinterpreted that ever-evolving reality for themselves and their audiences.

Looking at the visual and verbal ideas that engaged the makers of night imagery, we will often arrive at fresh readings of familiar works, now that they are seen in the context of the nocturnal genre. Some of the images and texts presented here are classics, chosen because they have had a lot of cultural visibility and impact-those by Edgar Allan Poe and Emma Lazarus, Edward Steichen and Berenice Abbott, James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Stella, for instance. But I also use many lesser-known works to gauge the depth of an idea or image, and see if something unexpected will turn up to compel attention. Since showing what's special about nocturnal imagery is at the heart of my endeavor, I try to identify just what working with the night contributed to the art of each figure I analyze-and what each figure contributed to the growing body of nocturnal expression. We will see, to take just a few examples, how representing nocturnal subjects and atmosphere helped Whistler achieve a desired notoriety, lent Steichen an "artistic" aura, enabled Frederic Remington to be recognized as a painter rather than mere illustrator, helped Stella fuse a Futurist style with American themes, burned Weegee's flash photos into public consciousness, and gave poets William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop a human moth-to-electric-flame image of the writer's tormented act of creation.

Since 1812, when the composer John Field first gave the title "nocturne" to a series of quietly expressive piano pieces, the term has been applied to a wide range of imaginative works that, according to their creators, evoke nighttime thoughts and sensations. Because the history of the nocturne zigzags between music, the visual arts, and literature, study of the subject demands an interdisciplinary, multimedia approach. I will admit right here that regrettably, this book does not address the nocturne in either music or film-still unexplored topics that are well worth investigating. And long as it is, this book itself has had to be selective. For reasons of space and personal inclination, I have focused on what might be called "descriptive" nocturnes: works of writers, painters, and photographers that may well have musical or cinematic counterparts, but that give special privilege, verbally and visually, to the look of the city after dark. Although I will be comparing how the city is represented in various texts and images, trying to show what each has contributed to our composite picture of New York, the aim is not to compare the media themselves, or offer theories about their similarities and differences, advantages and constraints. Rather, I will try to show how ideas and approaches may be borrowed, emulated, subverted, or rejected, often quite loosely and by analogy, among people trying to represent in their own way, in their own medium, a shared topic: the city at night. Tracing the imagery through which ideas about the nocturnal scene entered cultural consciousness, this book concentrates mostly on exterior, outdoor views of the city. For centuries people have sought security at night behind their shutters and doors. Their relation to interior space remained largely stable even as improved forms of lighting and heating made indoor life more comfortable. But gaslight's sudden arrival tempted them out of their homes with the promise of wondrous sights. For Americans and Europeans both, emboldened initially by gaslight and then by a succession of new techniques of looking and lighting, the night became an arena for action. Artificial lighting had opened up a new epoch in human endeavor. Scrutiny of the night seemed almost an obligation; like Charles Dickens's vampiric lawyer Mr. Vholes, darkness courted inquiry. Freighted with associations but at first little frequented by the "respectable" classes, tractable in theory but challenging in practice, night assumed the allure and menace of an uncharted continent. It beckoned.

As artistic perception of night and light evolved, nocturnes became an influential force in the development of modern art and literature. Discovering the city, and particularly New York, through the lens of nocturnal experience, image makers found exceptional artistic possibilities that shattered traditional forms and encouraged greater freedom of expression. As they worked, they created a new New York-a vibrant composite image that has developed as the actual city has, an image that to this moment influences how we respond to the physical city before us. Through study of that nocturnal image, we can learn a great deal about how it felt to live in the city in times past, and how the resonances of the words "New York" have multiplied over time.

Why New York? Nowhere else did nocturnal exploration take a more exciting form. Even before the advent of electricity, New Yorkers were announcing that their gaslit whirl rivaled that of London and Paris, as illustrators and journalists, writers and artists cataloged the city's infamies and chronicled its secrets. For New York's self-proclaimed arrival on the world stage around 850 coincided with the dawning recognition that night was a kind of global stage in itself. Inextricably bound up in the rhetoric of exploration, colonization, and discovery, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century encounters with the night were suffused with a sense of adventure. "Daytime" activities-the constant construction and demolition; the influx of immigrants, industries, and capital; the ever-rising skyline-lent New York a protean form that rapidly achieved legendary status. But complementing the transformation of the built environment was another, equally mythic metamorphosis-one that took place nightly as darkness fell, and the workaday world seemed to don garments of fire and diamonds.

Growing furiously, the city emerged from the gaslit era on nearly equal terms with London in size and Paris in ostentation. Then, in the 880s and 890s, New York aggressively assumed a more pronounced "electric" personality, assembling a nocturnal semiotic arsenal that no other city could match. Sustained by the legends that art and commerce were building, the allure of New York as the preeminent city of the night stemmed from a simple fact: no city anywhere had ever been so radiantly and thoroughly lit. Opening its first central power plant in 882, just three years after Thomas Edison successfully demonstrated the incandescent lightbulb, New York electrified more rapidly and completely than any European capital. Streetlights sparkled in processions along the avenues, while brightly lit interiors of apartments and offices became visible to people passing in the streets or on elevated trains. Meanwhile, the proliferation of skyscrapers began to change the topography of the city itself, as their lights broke the ceiling of darkness that in cities had hovered at the five-story level since the Middle Ages. From the 1890s onward, seeing New York created a lust for light that no place else could satisfy. Returning to Ireland in 1964, Brendhan Behan wrote: When I arrived home from Broadway, where my play The Hostage was running, my wife said to me, "Oh isn't it great to be back. How do you feel coming home?" "Listen Beatrice," I said, "It's very dark!" And I think anybody returning home after going to New York will find their native spot pretty dark too.

