The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (Part 24, Djuna Barnes)

Paris The Luminous Years | PBSPremieres nationwide Wednesday, December 15 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Discover the roots of our modern culture in this new documentary by pioneering filmmaker Perry Miller Adato. The first TV program to tell the story of Paris as vibrant incubator of creativity in the modern arts during the early 20th century (1905-1930), “Paris The Luminous Years” features Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Serge Diaghilev, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, Aaron Copland, Josephine Baker, Marcel Duchamp, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Beach, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Vaslav Nijinsky, Joan Miró, Janet Flanner, Tristan Tzara, D.H. Kahnweiler, and many more. These key figures in the art world’s first international avant-garde recount why and how Paris transformed them and their work. Premieres nationwide Wednesday, December 15 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). For more information and to get the DVD, visit: Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” has really educated me concerning a tremendous amount of talent that was in Paris during the 1920’s. Today I will be discussing Djuna Barnes.

Djuna Barnes was born June 12, 1892,
in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York on her family’s farm. Through her father and
grandmother, Barnes gained a great appreciation of and dedication to the arts
(the Barnes home was often frequented by such artistic greats as Jack London and
Franz Liszt).
Barnes did not have a formal education because her father
believed that the public school system was inadequate, and thus felt he felt
that home schooling was much more beneficial. Her only formal schooling came
after she left the home and moved to New York City.
In 1912 Barnes
enrolled as a student at Pratt Institute (1912-13) and the Art
Students League
(1915-16). While at Pratt, she began her writing career as a
reporter and illustrator for the Brooklyn Eagle. Barnes wrote mostly
feature articles and interviews. Douglas Messerli wrote in his foreword to I
Could Never be Lonely without a Husband, Interviews
by Djuna Barnes, “The
more I worked with [the interviews], the more I came to understand these pieces
less as standard journalism than as fascinating experiments in the
impressionistic characterization that Barnes would perfect in her novels and
poetry”. This is illustrated by Barnes’ choice of titles for her interviews,
such as “Interviewing Arthur Voegtlin is Something Like Having a Nightmare,”
“Nothing Amuses Coco Chanel After Midnight,” etc.
Barnes’ first
published her poetry in 1915 as a collection of “rhythms and drawings” entitled
The Book of Repulsive Women; four years later three of her plays were
produced by the Provincetown Players.
     In 1923, Barnes published
a collection of lyrical poems, stories, drawings, and one-act plays which she
entitled A Book. The publisher of A Book described it as “… a
chant which could be sung by those who are in the daily procession through the
streets and highways of our metropolis but which could also be sung by those who
are on balconies and house-tops viewing the eternal show of daily life.”

In 1921, Barnes was sent to Paris by McCall’s as a correspondant and
wrote articles for such magazines as Vanity Fair, Charm, and
The New Yorker; she stayed for almost twenty years.
While in
France, she was heavily immersed in the modernist scene in Paris where she
befriended such beneficial patrons as Natalie Barney and Peggy Guggenheim. This
circle of women, which included wwriters such as Mina Loy, Janet Flanner, Dolly
Wilde, and Gertrude Stein, became known as ‘The Academy of Women.’ (These days
they are reffered to as “The Literary Women of the Left Bank.”) Barnes wrote a
satirical work, Ladies Almanack, about this salon and the women who were
a part of it.
Her second novel, Nightwood (1936), is her
masterpiece of which * “T.S. Eliot wrote ‘It is so good a
novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.’ In
fact, it is often analyzed against the conventions of an extended poem rather
than a short novel. However, the one thing which critics are not divided upon is
the large sphere of influence that Barnes had upon other writers of her era. She
is often compared to Joyce, Pynchon and Nathaniel West and the circle of her
influence reaches out to include Truman Capote, William Goyen, Isak Dinesen,
John Hawkes, and Anais Nin. Along with Nathaniel West she has been identified as
one of the originators of Black Comedy and as Donald J. Greiner writes, it
“…stands out among post-World War I American novels as one of the first
notable experiments with a type of comedy that makes the reader want to lean
forward and laugh with terror” (p.54).”
Barnes also wrote a verse drama,
The Antiphon (1958).
When she returned to the United States, she
wrote little and lived a reclusive life in her apartment on Patchin Place in
Greenwich Village, where she died in 1982. Creatures in an Alphabet
(1982), a small book of alphabet rhymes for adults, and Smoke, and Other
Early Stories
(1982) were published posthumously.

cited from an article written by: Betsy Johnson, Karin Satrom, Ryan McGee &
Danielle Tarris, from the site “Women of the Left Bank”


Movie review: ‘Midnight in Paris’

Woody Allen’s film is his warmest, mellowest and funniest venture in

By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

May 20, 2011

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write again: Woody Allen has made a
wonderful new picture, “Midnight in Paris,” and it’s his best, most enjoyable
work in years.

