chapter  Chapter 8
16 Pages

“The Truth of Midnight” and “The Truth of Noonday”: Sensation and Madness in James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night

WithDafydd Moore

In a development typical of the man and his life, just as he had begun to establish a reputation as a poet James Thomson died an undignified, painful and drink-hastened death in 1882. The City of Dreadful Night is in fact one of a number of morbid fin-de-siecle pieces Thomson wrote expressing cultural, spiritual and personal deracination, alienation and despair. This chapter explores the relationship between the poem and “common thought and feeling” and considers ways in which The City—despite the “confidence” of the proem and the doubts of the letter on this issue—circumvents the hermeneutic cycle inherent in the depiction of extreme states of mind, by locating Thomson’s methods and goals within nineteenth-century ideas of madness and the city, and of the relation between the two. It focuses on Thomson’s varied use of voice and dramatization or projection to convey his bleak vision of life bereft of cultural and spiritual salvation, intellectual and moral hope, and sanity itself.