A fascinating and colourful social history of the nighttime in the pre-Industrial era.
AT DAY'S CLOSE charts a fresh realm of Western culture, nocturnal life from the late medieval period to the Industrial revolution.
The book focuses on the cadences of daily life, investigating nighttime in its own right and resurrecting a rich and complex universe in which persons passed nearly half of their lives - a world, long-lost to historians, of blanket fairs, night freaks, and curtain lectures, of sun-suckers, moon-cursers and night-kings. It is not only the vocabulary that has disappeared, AT DAY'S CLOSE will restitute many facts which have been either lost or forgotten. It is a significant and newsworthy contribution to social history, filled with substantial research, stories and new discoveries.
Ekirch uses a wide range of sources to reconstruct how the night was lived in the past : travel accounts, memoirs, letters, poems, plays, court records, coroner's reports, depositions and laws dealing with curfews, crime and lighting. He has analysed working-class autobiographies, proverbs, nursery rhymes, ballads and sermons, and folklore, as well as consulting medical, psychological and anthropological papers.
Engrossing, leisurely paced and richly researched, this history finds Ekirch reminding us of how preindustrial Westerners lived during the nocturnal hours, when most were plunged into almost total darkness. By describing how that darkness spelled heightened risk of stumbles, drowning, fires and other dangers Ekirch accounts for the traditional association of nighttime with fear and suspicion, illuminating the foundations of popular beliefs in satanic forces and the occult. He also describes how the night literally provided a cloak of darkness for crimes and insurrections, and how fear of the night sometimes led to racist blame and accusation. A professor of history at Virginia Tech, Ekirch ranges across the archives of Europe and early colonial America to paint a portrait of how the forces of law and order operated at night, and he provides fascinating insight into nocturnal labor of masons, carpenters, bakers, glassmakers and iron smelters, among many others. The hardest nocturnal workers were women, Ekirch writes, doing laundry after a full day's domestic work. Ekirch also evokes benign nighttime activities, such as drinking and alehouse camaraderie; the thrill of aristocratic masquerades; the merrymaking of harvest suppers and dances. A rich weave of citation and archival evidence, Ekirch's narrative is rooted in the material realities of the past, evoking a bygone world of extreme physicality and preindustrial survival stratagems. 8 pages of color and 60 b&w illus.