Finding Meaning in the Shadows


Helen Campbell. Darkness and Daylight, or Lights and Shadows of New York Life. Hartford, Conn.: Worthington & Co., 1892.Although shady commercial dealings were not confined to any one place in America, and often took place in the cold light of day, 19th-century authors were particularly taken with “shadowy” activities occurring in the city, most notably the “Great Metropolis” of New York. Focusing on the dichotomy of lightness and darkness, these urban exposés purportedly revealed the true character of urban life, especially what happened in the shadows. Sensational text and provocative illustrations helped make depictions of urban life come alive for readers who wished to experience it vicariously, and who were interested in the underworld particularly. As such, the works together comprised an enduring literary genre that remained popular until the end of the century.

The title of this exhibition, “Capitalism by Gaslight,” was inspired by these works.