The version of Nightwood published in 1936 and revered ever since both as a classic modernist work and a ground-breaking lesbian novel differs in many respects from the book Djuna Barnes actually wrote. Unable to find a publisher for her earlier, more explicit versions, Barnes allowed her friend Emily Coleman and her editor T. S. Eliot to cut much material—ranging from a word to passages three pages long—to create a book suitable for publication.
Barnes scholar Cheryl J. Plumb has studied all surviving versions of the work to re-create the novel Barnes originally intended. The Dalkey Archive edition not only restores the main text the material Barnes reluctantly allowed to be cut—along with her preferred spelling and punctuation—but also reproduces in facsimile the seventy pages of discarded drafts that survive of earlier versions. The restored text and related drafts are accompanied by an introduction tracing the novel’s composition and by one hundred pages of textual apparatus.
Nightwood is the story of Robin Vote and those she destroys: her husband “Baron” Felix Volkbein and their child Guido, and the women who love her, Nora Flood and Jenny Petherbridge. Commenting on them all is Doctor Matthew O’Conner, whose outlandish monologues elevate their romantic losses to the level of Elizabethan tragedy.
Sixty years after its first publication, Nightwood is firmly established as a twentieth-century classic, and this critical edition will allow readers and scholars to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of this unforgettable work.
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) was one of the great modernist writers, a novelist and playwright of bewildering poetic power, and among the first women to write explicitly of lesbian relationships. After a nightmarish childhood with her self-proclaimed “genius” father, Wald (a Joseph Smith-style polygamist with messianic pretensions), during which she was raped and forced to marry a family friend, she escaped to New York and then to Paris. She was an habituée of the era’s famous bars and salons, and her friends and rivals included Pound, Joyce, Eliot, and Cocteau. After World War II, she lapsed into virtual silence: between 1936 and her death in 1982, her publications were limited to a few poems and her final masterpiece, a three-act play called The Antiphon. Nightwood was her third and final novel.