When it was first published in 1928, Djuna Barnes’s Ryder, a bawdy mock-Elizabethan chronicle of a family very much like her own, was described in the Saturday Review as “the most amazing book ever written by a woman.”
One of modern literature’s first and best denunciations of patriarchal repression, Ryder employs an exuberant prose by which narrator Julie Ryder derides her hated father, polygamous Wendell Ryder. Barnes satirizes masculinity and domesticity by way of parable, poem, and play, and a prose style that echoes Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Bible, and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
For this edition, several of Barnes’s previously suppressed illustrations have been restored, and novelist Paul West has contributed a perceptive afterword.
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.