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Dimensions:
234 × 156 mm
280 pages
Format:
Paperback
ISBN:
9781780238272
Illustrations:
29 illustrations, 22 in colour
Published:
01 Sep 2017

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, now available in paperback, deftly combines prose-poetry, memoir, philosophy and art history. Intertwining 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 Davidson’s 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, you’d 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 . . . Davidson’s 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

‘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

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Peter Davidson is Fellow of Campion Hall, University of Oxford. He is the author of a book of essays about northern culture, Distance and Memory (2013), a collection of verse, The Palace of Oblivion (2008), and the cultural and aesthetic history The Idea of North (Reaktion, 2005).