If you’re surprised to be reading that, think how I feel
writing it. I’ve been a tough sell on the past dozen or so Allen films, very
much including the well-acted but finally wearying “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
It seemed that everything he touched in recent years was tainted by misanthropy
and sourness. Until now.

With “Midnight in Paris,” Allen has lightened
up, allowed himself a treat and in the process created a gift for us and him.
His new film is simple and fable-like, with a definite “when you wish upon a
star” quality, but, bolstered by appealing performers like Owen Wilson, Marion
Cotillard and Rachel McAdams, it is his warmest, mellowest and funniest venture
in far too long.

This is also a film with an unanticipated twist, so the
less you know about it the better. Try to see it immediately, before
well-meaning friends tell you more than they should. “Midnight in Paris” is too
charming to be ruined by anything, but this is a case where ignorance really is

Allen says he’s been enamored of Paris since he wrote and acted in
“What’s New Pussycat?” in 1965. You can sense his continued passion for the city
throughout the film, feel the extra pep in his step and pleasure in his

Seductively shot by Darius Khondji (whatever tax credits this film
got will be paid back with interest), “Midnight” opens with an extended montage
of Paris’ tourist landmarks, a montage that lasts longer than necessary to
simply establish location. Allen is saying: Pay attention — this is a special
place, a place where magic can happen.

That’s certainly the attitude of
Gil (Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter who is an effusive enthusiast
for the City of Light in general, and the 1920s golden age of
Fitzgerald-Hemingway Paris in particular. So much so that Gil dreams of turning
his back on all that studio money and writing novels on the Left

Gil’s fiancée, Inez (McAdams), doesn’t like the sound of that. She
and Gil are in Paris accompanying her wealthy parents on a business trip and she
doesn’t even want to think about anything that would diminish Gil’s

Gil’s raptures are put on hold when he and Inez bump into Inez’s
friend Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife. A professor whom Inez once had a crush
on, Paul is in Paris to lecture at the Sorbonne. It’s soon clear he’s an
insufferable bore so pedantic he gets into an argument with a guide at the Rodin
Museum (a brief cameo for French First Lady Carla Bruni).

As much to
escape Paul as anything else, Gil takes a late-night walk and just as the clock
strikes midnight on the Rue Montagne St. Genevieve, something happens that
throws everything in Gil’s life into disarray.

Perhaps most unsettling,
but in a good way, is Gil’s meeting with the beautiful and spirited Adriana
(Cotillard), an aspiring fashion designer who has a history of inspiring
artists. The connection between them is immediate but the barriers to any kind
of relationship are formidable.

With remarkable naturalness and
considerable charisma, Cotillard is just as she should be here, as are both
Wilson, one of the most likable of contemporary actors, and McAdams, who deftly
handles a part that is less amiable than usual for her.

Also great fun in
smaller roles are Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody as well as French stars Lea
Seydoux and Gad Elmaleh.

On display as well is Allen’s sharp and
satisfying script. It makes jokes about everyone from Djuna Barnes to Luis
Bunuel but also takes time to ponder the role of the artist and the importance
of not undervaluing the age we live in.

More than anything, obviously,
“Midnight” has Paris. For one film, at least, that extraordinary city has
changed Allen’s mood and altered his outlook on cinema and life. It may do the
same for you.

‘Midnight in Paris’

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexual
references and smoking

Running time: 1 hour, 34

Playing:In general release

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times


Djuna Barnes

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Djuna Barnes, ca. 1921.

Djuna Barnes (12 June 1892 – 18 June 1982) was an American writer who played an important part in the development of 20th century English language modernist writing and was one of the key figures in 1920s and 30s bohemian Paris after filling a similar role in the Greenwich Village of the teens. Her novel Nightwood became a cult work of modern fiction, helped by an introduction by T. S. Eliot. It stands out today for its portrayal of lesbian themes and its distinctive writing style. Since Barnes’s death, interest in her work has grown and many of her books are back in print.



