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Labyrinths of DeceitCulture, Modernity and Identity in the Nineteenth Century$
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Richard J. Walker

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780853238492

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846315404

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All is vanity and nothingness: James ‘B. V.’ Thomson's haunted city

All is vanity and nothingness: James ‘B. V.’ Thomson's haunted city

(p.155) 6 All is vanity and nothingness: James ‘B. V.’ Thomson's haunted city
Labyrinths of Deceit
Liverpool University Press

James Thomson's ‘The City of Dreadful Night’, first published in Charles Bradlaugh's National Reformer in 1874 and republished in the collected edition The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems six years later, tackles the loss of faith and will in man. Using a poetic voice of thematic and ideological unity, it systematically negates the possibility of faith and suggests that life is ultimately meaningless and repetitive. Thomson's city meshes past and present in its architecture, yet exudes modernity. The poem implies rationalised despair and suicide by insisting that they are fundamentally sane in a world with no moral purpose behind it. Thomson's statement ‘all is vanity and nothingness’ underscores the pointlessness of attempting to assert a unified identity in a nihilistic context.

Keywords:   James Thomson, The City of Dreadful Night, faith, city, modernity, despair, suicide, identity

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