5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"Blindly here to stand, but still not sleeping",
This review is from: Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe (New Studies in European History) (Paperback)
I haven't reviewed any books on Amazon for years, but thought it was a shame that Koslofsky's masterful history of the night ("N-i-g-h-t night", I would find myself explaining to friends, as I cited yet more nuggets from the book for them) has only three stars. This is a brilliant book that well deserved to win the Longman-History Today prize, and I enjoyed it as much as I could have hoped for.
Is it difficult? In a couple of sections towards the end it does become a bit social-sciency - and I'm not sure it's a huge loss that drunken violence and robbery was forced out of the public sphere at night during the 17th-18th century - but this does not reflect the majority of the book. It is not quite as readable as a straightforward narrative history, but it's hardly the sort of dense academic text of which you can manage no more than a page a day.
Is it a dry work? Not at all - one professional reviewer remarked (I think it was in the BBC history magazine), there is a fascinating fact on almost every page.
This is not really a narrative history, but has more of a narrative than you might expect. Essentially, the upheavals of the Reformation undermine the old medieval contrast of night=bad, day=good (leading to some fine mystical theology); meanwhile the secular rulers try and demonstrate their power by lighting up the night; 'nightlife' then spreads from the aristocrats to the middle-classes, who use this newly available time and space to invent the Enlightenment and science and Blackadder the Third. At the same time, the rural night is harder to conquer, and older customs and attitudes survive (although you might want to keep out of the forrest after sun-down...)
At the same time, the world is not that neat, and some 'threads' of the story are left
But the joy of the book is in the details:
-how 'evidence' of witchcraft began with reflections of folk practices
-how theology discovered the positive use of darkness
-the domesticated darkness of the baroque theatre
-links between the latter and portrayals of the Restoration
-baroque manipulation of light and darkness and royal imagery
-the origins of nightlife
-policing the night (and clearing it of troublemakers like students!)
-sex and courting in rural 17th century Europe
If Jorge Luis Borges were alive, he would have loved this book!