[edit] Life and writing

[edit] Early life (1892–1912)

Barnes was born in a log cabin on Storm King Mountain, near Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Her paternal grandmother, Zadel Turner Barnes, was a writer, journalist, and Women’s Suffrage activist who had once hosted an influential literary salon. Her father, Wald Barnes,[1] was an unsuccessful composer, musician, and painter. An advocate of polygamy, he married Barnes’s mother Elizabeth in 1889; his mistress Fanny Clark moved in with them in 1897, when Barnes was five. They had eight children, whom Wald made little effort to support financially. Zadel, who believed her son was a misunderstood artistic genius, struggled to provide for the entire family, supplementing her diminishing income by writing begging letters to friends and acquaintances.[2]

As the second oldest child, Barnes spent much of her childhood helping care for siblings and half-siblings. She received her early education at home, mostly from her father and grandmother, who taught her writing, art, and music but neglected subjects such as math and spelling.[3] She claimed to have had no formal schooling at all; some evidence suggests that she was enrolled in public school for a time after age ten, though her attendance was inconsistent.[4]

At the age of 16 she was raped, apparently by a neighbor with the knowledge and consent of her father, or possibly by her father himself. She referred to the rape obliquely in her first novel Ryder and more directly in her furious final play The Antiphon. Sexually explicit references in correspondence from her grandmother, with whom she shared a bed for years, suggest incest, but Zadel—dead for forty years by the time The Antiphon was written—was left out of its indictments.[5] Shortly before her eighteenth birthday she reluctantly “married” Fanny Clark’s brother Percy Faulkner in a private ceremony without benefit of clergy. He was fifty-two. The match had been strongly promoted by her father and grandmother,mother, brother but she stayed with him for no more than two months.[6]

[edit] New York City (1912–1921)

In 1912 Barnes’s family, facing financial ruin, split up. Elizabeth moved to New York City with Barnes and three of her brothers, then filed for divorce, freeing Wald to marry Fanny Clark. The move gave Barnes an opportunity to study art formally for the first time; she attended the Pratt Institute for about six months, but the need to support herself and her family—a burden that fell largely on her—soon drove her to leave school and take a job as a reporter at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Over the next few years her work appeared in almost every newspaper in New York; she wrote interviews, features, theatre reviews, and a variety of news stories, often illustrating them with her own drawings. She also published short fiction in the New York Morning Telegraph’s Sunday supplement and in the pulp magazine All-Story Cavalier Weekly.[7]

Clipping from World Magazine, September 6, 1914.

Much of Barnes’s journalism was subjective and experiential. Writing about a conversation with James Joyce, she admitted to missing part of what he said because her attention had wandered, though she revered Joyce’s writing. Interviewing the successful playwright Donald Ogden Stewart, she shouted at him for “roll[ing] over and find[ing] yourself famous” while other writers continued to struggle, then said she wouldn’t mind dying; as her biographer Phillip Herring points out, this is “a depressing and perhaps unprecedented note on which to end an interview”.[8] For a 1914 World Magazine article she submitted to force-feeding, a technique then being used on hunger-striking suffragists. Barnes wrote “If I, play acting, felt my being burning with revolt at this brutal usurpation of my own functions, how they who actually suffered the ordeal in its acutest horror must have flamed at the violation of the sanctuaries of their spirits.” She concluded “I had shared the greatest experience of the bravest of my sex”.[9] While she mocked conservative suffrage activist Carrie Chapman Catt when Catt admonished would-be suffrage orators never to “hold a militant pose”, or wear “a dress that shows your feet in front”,[10] Barnes was supportive of progressive suffragists. Barnes alluded that Catt’s conservatism was an obstacle to the suffrage movement when she tried to ostracize fellow suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who sought the vote for women through media attention directed at their strikes and non-violent protesting. It was their mistreatment which motivated Barnes to experience for herself the torture of being force-fed.

This satirical drawing of a dandyish Greenwich Village resident accompanied Barnes’s 1916 article “How the Villagers Amuse Themselves”.

