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La nuit

Suzy Halimi


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1Valérie Capdeville Les clubs londoniens: vie nocturne et transgression

2London clubs are, as one might expect, inherently associated with nightlife, since most of their activities happen to take place at night. As the century advances with the progress of lighting, the ‘colonisation of night’ becomes an important feature of social urban diversions. Significantly enough, those ‘nocturnal assemblies’, as Joseph Addison calls them in The Spectator no 9, develop in parallel to the intensification of nightlife in the capital.

3To the limit between day and night often corresponds a boundary between what is allowed and what is forbidden, what is natural and what is unnatural, what is safe and what is dangerous, what is orderly and what is disorderly.

4Some clubs have chosen night as the time and space to perform their strange and obscure deeds. In the first half of the century, the Mohocks spread terror in the streets of London, whereas the Hell-Fire Clubs indulge in blasphemy and debauchery. Here, the socialising function of the club appears to be subverted, since it becomes an instrument of provocation and marginalisation, a means of transgression of any social or moral code.

5More generally, even if the pastimes of the great and reputed clubs of the West End, such as eating, drinking or gambling, are subjected to precise regulations, they may sometimes give way to excessive behaviours. Besides, masquerades seem to provide a good example of the potential subversion of some club activities: the mask, as a symbol of both liberty and transgression, conceals or blurs social and sexual identities, thus driving us far from the vocation of urban male sociability embodied by clubs.

6Michel Depeyre « Chasser » dans la nuit… vaisseaux et flottes britanniques la nuit, au XVIIIe siècle

7This article examines the behaviour of ships at night. For those that venture at sea after sunset, there are several dangers: reefs, storms, but also the lack of visibility of the other ships in a fleet; in the dark, luminous signals get blurred and there are several examples of tragical errors committed during night battles of rival fleets. But night is also a time of rest for the crews, a time for repairing any damages incurred during the day, or to run away from the enemy under cover of darkness. The history of Anglo-French wars, offers plenty of examples to illustrate those several points, especially examples of some famous night battles.

8Michel Vergé-Franceschi Entre ciel et mer: des marins, la tête dans les étoiles. En mer, la science fait reculer la nuit

9At sea, science drives night away. This paper shows how, from the XVIth century onwards, inventions follow one another, reducing areas of darkness and improving the art of navigation: progress in the field of medicine, saving the lives of seamen during circumnavigations of the world, progress of scientific instruments, making travelling at sea less dangerous, progress of natural sciences shedding light on native populations and the fauna and vegetation of the explored countries, progress of maps, giving a more accurate idea of the position of continents on the surface of the globe, and last but not least, progress of astronomy overcoming the ultimate darkness thanks to the reckoning of longitude. All that progress of light over medieval darkness of the understanding, gives birth to a genuine thirst for knowledge, that lays hold of the whole of Europe, leading to a cooperation of scientists, in spite of the endless wars following one another along the centuries. The defeat of night and the progress of scientific light are made possible by a close connection between science and technology, as can be seen through the publication of numerous books, published by seamen who are at the same time, technicians, scientists and artists. By the end of the XVIIIth century, light has definitely overcome the night in all fields of knowledge connected with life at sea.

10Suzy Halimi La nuit dans l’esthétique des Lumières: réflexions sur A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) d’Edmund Burke

11In Edmund Burke’s Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), night occupies an important place, as can be seen by the recurrence of terms borrowed from that semantic area. Even when light is mentioned, its opposite is never far away and it serves as a mirror, in a way. A close look at the essay shows, however, that the reflection on night is concentrated in the chapters devoted to the sublime, and is absent from the sections on the beautiful. Night is connected with terror, and it raises the passion of « delight », that mixture of fear and awe, the strongest passion according to Burke. Starting from these premisses, the analysis passes on to the way night with its corollary, terror, is used in politics and in religion, by governors and dignitaries who want to keep subjects and worshippers in a state of awe for what they do not see, what they do not understand, what is kept in obscurity. Finally, Burke’s demonstration passes on to the level of the arts, and then, poetry and painting, two of the famous sister arts of the time, are compared, with a clear superiority for poetry, which does not appeal to the senses, like a picture, but to imagination, set to work by the mysterious power of words. Needless to say, Burke’s considerations on the subject of night and darkness were to have a deep influence on the gothic novel at the end of the eighteenth century.

