Libertine nocturnes, or the many marvels of the enlightened night

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The history of night took a crucial turn in the eighteenth century. Thanks to enlightenments both literal and metaphorical, people took to the night with less fear than ever before. Streets and homes felt safer once lit up, whilst the light of Reason vanquished imaginary threats. Nowhere is this shift in the experience and representation of night more clearly visible than in the libertine fiction of eighteenth-century France. To the voluptuous characters inhabiting this erotic literature, nightfall did not open up a space-time of dangers but, rather, a playground teeming with marvels. This chapter first addresses the eighteenth-century reconfiguration of night as a time of pleasures by examining the enchanting marvels of a well-lit (or enlightened) nightscape. It then considers nocturnal marvels as sources of wonder to both philosophes and libertines who conceptualized shadows not as obstacles to their curiosity but, on the contrary, as teases spurring further discoveries. Thus, looking at the libertine, enlightened nocturnes of eighteenth-century France shows that the Enlightenment did not disenchant the world. The light of Reason did free nocturnal darkness from some of its monsters, but only the better to re-enchant the nightscape by presenting it as a marvel.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnlightened nightscapes
Subtitle of host publicationcritical essays on the long eighteenth-century night
EditorsPamela F. Phillips
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781003079965
ISBN (Print)9780367529673, 9780367529697
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge studies in eighteenth-century cultures and societies


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