In 1915 Barnes moved out of her family’s flat to an apartment in Greenwich Village, where she entered a thriving Bohemian community of artists and writers. Among her social circle were Edmund Wilson, Berenice Abbott, and the Dadaist artist and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, whose biography Barnes tried to write but never finished. She also came into contact with Guido Bruno, an entrepreneur and promoter who published magazines and chapbooks out of his garret on Washington Square. Bruno had a reputation for unscrupulousness, and was often accused of exploiting Greenwich Village residents for profit—he used to charge tourists admission to watch Bohemians paint—but he was a strong opponent of censorship and was willing to risk prosecution by publishing Barnes’s 1915 collection of “rhythms and drawings”, The Book of Repulsive Women. Remarkably, despite a description of sex between women in the first poem, the book was never legally challenged; the passage seems explicit now, but at a time when lesbianism was virtually invisible in American culture, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice may not have understood its imagery.[11] Others were not as naïve, and Bruno was able to cash in on the book’s reputation by raising the price from fifteen to fifty cents and pocketing the difference.[12] Twenty years later she used him as one of the models for Felix Volkbein in Nightwood, caricaturing his pretensions to nobility and his habit of bowing down before anyone titled or important.[13]

Illustration by Barnes of a scene from J. M. Synge’s play The Well of the Saints.

Barnes was a member of the Provincetown Players, an amateur theatrical collective whose emphasis on artistic rather than commercial success meshed well with her own values. The Players’ Greenwich Village theatre was a converted stable with bench seating and a tiny stage; according to Barnes it was “always just about to be given back to the horses”. Yet it played a significant role in the development of American drama, featuring works by Susan Glaspell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens, and Theodore Dreiser, as well as launching the career of Eugene O’Neill. Three one-act plays by Barnes were produced there in 1919 and 1920; a fourth, The Dove, premiered at Smith College in 1925, and a series of short closet dramas were published in magazines, some under Barnes’s pseudonym Lydia Steptoe. These plays show the strong influence of the Irish playwright J. M. Synge; she was drawn to both the poetic quality of Synge’s language and the pessimism of his vision. Critics have found them derivative, particularly those in which she tried to imitate Synge’s Irish dialect, and Barnes may have agreed, since in later years she dismissed them as mere juvenilia.[14] Yet in their content, these stylized and enigmatic early plays are more experimental than those of her fellow playwrights at Provincetown.[15] A New York Times review by Alexander Woollcott of her play Three From the Earth called it a demonstration of “how absorbing and essentially dramatic a play can be without the audience ever knowing what, if anything, the author is driving at…. The spectators sit with bated breath listening to each word of a playlet of which the darkly suggested clues leave the mystery unsolved.”[16]

Greenwich Village in the 1910s was known for its atmosphere of sexual as well as intellectual freedom. Barnes was unusual among Villagers in having been raised with a philosophy of free love, espoused both by her grandmother and her father. Her father’s idiosyncratic vision had included a commitment to unlimited procreation, which she strongly rejected; criticism of childbearing would become a major theme in her work.[17] She did, however, retain sexual freedom as a value. In the 1930s she told Antonia White that “she had no feeling of guilt whatever about sex, about going to bed with any man or woman she wanted”;[18] correspondence indicates that by the time she was 21 her family was well aware of her bisexuality,[19] and she had a number of affairs with both men and women during her Greenwich Village years.

Cover illlustration, The Trend magazine, by Djuna Barnes, issue of October 1914.

Of these, the most important was probably her engagement to Ernst Hanfstaengl, a Harvard graduate who ran the American branch of his family’s art publishing house. Hanfstaengl had once given a piano concert at the White House and was a friend of then-Senator Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he became increasingly angered by anti-German sentiment in the United States during World War I. In 1916 he told Barnes he wanted a German wife; the painful breakup became the basis of a deleted scene in Nightwood. He later returned to Germany and became a close associate of Adolf Hitler. Starting in 1916 or 1917, she lived with a socialist philosopher and critic named Courtenay Lemon, whom she referred to as her common-law husband, but this too ended, for reasons that are unclear. She also had a passionate romantic relationship with Mary Pyne, a reporter for the New York Press and fellow member of the Provincetown Players. Pyne died of tuberculosis in 1919, attended by Barnes until the end.[20]

The Fountain of the Four Bishops in Paris’s Place Saint-Sulpice, an important location in Nightwood.

