Sunday, 24 October 2010

Djuna Barnes Nightwood

The above is a New Directions copy of the book. I am uncertain whether the dustcover of the above is the same as Lowry's New Directions copy.

Nightwood is a 1936 novel by Djuna Barnes first published in London by Faber and Faber. An edition published in the United States in 1937 by Harcourt, Brace included an introduction by T. S. Eliot.

Nightwood is notable because it is one of the earliest novels written by a well-known novelist to portray explicit homosexuality. It is also notable for its intense, gothic prose style. Regarding the difficulty of reading the novel's dense prose, T.S. Eliot writes in his introduction, "only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it

The novel, like many of its time, is essentially plotless. It focuses on Robin Vote, a bisexual woman in constant search of "secure torment." Robin's story begins in Europe, where she meets, and marries the false Baron Felix Volkbein, who wants nothing more than an heir to carry on his family name and uphold the traditions of old European nobility. The birth of their son, Guido, causes Robin to realize that she does not wish to carry on this life. She moves to America, where she begins a romantic relationship with Nora Flood. The two move to Paris together. Unfortunately, Robin is unable to remain peacefully with Nora. She feels driven by the conflicts of "love and anonymity," and spends her nights away from home, having quick flings with strangers while Nora waits nervously for her lover's return. It is during one such night that Robin meets Jenny Petherbridge, a widow four times over, who gains happiness by stealing the joy of others. She immediately turns her attention to stealing Robin away from Nora, and succeeds. In her despair, Nora (like Felix before her) turns to the counsel of Dr. Matthew O'Connor to recover from the devastating loss of Robin.

Some time later, Nora has returned to America, and is camping in a forest with her dog when she discovers Robin kneeling before an altar in an abandoned church. Attempting to enter, Nora hits the door jamb, and is knocked unconscious. Robin and the dog frolic on the floor before finally succumbing to sleep.

Djuna Barnes (12 June 1892 – 18 June 1982) was an American writer who played an important part in the development of 20th century English language modernist writing and was one of the key figures in 1920s and 30s bohemian Paris after filling a similar role in the Greenwich Village of the teens. Her novel Nightwood became a cult work of modern fiction, helped by an introduction by T. S. Eliot. It stands out today for its portrayal of lesbian themes and its distinctive writing style. Since Barnes's death, interest in her work has grown and many of her books are back in print.

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