“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”
So begins an extraordinary story of betrayal and treachery, of delusion and deceit narrated by Edward Glyver. Glyver may be a bibliophile, but he is no bookworm. Employed “in a private capacity” by one of Victorian London’s top lawyers, he knows his Macrobius from his First Folio, but he has the street-smarts and ruthlessness of a Philip Marlowe. And just as it is with many a contemporary detective, one can’t always be sure whether Glyver is acting on the side of right or wrong.
As the novel begins, Glyver silently stabs a stranger from behind, killing him apparently at random. But though he has committed a callous and brutal crime, Glyver soon reveals himself to be a sympathetic and seductively charming narrator. In fact, Edward Glyver keeps the reader spellbound for 600 riveting pages full of betrayal, twists, lies, and obsession.
Glyver has an unforgettable story to tell. Raised in straitened circumstances by his novelist mother, he attended Eton thanks to the munificence of a mysterious benefactor. After his mother’s death, Glyver is not sure what path to take in life. Should he explore the new art of photography, take a job at the British Museum, continue his travels in Europe with his friend Le Grice? But then, going through his mother’s papers, he discovers something that seems unbelievable: the woman who raised him was not his mother at all. He is actually the son of Lord Tansor, one of the richest and most powerful men in England.
Naturally, Glyver sets out to prove his case. But he lacks evidence, and while trying to find it under the alias “Edward Glapthorn,” he discovers that one person stands between him and his birthright: his old schoolmate and rival Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a popular poet (and secret criminal) whom Lord Tansor has taken a decidedly paternal interest in after the death of his only son.
Glyver’s mission to regain his patrimony takes him from the heights of society to its lowest depths, from brothels and opium dens to Cambridge colleges and the idylls of Evenwood, the Tansor family’s ancestral home. Glyver is tough and resourceful, but Daunt always seems to be a step ahead, at least until Glyver meets the beguilingly beautiful Emily Carteret, daughter of Lord Tansor’s secretary.
But nothing is as it seems in this accomplished, suspenseful novel. Glyver’s employer Tredgold warns him to trust no one: Is his enigmatic neighbour Fordyce Jukes spying on him? Is the brutal murderer Josiah Pluckthorn on his trail? And is Glyver himself, driven half-mad by the desire for revenge, telling us the whole truth in his candid, but very artful, “confession”?
A global phenomenon, The Meaning of Night is an addictive, darkly funny, and completely captivating novel. Meticulously researched and utterly gripping, it draws its readers relentlessly forward until its compelling narrator’s final revelations.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Michael Cox edited The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories and The Oxford Book of Victorian Detective Stories. In 1974, in between releasing records for EMI under the name Matthew Ellis, he began what was to become The Meaning of Night. Originally published in 2006 to international acclaim, The Meaning of Night was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa First Novel Award, and Cox was nominated for Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year at the 2006 Galaxy British Book Awards. Michael Cox passed away in 2009.
From the Hardcover edition.
The following work, printed here for the first time, is one of the lost curiosities of nineteenth-century literature. It is a strange concoction, being a kind of confession, often shocking in its frank, conscienceless brutality and explicit sexuality, that also has a strongly novelistic flavour; indeed, it appears in the hand-list that accompanies the Duport papers in the Cambridge University Library with the annotation ‘(Fiction?)’. Many of the presented facts — names, places, events (including the unprovoked murder of Lucas Trendle) — that I have been able to check are verifiable; others appear dubious at best or have been deliberately falsified, distorted, or simply invented. Real people move briefly in and out of the narrative, others remain unidentified — or unidentifiable — or are perhaps pseudonymous. As the author himself says, ‘The boundaries of this world are forever shifting — from day to night, joy to sorrow, love to hate, and from life itself to death.’ And, he might have added, from fact to fiction.
As to the author, despite his desire to confess all to posterity, his own identity remains a tantalizing mystery. His name as given here, Edward Charles Glyver, does not appear in the Eton Lists of the period, and I have been unable to trace it or any of his pseudonyms in any other source, including the London Post-office Directories for the relevant years. Perhaps, after we have read these confessions, this should not surprise us; yet it is strange that someone who wished to lay his soul bare to posterity in this way chose not to reveal his real name. I simply do not know how to account for this, but note the anomaly in the hope that further research, perhaps by other scholars, may unravel the mystery.
His adversary Phoebus Daunt, on the other hand, is real enough. The main events of his life may be traced in various contemporary sources. He may be found, for instance, in both the Eton Lists and in Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, and is mentioned in several literary memoirs of the period — though on his supposed criminal career the historical record is silent. On the other hand, his now (deservedly) forgotten literary works, consisting principally of turgid historical and mythological epics and a few slight volumes of poems and poetic translations, once enjoyed a fleeting popularity. They may still be sought out by the curious in specialist libraries and booksellers’ catalogues (as can his father’s edition of Catullus, mentioned in the text), and perhaps may yet furnish some industrious PhD student with a dissertation subject.
The text has been transcribed, more or less verbatim, from the unique holograph manuscript now held in the Cambridge University Library. The manuscript came to the CUL in 1948 as part of an anonymous bequest, with other papers and books relating to the Duport family of Evenwood in Northamptonshire. It is written, for the most part, in a clear and confident hand on large-quarto lined sheets, the whole being bound in dark-red morocco (by R. Riviere, Great Queen Street) with the Duport arms blocked in gold on the front. Despite a few passages where the author’s hand deteriorates, apparently under psychological duress, or perhaps as a result of his opium habit, there are relatively few deletions, additions, or other amendments. In addition to the author’s narrative there are several interpolated documents and extracts by other hands.
I have made a number of silent emendments in matters of orthography, punctuation, and so on; and because the MS lacks a title, I have used a phrase from one of the prefatory quotations, the source of which is a poem, appropriately enough, from the pen of P. Rainsford Daunt himself. I have also supplied titles for each of the five parts, and for the five sections of the so-called Intermezzo.
The sometimes enigmatic Latin titles to the forty-seven sections or chapters have been retained (their idiosyncrasy seemed typical of the author), though I have provided translations. On the first leaf of the manuscript are a dozen or so quotations from Owen Felltham’s Resolves, some of which I have used as epigraphs to each of the five parts. Throughout the text, my own editorial interpolations and footnotes are given within square brackets.
Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction
University of Cambridge
From the Hardcover edition.
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