[edit] Paris (1921–1930)

In the 1920s, Paris was the center of modernism in art and literature; as Gertrude Stein remarked, “Paris was where the twentieth century was”.[21] Barnes first travelled there in 1921 on an assignment for McCall’s Magazine. She interviewed her fellow expatriate writers and artists for U.S. periodicals and soon became a well-known figure on the local scene; her black cloak and her acerbic wit are remembered in many memoirs of the time. Even before her first novel was published, her literary reputation was already high, largely on the strength of her story “A Night Among the Horses”, which was published in The Little Review and reprinted in her 1923 collection A Book.[22] She was part of the inner circle of the influential salon hostess Natalie Barney, who would become a lifelong friend and patron, as well as the central figure in Barnes’s satiric chronicle of Paris lesbian life, Ladies Almanack. They probably also had a brief affair, but the most important relationship of Barnes’s Paris years was with the artist Thelma Wood. Wood was a Kansas native who had come to Paris to become a sculptor, but at Barnes’s suggestion took up silverpoint instead, producing drawings of animals and plants that one critic compared to Rousseau. By the winter of 1922 they had set up housekeeping together in a flat on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.[23]

Barnes’s drawing of James Joyce illustrated her 1922 interview with him in Vanity Fair.

Barnes arrived in Paris with a letter of introduction to James Joyce, whom she interviewed for Vanity Fair and who became a friend. The headline of her Vanity Fair interview billed him as “the man who is, at present, one of the more significant figures in literature”, but her personal reaction to Ulysses was less guarded: “I shall never write another line…. Who has the nerve to after that?”[24] It may have been reading Joyce that led Barnes to turn away from the late 19th century Decadent and Aesthetic influences of The Book of Repulsive Women toward the modernist experimentation of her later work.[25] They differed, however, on the proper subject of literature; Joyce thought writers should focus on commonplace subjects and make them extraordinary, while Barnes was always drawn to the unusual, even the grotesque.[26] Then, too, her own life was an extraordinary subject. Her autobiographical first novel Ryder would not only present readers with the difficulty of deciphering its shifting literary styles—a technique inspired by Ulysses—but also with the challenge of piecing together the history of an unconventional polygamous household, far removed from most readers’ expectations and experience.[27]

Despite the difficulties of the text, Ryder’s bawdiness drew attention, and it briefly became a New York Times bestseller. Its popularity caught the publisher unprepared; a first edition of 3,000 sold out quickly, and by the time more copies made it into bookstores, public interest in the book had died down. Still, the advance allowed Barnes to buy a new apartment on Rue Saint-Romain, where she lived with Thelma Wood starting in September 1927. The move made them neighbors of Mina Loy, a friend of Barnes’s since Greenwich Village days, who appeared in Ladies Almanack as Patience Scalpel, the sole heterosexual character, who “could not understand Women and their Ways”.[28]

Due to its subject matter, Ladies Almanack was published in a small, privately printed edition under the pseudonym “A Lady of Fashion”. Copies were sold on the streets of Paris by Barnes and her friends, and Barnes managed to smuggle a few into the United States to sell. A bookseller, Edward Titus, offered to carry Ladies Almanack in his store in exchange for being mentioned on the title page, but when he demanded a share of the royalties on the entire print run, Barnes was furious. She later gave the name Titus to the abusive father in The Antiphon.[29]

Barnes dedicated Ryder and Ladies Almanack to Thelma Wood, but the year both books were published—1928—was also the year that she and Wood separated. Barnes had wanted their relationship to be monogamous, but had discovered that Wood wanted her “along with the rest of the world”.[30] Wood had a worsening dependency on alcohol, and she spent her nights drinking and seeking out casual sex partners; Barnes would search the cafés for her, often winding up equally drunk. Barnes broke up with Wood over her involvement with heiress Henriette McCrea Metcalf (1888–1981), who would be scathingly portrayed in Nightwood as Jenny Petherbridge.[31]

