City on Fire

In celebration of one of our very favourite days of the year, Fireworks night, we bring you our very favourite whizzing, whirring, wheeling, burning moments in literature – moments where fireworks symbolise everything from sexual impotence, passionate friendship and perishable beauty. Each moment offering proof that, after all, ‘no one talks cant about fireworks’.

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Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

There was something about fireworks which absolutely fascinated Hugo. I think what pleased him most about them was their impermanence. I remember his holding forth to me once about what an honest thing a firework was. It was so patently just an ephemeral spurt of beauty of which in a moment nothing more was left. “That’s what all art is really,” said Hugo, “only we don’t like to admit it. Leonardo understood this. He deliberately made the Last Supper perishable.” The enjoyment of fireworks, according to Hugo, ought to be an education in the enjoyment of all worldly splendour. “You pay your money,” said Hugo, “and you get an absolutely momentary pleasure with no nonsense about it. No one talks cant about fireworks.”

 

Le Grand Meaulnes  by Alain-Fournier

‘He planted the stick of the firework in the sand and – to my great astonishment, because we were strictly forbidden such things – took a box of matches out of his pocket. Cautiously bending down, he lit the torchpaper. Then, taking my hand, he pulled me sharply back.

A moment later, my mother came out on the doorstep with Meaulnes’ mother, after discussing and settling his boarding fee and saw, under the shelter, two sprays of red and white stars bursting – and for a second she could see me, standing in the magical light, holding the hand of the tall, newly arrived boy and not flinching…’

Easter Night by Anton Chekhov, Selected Stories

‘At the water’s edge, barrels of pitch blazed like huge bonfires. Their reflection, crimson as the rising moon, crept to meet us in long, wide stripes. The burning barrels threw light on their own smoke and on the long human shadows that flitted about the fire; but further to the sides and behind them, where the velvet ringing rushed from, was the same impenetrable darkness. Suddenly slashing it open, the golden ribbon of a rocket soared skywards; it described an arc and, as if shattering against the sky, burst and came sifting down in sparks.’

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The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

‘Outside on the square it had stopped raining and the moon was trying to get through the clouds. There was a wind blowing. The military band was playing and the crowd was massed on the far side of the square where the fireworks specialist and his son were trying to send up fireballoons. A balloon would start up jerkily, on a great bias, and be torn by the wind or blown against the houses of the square. Some fell into the crowd. The magnesium flared and the fireworks exploded and chased about in the crowd. There was no one dancing in the square. The gravel was too wet.’

 

Words selected by Lettice Franklin

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