The Top Five Lights in Literature


book-707387_640To celebrate Durham Lumiere 2015, we asked you to share your favourite examples of light in literature. Here, in no particular order, are your top five.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gatsby_1925_jacket“I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.” So ponders Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, looking out over the Sound of Long Island. Gatsby is irresistibly drawn to the green light pulsing across the bay where his one-time lover, Daisy, now lives. Gatsby’s fixation on Daisy, to the exclusion of other values, is set against the wider backdrop of greed and excessive desire in 1920s America. Both @honestlytave and @DrMagennis came up with this suggestion.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

Invisible_ManThe eponymous invisible man, the black narrator of Ralph Ellison’s novel, lives in the shut-off section of a basement in a building meant to be inhabited by only white tenants. He is stealing electricity from the Monopolated Light and Power Company to illuminate his room with the brilliance of 1,369 light bulbs. The metaphors of light and dark, visible and invisible, pervade Ellison’s novel about race in America: the excessive light symbolises the narrator’s need to understand his own position in society, and to be recognised by it. Thanks to @essiepett for pointing out this one.

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

708939_origFrom the guttering candlelight by which Ebeneezer Scrooge writes, to the black fog that descends upon the world of Bleak House and blocks out the light of the sun, Charles Dickens’s novels are full of lighting effects. But one of the most theatrically effective moments, as suggested by our own Simon James, comes in Great Expectations, towards the end of Book 2. The now wealthy Pip is still hopeful that he might marry Estella, but is also restless, unsure what to do with his newfound money. Then, late one stormy night, Pip is sat awake reading when he hears a footstep on the stair:

I stood with my lamp held out over the stair-rail, and he came slowly within its light. It was a shaded lamp, to shine upon a book, and its circle of light was very contracted; so that he was in it for a mere instant, and then out of it. In the instant, I had seen a face that was strange to me, looking up with an incomprehensible air of being touched and pleased by the sight of me.

Magwitch, the convict, has returned.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett

The-amazing-maurice-and-his-educated-rodents-1Any number of fantasy novels seem to deal with themes of light versus dark, whether the perpetually sunny-seeming Shire and the brooding land of Mordor in Lord of the Rings, the Northern Lights in His Dark Materials, or the wall guarded by the Night Watch that separates the frozen north from the warmer south in Game of Thrones. However, this suggestion (chosen by @ffateha_) offers a lighter touch. In a twist on the Pied Piper story, some overly intelligent rats emerge from the literal shadows, and the human hunters suddenly become the hunted.

The Light of Amsterdam, by David Park

13449104Bringing our list into the present is this 2012 novel, proposed by @DrMagennis. Park’s narrative weaves together the stories of three sets of people about to make their way to Amsterdam for Christmas. By moonlight and streetlight, under the light of bedside lamps and in broad daylight, the different characters encounter one another, and their stories are revealed.

What have we missed out from this list? Share your favourites in the comments below, tweet us using the hashtag #litlight, or message us on Facebook.

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2 responses to “The Top Five Lights in Literature

  1. Pingback: When the Streetlights Go Dark: A Literary View of Lumière | READ Research in English at Durham·

  2. Pingback: Lights in Literature: Share Your Suggestions | READ Research in English at Durham·

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