[edit] 1930s

Much of Nightwood was written during the summers of 1932 and 1933, while Barnes was staying at Hayford Hall, a country manor in Devonshire rented by the art patron Peggy Guggenheim. Fellow guests included Antonia White, John Ferrar Holms, and the novelist and poet Emily Coleman. Evenings at the manor—nicknamed “Hangover Hall” by its residents—often featured a party game called Truth that encouraged brutal frankness, creating a tense emotional atmosphere. Barnes was afraid to leave her work in progress unattended because the volatile Coleman, having told Barnes one of her secrets, had threatened to burn the manuscript if Barnes revealed it. But once she had read the book, Coleman became its champion. Her critiques of successive drafts led Barnes to make major structural changes, and when publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript, it was Coleman who pressed T. S. Eliot, then an editor at Faber and Faber, to read it.[32]

Faber published the book in 1936. Though reviews treated it as a major work of art,[33] the book did not sell well. Barnes received no advance from Faber and the first royalty statement was for only £43; the U.S. edition published by Harcourt, Brace the following year fared no better.[34] Barnes had published little journalism in the 30s and was largely dependent on Peggy Guggenheim’s financial support. She was constantly ill and drank more and more heavily—according to Guggenheim, she accounted for a bottle of whiskey a day. In February 1939 she checked into a hotel in London and attempted suicide. Guggenheim funded hospital visits and doctors, but finally lost patience and sent her back to New York. There she shared a single room with her mother, who coughed all night and who kept reading her passages from Mary Baker Eddy, having converted to Christian Science. In March 1940 her family sent her to a sanatorium in upstate New York to dry out.[35] Furious, Barnes began to plan a biography of her family, writing to Emily Coleman that “there is no reason any longer why I should feel for them in any way but hate”. This idea would eventually come to fruition in her play The Antiphon. After she returned to New York City, she quarrelled bitterly with her mother and was thrown out on the street.[36]

[edit] Return to Greenwich Village (1940–1982)

Patchin Place, where Barnes lived for 42 years.

Left with nowhere else to go, Barnes stayed at Thelma Wood’s apartment while Wood was out of town, then spent two months on a working ranch in Arizona with Emily Coleman and Coleman’s lover Jake Scarborough. She returned to New York and, in September, moved into the small apartment at 5 Patchin Place in Greenwich Village where she would spend the last 42 years of her life. Throughout the 40s she continued to drink and wrote virtually nothing. Guggenheim, despite misgivings, provided her with a small stipend, and Coleman, who could ill afford it, sent US$20 a month. In 1946 she worked for Henry Holt as a manuscript reader, but her reports were invariably caustic and she was soon fired.[37]

In 1950, realizing that alcoholism had made it impossible for her to function as an artist, Barnes stopped drinking in order to begin work on her verse play The Antiphon. The play drew heavily on her own family history, and the writing was fuelled by anger; she said “I wrote The Antiphon with clenched teeth, and I noted that my handwriting was as savage as a dagger.”[38] When he read the play, her brother Thurn accused her of wanting “revenge for something long dead and to be forgotten”, but Barnes, in the margin of his letter, described her motive instead as “justice”, and next to the word dead she wrote “not dead”.[39]

After The Antiphon Barnes returned to writing poetry, which she worked and reworked, producing as many as 500 drafts. She wrote eight hours a day despite a growing list of health problems, including arthritis so severe that she had difficulty even sitting at her typewriter or turning on her desk lamp. Many of these poems were never finalized and only a few were published in her lifetime.[40]

During her Patchin Place years, Barnes became a notorious recluse, intensely suspicious of anyone she did not know well. E. E. Cummings, who lived across the street, would check on her periodically by shouting out his window “Are you still alive, Djuna?”[41] Bertha Harris put roses in her mailbox, but never succeeded in meeting her; Carson McCullers camped on her doorstep, but Barnes only called down “Whoever is ringing this bell, please go the hell away.”[42] She was angry that Anaïs Nin had named a character Djuna,[43] and when the feminist bookstore Djuna Books opened in Greenwich Village, Barnes called to demand that the name be changed.[44] Barnes had a lifelong affection for poet Marianne Moore since she an Moore were young in the 1920’s. Barnes was bitter at the end, but underneath her sometimes formidable facade she was warm and always amusing, with an almost Shakespearean vocabulary (despite having not had much formal education).[45]

Although Barnes had other female lovers, in her later years she was known to claim “I am not a lesbian, I just loved Thelma.”

Barnes was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1961. She was the last surviving member of the first generation of English-language modernists when she died in New York in 1982.

[edit] Works

[edit] The Book of Repulsive Women

Illustration from The Book of Repulsive Women.

