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234 × 156 × 23 mm
280 pages
29 illustrations, 22 in colour
01 Oct 2015

The Last of the Light About Twilight Peter Davidson

The Last of the Light is a meditation on twilight in the Western arts and imagination, in thought, painting and literature. It takes us across the threshold of day into dusk, an uncertain world haunted by Romantic poets and painters and the twilight lives of minority and ‘overshadowed’ communities. The melancholy of smoky English autumn evenings is balanced by the midnight sun of summers in northern latitudes, and the darkly oppressive heat of August in mid-twentieth-century Spain is ranged against the spectral grandeur of winter in London.

Peter Davidson touches on diverse literary and artistic traditions as he considers the borderlands of the light and the dark: the ‘invention of evening’ in Rome by the ancients; the science of the Victorian evening sky; the urban sunsets of Whistler, Hammershøi and Tiepolo; the twilit modernities of Sebald, Eliot and Baudelaire. He reflects on the sense of longing, decay and loss that motivates so many of these works as well as the particular luminosity and brilliance generated by shadow, penumbra and half-light.

This ambitious account of the arts of the evening by the author of The Idea of North deftly combines prose-poetry, memoir, philosophy and art history. Combining personal, cultural and artistic histories, it is a richly rewarding book written in a unique voice.

The Last of the Light is both a celebration of and inquiry into the significance of temperature and skies, especially at this time of year, when we are in the twilight of the seasons . . . Davidson takes us to places that are vast and lovely as well as somehow underlit and shadowy, where a kind of emptiness and uncertainty prevails . . . He loves the lost, the fading, the fugitive as Robert Macfarlane, in his Landmarks, quoted Davidsons word back to him. Here exactly is the tone and spirit of this book, ideas illuminated on the pages and in illustrations and colour plates which encourage our eyesight to become acute in the way it is at the end of the day, seeing everything so clearly before it falls back into shadow, for now one last hour, one hour more.’ — Kirsty Gunn, The Guardian

‘These days, youd expect an author just to google twilight and pile up everything he finds. Not Davidson this is a deep and personal meditation, and while some references, particularly to painters, might be obvious Atkinson Grimshaw, Caspar David Friedrich, Whistler most are not . . . Davidson ranges right across the disciplines in his search for allusions, citing Ruskin, Rilke, Chopin, Kant and Vanbrugh along the way. The result is revealing, poetic and (unavoidably) illuminating. As a bonus, the book is beautifully and copiously illustrated.’ — The Independent

‘What a treasure trove this book is . . . Davidsons beautiful and scholarly chapters are an exploration of a passion for twilight . . . beautiful and deeply nostalgic . . . Davidson has given twilight the shrine it deserves.’ — Adam Nicolson, Country Life

‘Peter Davidson's intricate meditation on twilight in European art and literature . . . is at once richly satisfying and as elusive as a ghost . . . Like all good writers, he reveals the sheer strangeness of much that our eyes usually slide over.’ — Literary Review

‘Peter Davidson enters the twilight zone, tracing the crepuscular in science, psychology, history and the arts. Considering the 60th parallel north, around which long evenings and protracted sunsets stretch, Davidson probes aspects of this transitional state, including visual perception during the stages of twilight (civil, nautical and astronomical) dusk as a metaphor for crisis in Charles Dickenss Bleak House the proliferation of gilt and mirrors in the murky pre-electric era and the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins observations of anti-crepuscular rays.’ — Nature

The Last of the Light is a cultural companion . . . A cabinet of curiosities paintings, poems, music framed by the idea of Europe as an archipelago of regret, many of whose most vital artefacts have dealt in echo and obscure longing, translated into a feeling for light . . . It is a theme rather than a subject, and he traces its variations in a blend of memoir, evocation of place and cultural itinerary.’ — The Spectator

‘This slim book was an endless revelation to me. Its a study of the many roles played in human art and society over the centuries by twilight, that strange, pessimistic stretch of time thats no longer day but not yet quite night. Its an easy subject about which to be trite or boring, and virtually every other book or essay Ive read on the subject has been either trite or boring, but Peter Davidsons book eye-opening and wonderful, as lovely and gentle and strange as the daily phenomenon it describes.’ — Open Letters Monthly

‘Davidsons book is a primer on place and light. It recovers light itself as a phenomenon of place, and thereby complicates twilights temporal and human dimensions, its seasons and densities . . . In Davidsons measure of the twilight, a little light always remains.’ — Rain Taxi

The Last of the Light surveys how artists and writers have employed dusk as they might a colour or style to evoke nostalgia and melancholy . . . I finished the book hoping that a brave museum might stage an exhibition on the arts of the evening.’ — V&A Magazine

‘Davidsons twilight writing comes across as something of a barometer for time of day, for twilight. His acute eye, registering tiny gradations of light and tone, shares common ground with the contemporary English environmental observers . . . Richard Mabey, Robert Macfarlane, Tim Dee as well as with the ethos that informs Geoffrey Hills poetry. Davidsons is a bravely unfashionable book, its cadences relentlessly slow . . . Belatedness, as Davidson shows us, is the very essence of dusk, of the melancholy light of the fallen world.’ — Public Books

‘And one wanted, since its not dark yet: a history of twilight Peter Davidsons The Last of the Light.’ — Tim Dee, Guardian Books of the Year

‘For Christmas, Id like Peter Davidsons The Last of the Light: About Twilight.’ — Alexander McCall Smith, Guardian Books of the Year

‘This is simply one of the best books I have ever read . . . a book to be read in the twilight of a day, or during the twilight of your days.’ — Sun News Miami

‘What an astonishing book this is: a cartography of dusk, an illumination of twilight as it has found its ways into the art, literature, dreams, moods and metaphors of Europe and beyond. Beautiful and subtle in its tracings, it combines memoir, memory, place-writing and cultural history by degrees so fine as to be imperceptible.’ — Robert Macfarlane, author of Landmarks

‘Twilight – the subject of Peter Davidson’s meditative and beautiful book The Last of the Light . . . Davidson’s book offers us a series of intense, lyrical and surprisingly moving meditations on landscapes, buildings and mythical settings, as seen at the close of day through the eyes of painters and writers . . . a spell bounding exploration of that haunted moment of transition, either on some particular evening or in the history of the civilizations through which Davidson effortlessly roams . . . The poignant sense of the fugitive moment and the coming to an end of things haunts Davidson’s strange and magical book.’ — Miranda Seymour, Slightly Foxed Magazine

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Peter Davidson is Fellow of Campion Hall, University of Oxford. He has taught at the universities of Aberdeen, Leiden and Warwick. He is the author of a book of essays about northern culture, The Idea of North (Reaktion, 2005), Distance and Memory (2013), a collection of verse, The Palace of Oblivion (2008) and The Last of the Light: About Twilight (Reaktion, 2015).


1. About Shadows and Gardens

2. English Melancholy

3. Cities of the Evening

4. Dark Corners

5. Hesperides

Epilogue: Fireworks and Reflected Lights