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Nightwood (New Edition) Paperback – September 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of the great masterworks of twentieth-century fiction. (Vogue)

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 masterpiece of modernism. (The Washington Post Book World)

To have been madly and disastrously in love is a kind of glory that can only be made intelligible in a sublime poetry―the revelatory and layered poetry of Djuna Barnes's masterpiece, Nightwood. (Dorothy Allison, author of the National Book Award-nominated novel Bastard Out of Carolina)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780811216715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811216715
  • ASIN: 0811216713
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Melissa Hardie on June 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
First, I should tell you what Nightwood isn't. It's not acelebration of love between women, or of the glamour of Paris, or ofmodernism's traditionally spare aesthetic. It is, however, a wonderful book, which will probably try your patience but will repay your efforts with the pleasure of reading some of the most wonderful writing to have been produced this century. Djuna Barnes, born in the US, spent some twenty years in Europe, during which she wrote innovative journalism, a novel (Ryder), short stories, poetry and plays, and, slowly, the autobiographical fictional narrative that was finally published as Nightwood in 1936. The novel was hard to place, and finally published by no less of a modernist luminary than T.S. Eliot, then working at Faber and Faber.
Barnes' novel chronicles a love affair between two women: Nora Flood, the sometime "puritan," and Robin Vote, a cipher-like "somnambule" -- sleepwalker -- who roams the streets of Paris looking for -- well, it's not quite clear, but it's a fruitless quest she's on. Nora finds herself roaming the streets too, looking for Robin, but, like most of the characters of the novel, she bumps up against Dr Matthew O'Connor instead. O'Connor, an unlicensed doctor from the Barbary Coast, dominates much of the novel with his astounding barrage of anecdote, offering a stream of stories that all point, ultimately, to the sublime misery of romantic obsession. The love story (if it can even be called that) is framed by the history of Felix Volkbein, a self-styled Baron who marries Robin early on, and whose family tree provides the structure on which the rest of this dawdling narrative hangs.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By pjmittal on March 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
There are few books that can be safely called classics--and out of those, fewer are as deserving of the term as Djuna Barnes' 'Nightwood'. Elegant and mesmerizing, difficult and beautiful, it is a measured and balanced work of art.
Another reviewer said this wasn't a 'celebration of lesbian love'--this much is true. What makes this book truly remarkable is that it *doesn't* set any boundaries--hearts are fickle, hearts are cruel, and every character in the novel is inflicted with his/her own brand of emotional anxiety. Barnes makes no distinction between 'lesbian' love and any other--it is as normal, and as abnormal, as any other human affection. That alone makes this book a classic (but of course, the writing too is intoxicating). In fact, what is truly surprising (to me, at least!) is that despite her exquisite elegance, Djuna Barnes manages to take such a no-nonsense approach to human emotions. She never seeks to simplify anything--and makes her work difficult for the reader in the most rewarding of ways. (I mean that she doesn't let us get away with pre-conceptions or romantic illusions. She manages to make the imperfect reality as arresting as the myth of perfection.) Most of us, in our lives, don't *really* know what we're doing, or what we feel. Barnes makes her characters real by putting them through the same confusing maelstrom of experiences--where one emotion often morphs into another--love into indifference, respect into insecurity, and so on. There are no answers--there is only endurance--endurance of others, endurance of ourselves.
I don't want to be more specific and give out details of the plot. This book has to be experienced to be believed...
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Mark Nadja on December 27, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
*Nightwood* is a novel composed in poetic prose, as T.S. Eliot asserts in his preface, the kind of writing that "demands something of the reader that the ordinary novel-reader is not prepared to give." Most novels are not composed at such white-hot intensity, at a level of personal emergency such as Djuna Barnes has conveyed in *Nightwood.* This is a book that doesn't let you rest for a moment, the rare sort of novel that is all conflict and climax. It's a work that you don't doubt was torn living from the author's very being, less a "novel" per se, than an organic and all-but-impossible to dissect whole that loses more the more you attempt to analyze it.

What Barnes records in *Nightwood* is the experiential agony, as opposed to merely the "story," of a love-lost. Robin Vote is a Sapphic femme fatal, an androgynous, alcoholic, nymphomaniac enigma who is beloved, successively, by three different characters, who she subsequently leaves an emotional wreck. Nora Flood, who stands in for the author, is the narrative center of *Nightwood* and the woman around whom the others orbit, with Robin, like a doomsday asteroid, orbiting them all. It is Nora who struggles and suffers and indeed understands Robin better than anyone, even if that only means understanding better the tragedy inherent in knowing her at all. Her utter despair at losing Robin is stunningly captured by Barnes who, it is said, based *Nightwood* closely on a real-life love catastrophe from which she never recovered. One can believe it reading *Nightwood.* A good deal of the novel's intensity comes from its unquestionable authenticity. In Robin Vote, Barnes has created the personification of the unsolvable mystery of every beloved who, as if by destiny, eludes, indeed must elude, our grasp.
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