Barnes’s chapbook The Book of Repulsive Women (1915) collects eight “rhythms” and five drawings. The poems show the strong influence of late 19th century Decadence, and the style of the illustrations resembles Aubrey Beardsley‘s. The setting is New York City, and the subjects are all women: a cabaret singer, a woman seen through an open window from the elevated train, and, in the last poem, the corpses of two suicides in the morgue. The book describes women’s bodies and sexuality in terms that have indeed struck many readers as repulsive, but, as with much of Barnes’s work, the author’s stance is ambiguous. Some critics read the poems as exposing and satirizing cultural attitudes toward women.[46]

Barnes herself came to regard The Book of Repulsive Women as an embarrassment; she called the title “idiotic”, left it out of her curriculum vitae, and even burned copies. But since the copyright had never been registered, she was unable to prevent it from being republished, and it became one of her most reprinted works.[47]

[edit] Ryder

Barnes’s novel Ryder (1928) draws heavily on her childhood experiences in Cornwall-on-Hudson. It covers fifty years of history of the Ryder family: Sophia Grieve Ryder, like Zadel a former salon hostess fallen into poverty; her idle son Wendell; his wife Amelia; his resident mistress Kate-Careless; and their children. Barnes herself appears as Wendell and Amelia’s daughter Julie. The story has a large cast and is told from a variety of points of view; some characters appear as the protagonist of a single chapter only to disappear from the text entirely. Fragments of the Ryder family chronicle are interspersed with children’s stories, songs, letters, poems, parables, and dreams. The book changes style from chapter to chapter, parodying writers from Chaucer to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.[48]

Both Ryder and Ladies Almanack abandon the Beardsleyesque style of her drawings for The Book of Repulsive Women in favor of a visual vocabulary borrowed from French folk art. Several illustrations are closely based on the engravings and woodcuts collected by Pierre Louis Duchartre and René Saulnier in the 1926 book L’Imagerie Populaire—images that had been copied with variations since medieval times.[49] The bawdiness of Ryder’s illustrations led the U.S. Postal Service to refuse to ship it, and several had to be left out of the first edition, including an image in which Sophia is seen urinating into a chamberpot and one in which Amelia and Kate-Careless sit by the fire knitting codpieces. Parts of the text were also expurgated. In an acerbic introduction, Barnes explained that the missing words and passages had been replaced with asterisks so that readers could see the “havoc” wreaked by censorship. A 1990 Dalkey Archive edition restored the missing drawings, but the original text was lost with the destruction of the manuscript in World War II.[50]

[edit] Ladies Almanack

Cover of Ladies Almanack.

H U S, from L’Imagerie Populaire.

Ladies Almanack (1928) is a roman à clef about a predominantly lesbian social circle centering on Natalie Clifford Barney‘s salon in Paris. It is written in an archaic, Rabelaisian style, with Barnes’s own illustrations in the style of Elizabethan woodcuts.

Barney appears as Dame Evangeline Musset, “who was in her Heart one Grand Red Cross for the Pursuance, the Relief and the Distraction, of such Girls as in their Hinder Parts, and their Fore Parts, and in whatsoever Parts did suffer them most, lament Cruelly”.[51] “[A] Pioneer and a Menace” in her youth, Dame Musset has reached “a witty and learned Fifty”;[52] she rescues women in distress, dispenses wisdom, and upon her death is elevated to sainthood. Also appearing pseudonymously are Elisabeth de Gramont, Romaine Brooks, Dolly Wilde, Radclyffe Hall and her partner Una Troubridge, Janet Flanner and Solita Solano, and Mina Loy.[53]

The obscure language, inside jokes, and ambiguity of Ladies Almanack have kept critics arguing about whether it is an affectionate satire or a bitter attack, but Barnes herself loved the book and reread it throughout her life.[54]

[edit] Nightwood

Barnes’s reputation as a writer was made when Nightwood was published in England in 1936 in an expensive edition by Faber and Faber, and in America in 1937 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, with an added introduction by T. S. Eliot.

The novel, set in Paris in the 1920s, revolves around the lives of five characters, two of whom are based on Barnes and Wood, and it reflects the circumstances surrounding the ending of their relationship. In his introduction, Eliot praises Barnes’ style, which while having “prose rhythm that is prose style, and the musical pattern which is not that of verse, is so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it.”

