Night windows

A little bit of Writing New York liveblogging here: Cyrus is, as I type, lecturing on Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which we situate in our course by taking seriously its subtitle, “A Story of Wall-street.” Today’s he’s added new material, inspired by a visit to the Hopper show at the Whitney (thru April 10). The connection, as I take it, is loneliness, but perhaps also voyeurism and the difficulty imagining the interiority of other urban dwellers.

Here’s one of the images he’s put on screen, Hopper’s painting “Night Windows” (1928):

Cyrus suggests this is a view from the El, which reminds me of one of my favorite passages from W. D. Howells’ New York novel A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), which I’ve quoted on this blog before. Here’s the bulk of the description, from the perspective of upper-middle-class train-riding voyeurs Mr. and Mrs. March, who think

the night transit was even more interesting than the day, and that the fleeting intimacy you formed with people in second and third floor interiors, while all the usual street life went on underneath, had a domestic intensity mixed with a perfect repose. [The train allows one] to see those people through the windows: a family part of work-folks at a late tea,  some of the men in their shirt sleeves; a woman sewing by a lamp; a mother laying her child in its cradle; a man with his head fallen on his hands upon a table; a girl and her lover leaning over the window sill together. What suggestion! what drama! what infinite interest!

The couple thinks these views — better than attending the theater — offer ideal material for modern painters. Hopper appears to have taken them up on that point.

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