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216 × 138 mm
296 pages
45 illustrations, 10 in colour
15 Oct 2018

Darkness A Cultural History Nina Edwards

Darkness divides opinion. Some are frightened of the dark, or at least prefer to avoid it, and there are many who dislike what it appears to stand for. Others are drawn to its strange domain, delighting in its uncertainties, lured by all the associations of folklore and legend, by the call of the mysterious and of the unknown. The history of attitudes to what we cannot quite make out, in all its physical and metaphorical manifestations, challenges the notion that the world is possible to fully comprehend.

Nina Edwards explores darkness as both physical feature and cultural image, through themes of sight, blindness, consciousness, dreams, fear of the dark, night blindness, and the in-between states of dusk or fog, twilight and dawn, the point or period of obscuration and clarification. Taking readers through different historical periods, she interrogates humanity’s various attempts to harness and suppress the dark, from our early use of fire to the later discovery of electricity. She reveals how the idea of darkness pervades art, literature, religion and every aspect of our everyday language.

Darkness: A Cultural History shows us how darkness has fed our imagination. Whether a shifting concept or real physical presence, it always conveys complex meaning.

‘It is apt that such a mesmerising image should accompany the opening chapter of Nina Edwards’s beguiling book, which gallantly aims to subvert common views of darkness, both physical and metaphorical . . . for the most part, Edwards’s approach is considered and engaging as she explores the curious paradoxes and possibilities of ethereal half-shadows and “umbral blackness” . . . Marking Edwards’s latest work to embrace the neglected and the obscure (previous offerings include weeds, buttons and Offal: A Global History), Darkness leaves the reader floating, too – but full of conviction that truth and beauty can still exist, to quote Edward Lear, “when awful darkness and silence reign”.’
The Spectator

‘Nina Edwards, who has previously submitted weeds, buttons and offal to this [cultural history] process, brings a huge range of knowledge, enthusiasm and sensitivity to the subject . . . Edwards presents herself openly as an advocate of the dark “taking its part against the tide of opinion that promotes the light”, but she maintains, sometimes very deftly, a balance and a breadth that are refreshing.’ – Sara Maitland, The Tablet

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Nina Edwards is a freelance writer and the author of On the Button: The Significance of an Ordinary Item (2011), Weeds (Reaktion, 2015), Offal: A Global History (Reaktion, 2013) and Dressed for War: Uniform, Civilian Clothing and Trappings, 1914–1918 (2014). She lives in London.