Nightwood: The Original Version and Related Drafts

ISBN: 1564780805
ISBN 13: 9781564780805
By: Djuna Barnes Cheryl J. Plumb

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About this book

The version of Nightwood published in 1936 and revered ever since both as a classic modernist work and a groundbreaking lesbian novel differs in many ways from the book Djuna Barnes actually wrote. The Dalkey edition not only restores to the main text the material Barnes reluctantly allowed to be cut, but also reproduces in facsimile the seventy pages of discarded drafts that survive of earlier versions. More than sixty years after its 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.

Reader's Thoughts

Philip Lane

I had great difficulties understanding this book. Sentences such as 'When the streets were gall high with things you wouldn't have done for a dare's sake, and the way it was then; with the pheasants' necks and the goslings' beaks dangling against the hocks of the gallants, and not a pavement in the place , and everything gutters for miles and miles, and a stench to it that plucked you by the nosttrils and you were twenty leagues out!' are just plain too long. If I read it three times slowly I can understand most of the words and even perhaps the general gist of the sentence as a whole but I don't really understand what it adds to the overall meaning of the book. T.S. Eliot in a preface says that he found the characters came alive only after repeated reading and that 'a prose that is altogether alive demands something of the reader that the ordinary novel-reader is not prepared to give.' Well perhaps I am just an ordinary novel-reader but I just found it too difficult to enjoy. I do feel any writer needs to take the reader into consideration and I am not quite sure what is the juatification for making meaning so obscure that only an elite group of academics or intellectuals can access it.I also got the overall impression that if I did take the trouble to read it again I would merely get closer to a rather melancholy and pessimistic view of life. What would I get for my troubles? The pleasure of knowing that I managed to weasle out more meaning from it than most 'ordinary novel readers'.


it's tough to sort through what did and did not work for me in this book. i decided to finally read it after years of meaning to because i had just finished clarice lispector's brilliant hour of the star, and thought it might make an appropriate follow-up. it sort of did, i guess, though i think the effortless eccentricities of the lispector novel stand in sharper contrast to the larger modernist "canon" than those of nightwood, which fit more easily into categories like "surrealism" and "existentialism."if i'm to believe some of the google research i've done about the book, nightwood is one of the first openly homosexual novels of the twentieth century. as may not suprise you, there's a fairly ample amount of masochism and self-loathing about sex and sexuality - which might have irked me without a proper understanding of the context. written three decades prior to the stonewall riots (and worlds apart from my own, comparatively "gay friendly" universe), it's not surprising to discover a fairly bleak analysis of sex and relationships within its pages. as a fairly vanilla straight-white-guy, its take on romantic co-dependence didn't entirely resonate with me, but that's not on any level a shortcoming of the novel.there are a number of striking, aphoristic observations that seem to erupt out of the book's rambling fog from time to time. these layered thoughts are its heart-and-soul in my opinion. nightwood is formally quite challenging and beautiful. t.s. eliot's bombastic assumption that "only sensibilities trained on poetry" can understand it isn't entirely off the mark. still, it follows a few familiar, modernist doom-and-gloom trajectories - it's take on love and death reads like a hodge podge of tennessee williams and marguerite duras. there's a long, mostly engaging chapter where two characters discuss the nature of "the night" that is decidedly NOT for all tastes. finally, the character known as the doctor - a scoundrel/philosopher who acts as a greek chorus to the novel's sparse plot points - overstays his welcome from time to time. some of the book's best bits belong to him, but his digressions begin to feel like self-conscious literary gymnastics after a while.i'm not entirely sure why this book didn't knock my socks off, exactly. i'd say it's the pre-occupation with existential nothingness (decidedly NOT the way i look at the world), but i could accuse some of my favorite jean genet novels of the same qualities. the alignment of sex with sickness certainly doesn't mirror my own views on the subject, though i'm often fascinated by similar observations when made by georges bataille or someone like that. i guess the problem, for me, was that i could never quite get lost within the narrative. i came closest through the passages involving nora, which felt natural and effortless. but there's a sense throughout that barnes doesn't think that's quite enough. some of the "literary" bombast toward the end felt like too much of a good thing to me, overriding the initial sense of mystery i found so enjoyable.