12Vanessa Aleyrac-Fielding « Those gloomy sensations that steal upon the mind »: esthétique de l’obscurité dans A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (1772) de William Chambers

13A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, published in London in 1772 by William Chambers, is both a description of Chinese gardens seen through the artist’s eyes and somewhat a guide to help the landscape gardeners of Europe. This work reveals the importance of the contrasting interplay between darkness and brightness together with the importance of the visitor’s reactions, ranging from serenity to terror, which must be triggered by the variety of the scenes found in the garden. This paper aims at analysing the use of darkness in the Chinese gardens described and praised by William Chambers in his treatise, and will examine how the focus on darkness in the very text can be more globally linked to the increasing interest in night and gloom in the age of Enlightenment. The scenography of the Chinese landscape introduced by William Chambers gives strong visual, tactile and aural sensations to the visitor and leads the latter to feel various and sometimes opposed emotions, such as melancholy, terror or the presence of the sublime. It thus seems in the text that the use of darkness in the Chinese landscape, as was seen, interpreted and even fashioned by William Chambers, derived from criteria belonging to the empiricist epistemology and sensualist psychology of eighteenth-century England.

14Pierre Degott Nuits et lumières dans les oratorios anglais de Haendel

15In Handel’s English oratorios, binary oppositions are often expressed in terms of “night/light” imagery. Whether it be the masculine/feminine dichotomy in Alexander Balus, the confrontation of the pagan and the Christian worlds in Theodora, the opposition between Hercules’s solar heroism and Dejanira’s nocturnal allegiances in Hercules or, last but not least, the subtle combination of the protagonist’s divine wisdom and earthly eroticism in Solomon, most thematic tensions lend themselves to a surprisingly coherent metaphorical treatment. In those works largely based on tragedy, such as Saul, Samson and Hercules, the “night/light” imagery is used to suggest the rise, fall and spiritual rebirth of the tragic hero. In Belshazzar, the “night” motif is used as a thematic backcloth for both the protagonist’s debauchery and the prophet Daniel’s mystical quest…

16This article aims at examining the scope of such admittedly stereotyped oppositions, largely redeemed by the musical treatment attached to them. The word-painting tradition, so much in vogue in the late Baroque era, does indeed lend itself to the musical depiction of night and light, notably with the presence of moonlit scenes, with the musical depiction of the dawn and also the rendition of what might be called “the dark night of the soul.” In that respect, the main problematic issue raised by the present article lies in the subtle interaction between words and music.

17The final question addressed by this contribution is of a more generic nature. In view of the aesthetic climate of the mid-eighteenth century, a period strongly marked by the temporary disappearance of Italian opera, it is strongly tempting to see the English oratorio, the artistic form which came to supersede, for at least a decade, the previous Italian opera, as a mainly “solar” genre. Contemporary criticism (Dennis, Hill, Pope, etc.) did indeed commonly see Italian opera as an obscure form, born out of the deepest recesses of the night.

18Jean Dixsaut Nocturnes à Mansfield Park

19This article analyses a special scene in Mansfield Park (1814) by Jane Austen, the rhapsody of Fanny Price at the beauty of a night sky. Her contemplation, standing at the window close to the man she is in love with, is an elevation of the soul at the sublimity of nature, as if there were neither wickedness nor sorrows in the world. Overdone rhetoric? Parody of enthusiasm so much criticised in the age of Reason? The vocabulary of the Burkian sublime is recognizable in the text, which is, on the other hand, contemporary of the invention of night pieces in music. But the conclusion is that, after all, it is perhaps useless to raise questions about the special meaning of the “moonlight scene”, a common ingredient in the novels of the time.

