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Nightwood (1936)

by Djuna Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,780544,080 (3.47)146
Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' strange and sinuous tour de force, "belongs to that small class of books that somehow reflect a time or an epoch" (Times Literary Supplement). That time is the period between the two World Wars, and Barnes' novel unfolds in the decadent shadows of Europe's great cities, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—a world in which the boundaries of class, religion, and sexuality are bold but surprisingly porous. The outsized characters who inhabit this world are some of the most memorable in all of fiction—there is Guido Volkbein, the Wandering Jew and son of a self-proclaimed baron; Robin Vote, the American expatriate who marries him and then engages in a series of affairs, first with Nora Flood and then with Jenny Petherbridge, driving all of her lovers to distraction with her passion for wandering alone in the night; and there is Dr. Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O'Connor, a transvestite and ostensible gynecologist, whose digressive speeches brim with fury, keen insights, and surprising allusions. Barnes' depiction of these characters and their relationships (Nora says, "A man is another persona woman is yourself, caught as you turn in panic; on her mouth you kiss your own") has made the novel a landmark of feminist and lesbian literature. Most striking of all is Barnes' unparalleled stylistic innovation, which led T. S. Eliot to proclaim the book "so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it." Now with a new preface by Jeanette Winterson, Nightwood still crackles with the same electric charge it had on its first publication in 1936.… (more)
  1. 10
    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 146 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Much of the language of Nightwood is impenetrable burl, root to branch, which curls around the subject in hints and suggestions but rarely points. Aside from the occasional thorns. We enter and perhaps exit a labyrinth of obsessions often erotic and all unsatisfied and leave the characters self-crucified there. ( )
  quondame | May 12, 2022 |
Other than as a feeble ploy to keep plugging a book in the hope of raising sales, it is no use saying that a book should not be forgotten, that it should be a modern classics. Some books are justly "the preserve of academics and students" (Introd. Winterson, p. ix). ( )
  edwinbcn | Dec 18, 2021 |
have just read the sensationalist trash which is "Nightwood" - all perverts, all ranting, melodramatic: "The Sex God forgot" - self-pity.
1 vote SylviaPlathLibrary | Oct 17, 2021 |
This was like a surrealist film on paper. It was such a weird experience and I lost so many trains of thought. Very dream-like in the vague confusing way. Pages and pages of dramatic monologues that take up only minutes plot-wise and then fast snaps jumping years into the future in a sentence. ( )
  Nikki_Sojkowski | Aug 26, 2021 |
NIGHTWOOD by D BARNES (1988)
  arosoff | Jul 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
...the real achievement–and where I found most of my enjoyment–is in Barnes’ phenomenal and inimitable use of language. While reading Nightwood, I thought often of Slate critic Meghan O’Rourke’s line in her case for difficult books: “Reviewers sometimes don’t tell readers what to expect or explain that a book’s primary pleasure is linguistic rather than narrative…” What I loved about Nightwood–what really had me inking up the margins–was Barnes’ powerful ideas and unusual word combinations.
 
...the wonder of Nightwood is not only stylistic. It lies in the range and depth of feeling the words convey. There is irony here and humor, too, but in the end, the novel is a hymn to the dispossessed, the misbegotten and those who love too much. At one time or another, I suspect that those adjectives describe most of us.
 
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.
 
Few authors have achieved so much celebrity with one novel as the elegant, exotic Djuna Barnes, without whom no account of Greenwich Village in the teens, or the Left Bank in the 1920's, is complete. That one novel was "Nightwood." Overwritten and self-indulgent, it carries off its flaws with splendid nonchalance.
added by Lemeritus | editNew York Times (Nov 26, 1995)
 

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barnes, Djunaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eliot, T.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lustig, AlvinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterson, JeanetteIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Peggy Guggenheim and John Ferrar Holms
First words
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.
Quotations
In our society, where it is hard to find time to do anything properly, even once, the leisure—which is part of the pleasure—of reading is one of our culture-casualties. (Jeanette Winterson, Preface)
We don’t go to Shakespeare to find out about life in Elizabethan England; we go to Shakespeare to find out about ourselves now. (Jeanette Winterson, Preface)
Nightwood, peculiar, eccentric, particular, shaded against the insistence of too much daylight, is a book for introverts, in that we are all introverts in our after-hours secrets and deepest loves. (Jeanette Winterson, Preface)
There is pain in who we are, and the pain of love—because love itself is an opening and a wound—is a pain no one escapes except by escaping life itself. (Jeanette Winterson, Preface)
What had formed Felix from the date of his birth to his coming to thirty was unknown to the world, for the step of the wandering Jew is in every son. No matter where and when you meet him you feel that he has come from some place—no matter from what place he has come—some country that he has devoured rather than resided in, some secret land that he has been nourished on but cannot inherit, for the Jew seems to be everywhere from nowhere. -Page 10
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Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' strange and sinuous tour de force, "belongs to that small class of books that somehow reflect a time or an epoch" (Times Literary Supplement). That time is the period between the two World Wars, and Barnes' novel unfolds in the decadent shadows of Europe's great cities, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—a world in which the boundaries of class, religion, and sexuality are bold but surprisingly porous. The outsized characters who inhabit this world are some of the most memorable in all of fiction—there is Guido Volkbein, the Wandering Jew and son of a self-proclaimed baron; Robin Vote, the American expatriate who marries him and then engages in a series of affairs, first with Nora Flood and then with Jenny Petherbridge, driving all of her lovers to distraction with her passion for wandering alone in the night; and there is Dr. Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O'Connor, a transvestite and ostensible gynecologist, whose digressive speeches brim with fury, keen insights, and surprising allusions. Barnes' depiction of these characters and their relationships (Nora says, "A man is another persona woman is yourself, caught as you turn in panic; on her mouth you kiss your own") has made the novel a landmark of feminist and lesbian literature. Most striking of all is Barnes' unparalleled stylistic innovation, which led T. S. Eliot to proclaim the book "so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it." Now with a new preface by Jeanette Winterson, Nightwood still crackles with the same electric charge it had on its first publication in 1936.

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