Nightwood is one of those literary books where the power is all in the prose, and you read it for the experience. Of plot there is very little, and the characters are grotesque sketches. Robin Vote is an American in Paris. She marries a Jew and self-styled "Baron" named Hedvig Folkbein, bears him a sickly child named Guido, and leaves them both abandoned and ruined when she runs off with another woman, Nora Flood. She and Nora enjoy a tumultuous, passionate and dissipated affair before Robin runs off to New York with yet another woman, Jenny Petherbridge, leaving Nora also heartbroken and destroyed. Even the relationship between Robin and Jenny does not end well.This novel, written in 1936, is quite explicit about lesbian relationships. (By "explicit" I don't mean sexually — I mean there are no euphemisms or metaphors, it's right out in the open that these are chicks hooking up.) If you're eager for early 20th century LGBT lit, though, don't wade into Nightwood expecting a lesbian romance. Barnes' view of lesbians is hardly positive: "A man is another person — a woman is yourself." And considering that all these lesbians wind up broken and miserable, feelgood it is not. Love becomes the deposit of the heart, analogous in all degrees to the "findings" in a tomb. As in one will be charted the taken place of the body, the raiment, the utensils necessary to its other life, so in the heart of the lover will be traced, as indelible shadow, that which he loves. In Nora's heart lay the fossil of Robin, intaglio of her identity, and about it for its maintenance ran Nora's blood. Thus the body of Nora could never be unloved, corrupt or put away. Robin was now beyond timely changes, except in the blood that animated her. That she could be spilled of this fixed the walking image of Robin in appalling apprehension on Nora's mind — Robin alone, crossing streets, in danger. Her mind became so transfixed that by the agency of her fear, Robin seemed enormous and polarized, all catastrophes ran toward her, the magnetized predicament; and crying out, Nora would wake from sleep, going back through the tide of dreams into which her anxiety had thrown her, taking the body of Robin down with her into it, as the ground things take the corpse, with minute persistence, down into the earth, leaving a pattern of it on the grass, as if they stitched as they descended.Barnes' poetic style is the featured attraction, and that you have to experience. T.S. Eliot in the foreword says "only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it," and that's probably true, because I didn't appreciate it so much as endure it. Jeanette Winterson says: "Nightwood is itself. It is its own created world, exotic and strange, and reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined."Well, I don't know about that either. But there were passages of pure genius and imagery. I particularly like the introduction of Jenny Petherbridge: She had a beaked head and the body, small, feeble, and ferocious, that somehow made one associate her with Judy; they did not go together. Only severed could any part of her have been called "right." There was a trembling ardour in her wrists and fingers as if she were suffering from some elaborate denial. She looked old, yet expectant of age; she seemed to be steaming in the vapours of someone else about to die; still she gave off an odour to the mind (for there are purely mental smells that have no reality) of a woman about to be accouchée. Her body suffered from its fare, laughter and crumbs, abuse and indulgence. But put out a hand to touch her, and her head moved perceptibly with the broken arc of two instincts, recoil and advance, so that the head rocked timidly and aggressively at the same moment, giving her a slightly shuddering and expectant rhythm. She writhed under the necessity of being unable to wear anything becoming, being one of those panicky little women who, no matter what they put on, look like a child under penance.Barnes was a genius and a poet. But the prose is dense and unstopping and sometimes paragraphs take two or three reads and my eyes would not come unglazed. I am not one of those people T.S. Eliot described, with "sensibilities trained on poetry." Nightwood was not an easy read, and to be quite honest, I forced myself through it because it's pretty short, at only 200 pages. If it had been a longer book, I probably would have bailed at 50 pages and said "I can't take any more of this." It's all dark and brooding wailing and gnashing of teeth. Worst of all are the monologues by Dr. O'Connor, a dissolute gynecologist who likes to wear women's clothing. "Have you," said the doctor, "ever thought of the peculiar polarity of times and times; and of sleep? Sleep the slain white bull? Well, I, Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O'Connor, will tell you how the day and the night are related by their division. The very constitution of twilight is a fabulous reconstruction of fear, fear bottom-out and wrong side up. Every day is thought upon and calculated, but the night is not premeditated. The Bible lies one way, but the night-gown the other. The night, "Beware of that dark door!" "I used to think," Nora said, "that people just went to sleep, or if they did not go to sleep that they were themselves, but now" — she lit a cigarette and her hands trembled — "now I see that the night does something to a person's identity, even when they sleep." "Ah!" exclaimed the doctor. "Let a man lay himself down in the Great Bed and his 'identity' is no longer his own, his 'trust' is not with him, and his 'willingness' is turned over and is of another permission. His distress is wild and anonymous. He sleeps in a Town of Darkness, member of the secret brotherhood. He neither knows himself nor his outriders; he berserks a fearful dimension and dismounts, miraculously, in bed!"He goes on like that for pages. It's like modernist performance art, two characters barking poetically at the moon. This was one of those books where I could stare at the prose and realize yes, this author does things with words that are as far beyond my abilities as Tiger Woods is beyond my ability to play golf, and yet... oh gads, Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O'Connor, shut up. Also, all these people suck.I didn't really enjoy this book, though I could appreciate the incredible talent and mad genius of Djuna Barnes. But any book this short that was still such a struggle to get through that I was relieved when it was finished, I can't give more than 2 stars.


