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Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Nightwood (1936)

by Djuna Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,148363,034 (3.49)108
  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 108 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
OMG!!! This was horrible.

I had never heard of Djuna Barnes until I saw Midnight in Paris. She was an incidental character, but because she was there, I was intrigued so I got this book.

She wrote in spirals and it just isn't worth the work to read the story. The reason I had heard of so many of her contemporaries, but not her, is because only scholars of the period are interested in struggling through her stuff. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
This felt like such a wonderfully poisonous little book. Very heavy and dense and perfumed decadent prose, barely prose at all as has been noted many times before. I'm not typically fond of American writers but the gothic sensibilities of this novel are very much geared towards an old and cloistered Europe with the right amount of American seedy noir and destructive queer relationships and all other kinds of good things. I was lost many times but you have to be. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
This is one of those books that EVERYBODY was reading in college. It had a huge impact on me then, though I think if I read it now, I'd be scratching my head. But I gotta give it four stars just for the influence. ( )
1 vote laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
1.5* rounded up.

Matthew,' she said, 'have you ever loved someone and it became yourself?'
For a moment he did not answer. Taking up the decanter he held it to the light.
'Robin can go anywhere, do anything,' Nora continued, 'because she forgets, and I nowhere because I remember.' She came toward him. 'Matthew,' she said, 'you think I have always been like this. Once I was remorseless, but this is another love — it goes everywhere; there is no place for it to stop — it rots me away.”

I honestly feel that I have failed this book.

Nightwood was a slight volume but I found it really hard to finish. Some of the language is intriguing but at times trying too hard and coming across as pretentious - in the end I can't make up my mind what which aspect of the book I liked enough to finish it.

There was only one character (Nora) that drew my attention and it looks like that character is being ridiculed - though I'm not sure whether the ridicule is an expression of Barnes' attitude or an expression of Barnes' view of society's contempt for that character.
I'm sure I'll get my head around it at some point.

In short, Nightwood is the story of a cast of outsiders in which Nora and Robin take centre stage. Nora falls in love with Robin, but Robin is too wrapped up in her own desires to see or care about the trail of destruction she leaves behind her.

According to Wikipedia (and therefore absolutely reliably true, probably, or not) the character of Robin was based on this lady:

Nora's character - again according to unreliable sources - seems to reflect Barnes in many ways. I have no idea whether there is an actual autobiographical connection, but having finished the book I don't care to find out.

This was a bleak rather bitter read full of pretentious and generalised statements such as:

"The heart of the jealous knows the best and most satisfying love, that of the other's bed, where the rival perfects the lover's imperfections."


"Sleep demands of us a guilty immunity. There is not one of us who, given an eternal incognito, a thumbprint nowhere set against our souls, would not commit rape, murder and all abominations."

And yet, the funny thing about Nightwood is that I'm still intrigued by the book because I couldn't help comparing it to Night Watch by Sarah Waters (of which I am a huge fan). The character I loved most in Night Watch is one of that could easily have been in Nightwood but where Waters likes her characters and celebrates gallantry, Barnes seemed to treat everything and everyone with disdain.

So, where Waters character expresses her view on life like this:

"Someone once said a happy ending depends on where you decide to stop your story. Then again, it could be when you realise your story is not yet over; that you are only at the end of the beginning." (Kay in Night Watch)

Barnes' character's outlook is far bleaker:

“My war brought me many things; let yours bring you as much. Life is not to be told, call it as loud as you like, it will not tell itself. No one will be much or little except in someone else's mind, so be careful of the minds you get into, and remember Lady Macbeth, who had her mind in her hand. We can't all be as safe as that.”

However, it is not just the bleak outlook that spoilt the book for me. The book starts off introducing the characters and what comes across right from the beginning is that they are all outcasts from society - some because of their physical attributes, some because of their gender, identity, or religion. Rather than to explore these differences, Barnes only emphasizes the stereotypical views held by society - but she does it in a way that seems to be at odds with the story and that seems to define and mock the character of her characters. It is never clear - or it wasn't to me - if this was meant to be irony or just Barnes being bitter and spiteful. It's a fine line and I could not make it out. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
at first i couldn't understand why this is considered such a difficult book. i even enjoyed the beginning. but once the doctor starts (more or less) monologuing around page 80, i had a really tough time. i couldn't always follow the thread, and even when i could i didn't see the point. toward the end it regained some of what i liked from the beginning, but the ending itself i don't get. ( )
  elisa.saphier | Dec 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (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.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barnes, Djunaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eliot, T.S.Introductionsecondary 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)

Originally published in 1936, this novel by Djuna Barnes describes the life of Americans and Europeans in Paris in the decadent 'Roaring Twenties'.

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Average: (3.49)
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1 18
1.5 5
2 36
2.5 7
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