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Nightwoodby Djuna Barnes
There's no denying that Nightwood is a demanding text. In her preface, Jeanette Winterson aptly writes of Djuna Barnes's prose: "You can slide into it, because the prose has a narcotic quality, but you can't slide over it." When given the attention it deserves, Nightwood unfolds as an amazingly beautiful and unflinching portrayal of characters grotesque, oversized, and tragically human. The 15 pages that comprise "The Squatter" are so brilliant and hypnotic that they could stand alone as the creation of the unforgettable Jenny Petherbridge, but luckily for us they don't have to.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Djuna Barnes is a writer of wild and original gifts....To her name there is always to be attached the splendor of Nightwood, a lasting achievement of her great gifts and eccentricities — her passionate prose and, in this case, a genuineness of human passions." Elizabeth Hardwick
"A novel of extraordinary and appalling force...a kind of symbol of sinister magnificence." The New York Times
"One of the greatest books of the twentieth century." William S. Burroughs
"So good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it." T. S. Eliot
The fiery and enigmatic masterpiece—one of the greatest novels of the Modernist era.
About the Author
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) was born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY, and worked as a journalist in New York before leaving the country to spend many years in Paris and London. She returned to New York in 1941, and lived in Greenwich Village until her death.
Jeanette Winterson is the author of nine novels, including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (which won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel), Lighthousekeeping, Sexing the Cherry, and Weight.
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