Derek Quinlan takes a look at Djuna Barnes' Nightwood


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Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes is a landmark piece of modernist literature, and is a personal favourite of Derek Quinlans. The book is one of the earliest examples of gay literature. It's also very notable for its intense, gothic prose style. It uses many modernist techniques and some people have even called it metafiction. It has a typically fragmented narrative and a very unusual form that recalls Joycean techniques.

The manuscript was said to be finished as early as 1932 but it took Barnes several years to find a publisher. It was eventually published in 1936. The story follows Robin Vote and also Nora Flood, who eventually move to Paris together to seek security in their relationship. It also features the character of Dr Matthew O'Connor, a transsexual who pretends to be a doctor and performs deliveries and abortions in a futile struggle for legitimacy.

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Derek Quinlan takes a look at Djuna Barnes' Nightwood

  1. 1. Djuna Barne’s Nightwood A recap of this modernist masterpiece by Derek Quinlan
  2. 2. Context  Djuna Barnes was an American poet and writer who established herself as one of the leading figures in high modernism.  She started as a freelance journalist and quickly grew to become one of the most sought after writers in the city.  She became one of the biggest writers in the great Greenwich Village bohemian sceen and had many of her more avant-garde literature released in literary journals of the time.  Like many modernists of the time she spent time in Paris in the 1920s.  During the 1930’s she spent time in England, Paris, New York and North Africa, it was during this time where she wrote and published Nightwood.
  3. 3. Themes  Many of the themes and motifs in Nightwood were born out of Djuna’s repressed childhood. When she was 17 she was forced into a marriage with a 52 yr old. She was brought up in a very strict household where her father was allowed to have an overwhelming influence over her life.  Nightwood was one of the earliest, popular novels to excplicitly feature homosexuality. The main character Robin Vote, has two relationships with other women in the story and these are at the heart of the novel.  The book is well known for its intense Gothic style. It has a typical, for modernists, fragmented narrative style that can often make it hard to follow.
  4. 4. Characters  Robin Vote is the main characer, she wonders through the novel and indeed the lives of the other characters. She is desparately attempting to get away from the unhappy parts of her life, but is conflicted as to what will actually make her happy.  The Baron Felix Volkbein is a man who is driven by a desire to maintain the ideals of the old world, and continue the nobility. However he is forced to see things differently when his son is born disabled.  Dr Matthew O’Connor is a transsexual who pretends to be a doctor. He was a soldier in World War 1, but would have preferred to be the lover of a solider instead. He frequently rambles on philosophy and his dialogues provide the backbone of the novel.
  5. 5. Thanks for watching  This has been a Derek Quinlan Analysis of Djuna Barne’s Nightwood