New York stood out especially in its contrast with the countryside. The illumination of cities outpaced that of less populated areas even more dramatically in the United States than elsewhere, due to the private ownership of lighting companies. Whereas Europeans regarded lighting as a public service to be administered nationally, Americans treated it as a commercial commodity produced by and for the benefit of private enterprise, and lit each locality in direct proportion to the profits it could generate. Poorer and rural areas found themselves simply left in the dark. As the center of American commerce, the most highly visible and valuable piece of real estate in the nation, downtown Manhattan was quickly illuminated to the hilt. Citizens were calling Broadway the "Great White Way" even in the 890s, and it was the intensity of light from advertising that created this impression. The spectacle shone all the more powerfully because it burst out at a time when not even 5 percent of American homes had electricity. It all amounted to a gigantic self-promotion, an urban publicity campaign that rapidly mythologized New York as the modern city, the ultimate city of light. By 1900, three of the most salient features of New York's modernity-its skyscrapers, its brash, self-confident love of newness, and its dollar-driven, accelerated pace of life-coalesced and found their most spectacular form after dark. The boldness of the city's lines, its soaring heights and uninhibited theatricality, marked it as a place apart, operating on a scale that eclipsed its European predecessors. A first step in changing perceptions of the night city came from those who championed the simple romance of elevated trains and watering holes. Realist novelist William Dean Howells and the painters of the Ash Can School tamed the threatening features of nightlife for middle-class audiences, as did O. Henry, whose stories of "Baghdad on the Subway" showed that urban chaos could be repackaged in ingeniously knotted four-page bundles. Between 1900 and 1915, with the spread of lavishly decorated lobster palaces, movie houses, and cabarets, going out at night gradually became the order of the day. By the 1920s New York had a mayor, socialite Jimmy Walker, who claimed it was a sin to go to bed on the same day you got up. The city lights produced a breathtaking skyline that outsparkled the rest of the world with its ambition, promise, and inhuman beauty. Visiting the city in the 1930s, the Swiss architect Le Corbusier remarked that New York at night is "a Milky Way come down to earth."

For over a century now, the sheer spectacle of New York at night has proved irresistible. Painters' images of the city at night have become modernist icons in themselves: the soaring gothic arches of Stella's Brooklyn Bridge (1922) open onto a promised land of light and height; O'Keeffe's Radiator Building, Night, New York (1927) discharges urban energy from its floodlit, flowering top; Charles Demuth's I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928) projects an apocalyptic vision of a fire truck hurtling through the night (color plate 1); and Hopper's Nighthawks (1942) presents a human diorama in a diner, its specimens drenched in the light of loneliness. The astonishing beauty of skyscrapers seen from a distance appears to engage in a nightly duel with the abrasive passion of city streets confronted close-up. (Continues...)



Excerpted from New York Nocturne by William Chapman Sharpe
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction The Dream Site 1
Seeing in a New Light 10
Dark Arts and the Urban Sublime 14
Getting Acquainted with the Night 26
One Story of the Night 32

Chapter One: Gaslit Babylon 37
New York Lights Up 39
Walking the Night 42
Terror and Taming 46
Morality and Light 55
The Country and the City 60
Night People, Night Prowling 63
The Devil, the Moralist, and the Voyeur 66
Police Take Note: The Fl"neur Flummoxed 70
Gaslit Barbary 73
Lullaby for Babylon 76

Chapter Two: The Nocturne: Moonlight, Metamorphosis, and Modernism 80
Contemplating the Moon 82
The Softer Satellite in Eclipse 86
No More Than I Wish 91
As with a Veil 97
Fireworks in Court 100
Everywhere I Looked I Saw Whistlers 105
Unrecorded Miracles 112
The Photo-Nocturne 118

Chapter Three: Colonizing the Night 132
Conquering Some Realms for the Night 136
A Mighty Woman with a Torch 138
Armies of the Night 143
Lightning Powder 148
Living Like the Other Half 157
The Poor En Masse, the Rich One by One 161
Moonlight Reservation 165

Chapter Four: The Empire of Light 170
The Lesson of the Moth 171
Nightlife Goes Native 177
Beneath the Singer Tower 184
Electric Eden 189
Empire of Signs 194
Picturing the Imperial City 199
The Apotheosis of Electricity 208

Chapter Five: Skyscraper Fantasy 217
Lights, Height, Sex, Romance 222
Manhattan, the Night-Blooming Cereus I Am Seeing Great Things 230
The Body of a Skyscraper 240
Down-Gazing I Behold 243
I'll Make Them Big: O'Keeffe's Exhibitionist Androgyny 249
Nobody to Say: Pinholes 257
Lamé with Lights 262

Chapter Six: Staging the Night: Theater, Voyeurism, Violence 266
Night Windows 272
The Feel of the Night 277
Nighthawks 285
Balcony Seats at a Murder 292
Darkness Invisible 304
Then See It! 313

Epilogue Night Now 319
Whose Night? 321
Fairyland Still? The Aerial View 330
The City of Dreadful Light 340

Notes 349
Index 393

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)