Due to concerns about censorship, Eliot edited Nightwood to soften some language relating to sexuality and religion. An edition restoring these changes, edited by Cheryl J. Plumb, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in 1995.

Dylan Thomas described Nightwood as “one of the three great prose books ever written by a woman,” while William Burroughs called it “one of the great books of the twentieth century.” It was number 12 on a list of the top 100 gay books compiled by The Publishing Triangle in 1999.[55]

[edit] The Antiphon

Barnes’s verse play The Antiphon (1958) is set in England in 1939. Jeremy Hobbs, in disguise as Jack Blow, has brought his family together at their ruined ancestral home, Burley Hall. His motive is never explicitly stated, but he seems to want to provoke a confrontation among the members of his family and force them to confront the truth about their past.[56] His sister Miranda is a stage actress, now “out of patron and of money”;[57] her materialistic brothers, Elisha and Dudley, see her as a threat to their financial well-being. Elisha and Dudley accuse their mother Augusta of complicity with their abusive father Titus Hobbs. They take advantage of Jeremy’s absence to don animal masks and assault both women, making cruel and sexually suggestive remarks; Augusta treats this attack as a game.[58] Jeremy returns with a doll house, a miniature version of the house in America where the children grew up. As she examines it, he charges her with making herself “a madam by submission”, since she failed to prevent Titus from orchestrating Miranda’s rape by “a travelling Cockney thrice [her] age”.[59] The last act finds Miranda and Augusta alone together. Augusta, at once disapproving and envious of her daughter’s more liberated life, exchanges clothes with her daughter and wants to pretend she is young again, but Miranda refuses to enter into this play.[60] When Augusta hears Elisha and Dudley driving away, she blames Miranda for their abandonment and beats her to death with a curfew bell, falling dead at her side from the exertion.

The play premiered in 1962 in Stockholm, in a Swedish translation by Karl Ragnar Gierow and U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.

[edit] Creatures in an Alphabet

Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Madame Récamier. In Creatures in an Alphabet, Barnes wrote:

The Seal, she lounges like a bride,
Much too docile, there’s no doubt;
Madame Récamier, on side,
(if such she has), and bottom out.

Barnes’s last book, Creatures in an Alphabet (1982), is a collection of short rhyming poems. The format suggests a children’s book, but it contains enough allusiveness and advanced vocabulary to make it an unlikely read for a child: the entry for T quotes Blake‘s “The Tyger“, a seal is compared to Jacques-Louis David‘s portrait of Madame Récamier, and a braying donkey is described as “practicing solfeggio“. Creatures continues the themes of nature and culture found in Barnes’s earlier work, and their arrangement as a bestiary reflects her longstanding interest in systems for organizing knowledge, such as encyclopedias and almanacs.[61]

[edit] Legacy

Barnes has been cited as an influence by writers as diverse as Truman Capote, William Goyen, Karen Blixen, John Hawkes, Bertha Harris, and Anaïs Nin. Writer Bertha Harris described her work as “practically the only available expression of lesbian culture we have in the modern western world” since Sappho.[citation needed]

[edit] Bibliography

  • The Book of Repulsive Women: 8 Rhythms and 5 Drawings (1915)
  • A Book(1923) – revised versions published as:
  • Ryder (1928)
  • Ladies Almanack (1928)
  • Nightwood (1936)
  • The Antiphon (1958)
  • Selected Works (1962) – Spillway, Nightwood, and a revised version of The Antiphon
  • Vagaries Malicieux: Two Stories (1974) – unauthorized publication
  • Creatures in an Alphabet (1982)
  • Smoke and Other Early Stories (1982)
  • I Could Never Be Lonely without a Husband: Interviews by Djuna Barnes (1987) – ed. A. Barry
  • New York (1989) – journalism
  • At the Roots of the Stars: The Short Plays (1995)
  • Collected Stories of Djuna Barnes (1996)
  • Poe’s Mother: Selected Drawings (1996) – ed. and with an introduction by Douglas Messerli
  • Discanto, poesie 1911–1982, Roma, Edizione del Giano, 2004 a cura di Maura Del Serra
  • Collected Poems: With Notes Toward the Memoirs (2005) – ed. Phillip Herring and Osias Stutman
  • _____________________________________________________-
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