Night Street

This article refers to Night Street (book) written by Kristel Thornell. It focuses specifically on the relationship between the text and the context Imaginative Landscape.


Today we’re discussing Night Street by Kristel Thornell in relation to the Imaginative Landscape. If this isn’t one of your texts, or you haven’t watched our video on Imaginative Landscape yet – stop! – go watch that first and come back.

There are four possible texts you could be studying for Imaginative Landscape, of which this is one. Make sure you’re not watching videos for texts you’re not studying.

Alright- on to the novel!

Thornell explores a range of ideas associated with the ‘Imaginative Landscape’ through Clarice’s interactions with the natural world, her art and her fellow artists. Significantly, Clarice’s internal world far exceeds the constraints of the world around her, but incorporates her subjective thoughts and feelings about the places she experiences.

Thornell’s style

  • Appeals to the senses: Much of the novel is absorbed by describing the places that Clarice sees and decides to paint. Because these descriptions are reliant on Clarice’s personal feelings about place, they tend to be grounded in the sensory experiences that she has within them
  • Metaphors and similes: The novel is grounded in depictions of the natural world and how Clarice internalises those spaces. To help the audience make sense of what she describes, Thornell relies on the comparisons constructed through metaphor and similes. These can also be used to portray how Clarice feels about something depending on whether the comparison carries positive or negative connotations.
  • Colour: The descriptions rely heavily on a colour palette to paint pictures for the reader. These tend to be detailed as Clarice attempts to capture the colours of the natural world. Often contrasts are drawn between her paintings and the environment when she is critical of her own work; disappointed she can’t mimic the colour that she sees.
  • Narration style: The narration is third person, but with an absolute focus on Clarice and her inner world. In this way, we watch Clarice from a distance, but are still privy to her thoughts and feelings.

More importantly though, let’s look at the big ideas of Imaginative Landscape which emerge from Night Street.

Subjectivity of landscape

Subjectivity of landscape is explored through the different ways that characters understand and connect to landscape.

The notion that we each see landscape differently is at the heart of Night Street. Art being such a significant theme throughout the novel draws attention to this: art is perhaps the concept that is most universally recognised as subjective. We all have different feelings about what is art, and what is good art, just as Clarice experiences both appraise and condemnation for her work. These contrasting attitudes to the same object or series of objects is then extended to characters’ differing attitudes towards landscape.

One of the clearest examples of this is the different notions of “beauty” subscribed to by Clarice versus her fellow artists. In painting a bridge in the rain, Clarice comments on how her views on what is aesthetically pleasing is quite different than that of the artists around her, particularly the men. This provides an interesting commentary on gender, particularly in the sections where Clarice’s art is faced with condemnation from art critics. Regardless of whether or not Clarice’s perspective of landscape is shaped by her gender she is told that it is meant to be. As a woman, she is not meant to paint the natural spaces that she chooses, and if she does, it is more appropriate for the ruggedness and masculinity of rough cliffs and spraying seas to be toned down: feminised by her art. Many of the characteristics that construct a person’s subjective perspective of landscape are at play in this text, but gender is a particularly unique one given the novel’s setting.

How emotionally charged landscapes dominate the text

Clarice’s emotional state is heavily affected by how she views the spaces she inhabits. She invests places with negative or positive feelings based on aesthetics and the people and experiences that are contained there. Furthermore, her internal state is dependent on her emotional attachment or disconnect with that place. The profundity of the link is shown in Clarice’s capacity to be absorbed by places; that she becomes so at peace with a place that she becomes one with that place. Often in a reverie, Clarice will be jerked out from total immersion with the place she is inhabiting or painting.

This is also inherently linked with Clarice’s use of internal spaces as a means of escape. It is not just real places, but the spaces in her mind that Clarice invests with emotion.

The link between landscape and memory

Clarice sometimes dips into her memories within the spaces she visits. In particular, the familiar space of her home allows Clarice to return to experiences long gone, simply because the items and people there have remained the same. In this way, Thornell explores how the spaces that are familiar to us can be invested with much more than simply what we see, but the memories of the events that took place there.

The novel’s reflection on how humans impact the landscape

Clarice’s adoration of the natural world breeds a commentary on the impact that humans can have on the natural world. While environmental destruction is not a major theme throughout the novel, the novel does draw attention to the fact that it is occurring in a different time period than the present. In particular this is emphasised through attitudes towards Clarice as a female painter and her parents’ attitude towards marriage versus ‘spinsterhood’. In this way, the reader is set up to consider the way things looked to Clarice, versus the way they would appear to us now. Some of the places Clarice visits have been preserved, but many more have been altered by the hand of man since the 1930s.

The relationship between the internal and external world

In particular, we can see this idea through Clarice’s paintings and attitude towards life.

The process of creating artwork grounded in the natural world is an interesting portrayal of how we absorb the spaces around us. In order to create a portrayal of what she sees, Clarice internalises the spaces around her, invests that space with her thoughts and feelings and particular interests, and then produces a work of art which shows her subjective interpretations of this place. If two artists were to paint the same environment (as they often do in this novel) it would not appear the same given that each artist is prone to the bias of their own mind. Each is warping what they see in the process of internalising it, ultimately producing different depictions of the same thing.

Furthermore, Clarice uses her internal world to escape the places around her. Often Clarice drifts into a reverie to escape the inadequacies and failures of the world around her. When confronted by an uncomfortable and unwanted profession of affection, she looks out the window and watches the space around her transform into where she really wants to be: the beach, with her easel, painting the natural world. In this way, Clarice uses her imaginative landscape as a means of escape, in order to make peace with her surroundings as she creatively frames them in her mind.

This is just a bit of a taste of Imaginative Landscape within Night Street, but hopefully it gives you some good talking points for your next context piece. Make sure to check out the video on Imaginative Landscape and how to write different context pieces!