20Maurice Lévy Nuit gothique, Nuit anglaise

21This article replaces in its context La Nuit anglaise, a parody of gothic novels by Bellin de la Riborlière. At the end of the XVIIth century several arts – painting by Philippe de Loutherbourg, poetry by Edward Young, David Mallet, Robert Blair – reveal the importance of night in English mentalities, a source both of fright and delight. After the prelude marked by the works of Horace Walpole and Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe appears as the unquestionable master of the gothic novel, “the enchantress of Udolpho”: physical night and night of the soul, irrationality, her work carries the gothic novel to its climax, with its strengths and weaknesses, parodied by writers such as Bellin de la Riborlière. But in la Nuit anglaise, everything is explained at the end: the worst horrors were nothing but jokes of students. The panorama is continued with a study of the Monk (1796) by Lewis and Melmoth (1820), by Maturin. The conclusion is that “the gothic novel was written with a twilight pen, dipped in the black ink of melancholy”.

22Habib Ajroud Night of destiny or the play of light and darkness in Defoe’s novels

23Night plays an important part in Defoe’s novels, in accounting for the decrees of Providence. This article examines darkness as an empirical phenomenon: most significant events in the lives of the heroes occur at night. This is not a mere coincidence: darkness is also the state of mind of characters confronted with the unknown, the invisible hand of Destiny. Their unclear perception of the future is equated with a lack of control over time; hence the symbolic value of watches and calendars in the novels.

24Destiny relates to night in yet another way: dreams fraught with meaning which may or may not bring real significance out of darkness. But dreams are also premonitory. For instance dreams of material success reveal the opposition, throughout Defoe’s works, between Christian and market values, financial prosperity being often the counterpart of moral decline.

25Yannick Deschamps Daniel Defoe et le Prince des ténèbres: le pouvoir du Diable et ses limites dans The Political History of the Devil (1726)

26The Devil portrayed by Defoe in The Political History of the Devil (1726) owes a debt to the seventeenth-century English sceptical tradition concerning the supernatural, the Devil and his capacity to influence men’s lives. As a result, the popular conception of a horned Devil with a cloven foot is held up to ridicule. However, Defoe’s Devil has all the strengths and weaknesses attributed to him by Protestant theologians and demonologists. Indeed, one of Defoe’s aims in being “the Devil’s historian”, as he put it, was to defend the existence of the traditional Protestant Devil increasingly called into question by deists and other free-thinkers, which did not prevent him, at the same time, from using the Devil as a metaphor for the evil which he perceived and denounced among his contemporaries and in the British political system corrupted by the party spirit embodied by Robert Walpole.

27Élisabeth Soubrenie La petite musique de nuit de Young: Night Thoughts

28In his long philosophical poem Night Thoughts Young expounds a didactic and lyrical argument to convert his atheistic addressee to Christian belief. His apologetic plea is supported by the aesthetics and the metaphysics of solitude, which key notion is supposed to elicit a propensity to melancholy meditation in keeping with the gothic mood of this nocturne. Thus an omnipresent rhetoric of solitude soon pervades this call for conversion.

29Patrick Menneteau Ombres et lumières dans la poésie de William Blake

30In William Blake’s opinion, the Enlightenment and its philosophical, economic, scientific and technological inventions are rather a case of spiritual darkness. He confronts his contemporaries with his illuminations about the creation, and the world of spirits.

31In order to reach his light, he puts forward other means, such as the cleansing of the senses, the return to innate ideas, Christian love and intellectual war. Only through them can a God of light and darkness be confronted, and the experience of the re-composition of Albion’s new unity as Universal Brotherhood be felt.

32When read in the light of Jung’s statements on the subconscious, Blake’s poetry takes on a new dimension. Its founding subjective experiences turn out to belong to the objective collective subconscious, and symbolize an exemplary individuation process.

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2009

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