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Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Nightwood (1936)

by Djuna Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,322404,051 (3.5)119
  1. 00
    The Lime Twig by John Hawkes (nymith)
    nymith: Barnes was a great influence on Hawkes and both novels share a dreamlike and grotesque writing style.
  2. 00
    A Woman Appeared to Me by Renée Vivien (mambo_taxi)
    mambo_taxi: Nightwood is definitely the better of the two books, but if early 20th century expatriate lesbians living in Paris are your kind of thing, then A Woman Appeared to Me will be of interest.
  3. 00
    Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (lilysea)

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» See also 119 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
Given T.S. Eliot's introduction, in which he says he read the book multiple times and it better each time, I should state this is a review of my FIRST reading. I would estimate a 99.98% chance it will be my last, but you never know.

I was attracted to this book by its mention in Eric Ambler's autobiography (Here Lies), where he says it was suggested by a friend, who recommended books Amber otherwise wouldn't have thought about. So I guess I owe my reading to Ambler's long-ago friend also.

In reviews of the book (which I read afterwards), it is hailed as a pioneering work of lesbian literature. Yet while it is true that the woman, Robin, around whom the events of the book revolve, has relationships with two women (Nora and Jenny) in addition to the husband, Felix, she leaves early in the book, I didn't find anything about how anyone behaved that depended upon the nature of the relationship, i.e., whether it was lesbian or heterosexual. This is a book about relationships between human beings and how they can leave lasting, indelible marks on the human soul and psyche. The behavior of Nora in the wake of Robin's departure is extreme, but it certainly isn't any more extreme than the way some men act when left by a woman.

At the center of the book, however, is the doctor, whose long rambling monologues fill up most of the pages. These are, by turns, entertaining, funny, observant, and mystifying. This is a book where sentences often seem to use a word or two that just doesn't belong, and most of these words come out of the doctor's mouth.

Well, I could ramble on, but it would just further show my lack of understanding! This is a book I'm glad I read, and despite its often obscure language and motivations, it isn't that hard to read. Perhaps if I just had the right drink in my hand.... ( )
  datrappert | Oct 30, 2018 |
Esse livro é tão maravilhosamente escrito, e não sei até que ponto entra o talento da Barnes somado ao know-how do Galindo, que tive os meus ímpetos emocionais de quando lia Proust, só não dou cinco estrelas porque as personagens femininas me incomodaram deveras, especialmente porque elas não agiam de acordo com suas respectivas idades, com exceção de Robin que estava na faixa da década dos 20 anos, mas Nora (na faixa dos 30 até os 40) e Jenny (na faixa dos 40 aos 50), independente da época que viveram ou do quanto o sistema patriarcal ainda influenciava as relações lésbicas da primeira metade do século (uma infantilidade que não víamos em Proust, por exemplo). Por outro lado, o Doutor, personagem que liga todos os capítulos, é deveras memorável. ( )
  Adriana_Scarpin | Jun 12, 2018 |
Illustrates all the problems of modernist literature in the most flattering way. ( )
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
While it is not fair to compare Barnes to other authors (and on International Women's Day it was poignant to read T.S.Eliot's foreword suggesting that Barnes is one of the few good female authors), I could not help but feel like I was reading a cross between Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, with a touch of Gertrude Stein. The discussion of night and day was interesting, especially after reading Scott Fitzgerald's "The Crack Up" from Esquire magazine in 1936 which touched on similar ideas. Given that Nightwood and "The Crack Up" were both published in 1936, it is clear that the period represents a significant change in the style and tone of literature from the greats of the 1920s. Nightwood has intrigued me enough to want to read Barnes' earlier work. What distinguishes Barnes' dialogue from Charlotte Brontë and Mary Shelley was that when I felt it was far too long for realistic conversations, the author indicates that the listener had also tuned out (on occasion). I found this clever and kept me intrigued, whereas Brontë and Shelley drag on with their dialogue without apology, and I find this hard work to stay interested. Not so with Djuna Barnes and I am glad I found this gem at the Argyle Emporium in Goulburn the other day. ( )
1 vote madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
So incredibly good & wholly conceived & astoundingly executed that to give it merely 5 stars is an insult. One could spend an entire review on the genius of the title Nightwood, evocative as it is of nightshades (poisonous plants identifiable by their seductive rich red or black berries); evocative as it is of those things we draw at night that keep darkness where we want it, whether it be in or out. It is especially fitting for a novel peopled predominately by homo- & trans-sexual characters existing in the caesura between the First and Second World Wars. The socially marginalized experience the precarity of peace twice over: even in peacetime they can only exist as as themselves, in the shadows, under the cover of night; they are never without anxiety and therefore never without peace.

Djuna Barnes does not belabor (and by belaboring estrange) queerness, if anything she presents--in 1937--extraordinarily precise psychological portraits of what would be quite ordinary love, if only that love were not complicated by its cultural forbiddenness.
Nightwood is the story the irresistible & fickle Robin Vote, and the tornadic havoc she wreaks on those lovers (male and female) who enter her orbit. Her story is largely interpolated by “Doctor” Matthew O’Connor, a transexual woman, who finds himself in the role of accidental pseudo-psychoanalyst to all of Robin’s forsaken lovers. (Being faithful here to Barnes’ pronoun slippage). In a deeper sense however, Nightwood is an homage to O’Connor, how he has navigated the “nightwood,” how he has helped others to do the same, how exhausting & underappreciated his task, and how wisdom cannot suffice as a substitute of loneliness.

No review can do this book justice, you simply must read it. Every sentence describes its own small universe. Don’t be intimidated by its reputation as a difficult modernist masterpiece. You’ll get it, and if you don’t, it will keep rewarding you on each re-reading. ( )
1 vote reganrule | Oct 24, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
Nightwood is itself. It is its own created world, exotic and strange, and reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined.

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barnes, Djunaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eliot, T.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterson, JeanetteIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Early in 1880, in spite of a well-founded suspicion as to the advisability of perpetuating that race which has the sanction of the Lord and the disapproval of the people, Hedvig Volkbein—a Viennese woman of great strength and military beauty, lying upon a canopied bed of a rich spectacular crimson, the valance stamped with the bifurcated wings of the House of Hapsburg, the feather coverlet an envelope of satin on which, in massive and tarnished gold threads, stood the Volkbein arms—gave birth, at the age of forty-five, to an only child, a son, seven days after her physician predicted that she would be taken.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0811216713, Paperback)

Nightwood is not only a classic of lesbian literature, but was also acknowledged by no less than T. S. Eliot as one of the great novels of the 20th century. Eliot admired Djuna Barnes' rich, evocative language. Lesbian readers will admire the exquisite craftsmanship and Barnes' penetrating insights into obsessive passion. Barnes told a friend that Nightwood was written with her own blood "while it was still running." That flowing wound was the breakup of an eight-year relationship with the lesbian love of her life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:37 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A critical edition of the 1936 novel about Robin Vote, an elusive and strangely disaffected woman who becomes the object of obsessive love from men and women alike.

» see all 3 descriptions

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