I really, really wanted to love this. Because it's all transgressive and modernist and shit.But its whole is vastly, vastly smaller than the sum of its parts. A good turn of phrase here, a monologue there doesn't make for an especially interesting story. In fact, the monologues kind of feel like angry and needless tack-ons from the novel's characters... who are not especially interesting and remind me of the paper-doll French haute-bourgeoisie that I used to watch play about in late-'60s Godard movies that I somehow convinced my 20 year old stoner self that I liked.From what I can tell, a lot of people really, really love Nightwood. But I thought it kinda boring.


I suggest that future printings of this book be given the subtitle "I am a bourgeoisie, and I am in a cafe, and I am sad (because of love)."At least, if I got nothing else from this book (which is the case), I now know where Ultra Dolphins got the song title "Matthew O'Connor"

Jeff Jackson

The novel that almost ended my book club. We'd previously read work by Robert Coover, Anne Carson, and Ben Marcus. Cormac McCarthy's Suttree and The Story of O. But it was Nightwood that most of the usually intrepid group didn't bother to finish, a few unwilling to even venture past the first chapter. Bitter complaints of overly baroque language, old fashioned concerns with ancestry, and a story where "nothing happened." Folks were pissed. To be honest, I'm still mystified. While it took me far longer to read this 180 page novel than I'd anticipated - the prose demanded an attentive slowness as key moments often passed within a short phrase - I felt rewarded every time I stopped to parse out a particularly knotty section or unpack an ambiguous aphorism. There's a level of psychological insight into the characters here that's astounding - coupled with Barnes setting an almost unknowable anti-heroine at the dead center of the story, serving as a sort of swirling black hole. While at first the book seems to play like a series of portraits, the cohesive structure slowly reveals itself. This is a book that's reticent to shine a light on its secrets. Even the very last scene seems to suggest a new meaning for everything that came before. It forces you to reconsider where you've been placing the dramatic emphasis - and empathy. It's a story where little might happen on the surface, but there's simultaneously too much to take in on one reading. The doctor's monologues ricochet around the page like indoor fireworks and it's hard to know whether to enjoy the explosions or duck for cover. Under the restrained veneer of the descriptions, Barnes documents a world of transexuals, cruising, defrocked priests, drunken mothers who abandon their infants, feral encounters with animals, etc. It's often incredibly debauched without being the least bit judgmental of its characters. And of course it's a love story. It's about a love for oblivion, that oblivion you can sometimes find in other people.


** spoiler alert ** I have been reading this book again because a group on GR decided to tackle it. I thought that despite the fact that this must be at least my third reading since college, I should surely develop a better understanding of what this book is about. Yes, the story is somewhat basic, a love triangle between three women. The woman, Robin Vote, over whom the other two distress themselves, never speaks. Instead, we are given indications of her activities, from the time she accepts a marriage proposal from a pseudo-baron through her two female relationships and to the end.Barnes is one of the characters, Nora Flood, and her lover, Robin Vote, has been said to be Thelma Wood. The third woman, Jenny Petherbridge, is a remarkable character in the book and perhaps the most recognizable as human, all others seeming vaguely like a Freudian dream. I have often wondered if Jenny bore any similarity to Henriette Macrea Metcalf, the woman for whom Wood left Barnes and with whom she had a 16 year relationship. However, whether correct or not, this reading of the book has finally sharpened my focus as to, at least, the subject matter of this book. While it is confusing due to Barnes' jumping from character to character and situation to situation, I read somewhere that Barnes described the book as something like one's lonely thoughts through the night. If we take that as the "night" part of the title, how should we not be able to add Thelma Wood as the "wood" portion of the title? Hence I tend to think that this book is not only a kind of quasi-dream of Barnes concerning Thelma Wood, but it demonstrates the significant progress the character which Wood makes through her life. Barnes said once that she was not a lesbian: she had only loved Thelma Wood.While Wood herself complained that Nightwood misrepresented her and thus ruined her life (and one may argue that tongue firmly placed in one's cheek after reading her bio,) Nightwood is about the very specific progress which the character of Robin makes from the beginning, in which we find herboth desperately in need of being owned and at the same time, vehemently unhappy at losing her personal freedom.We find the historical theme, especially one of not only pessimism but of lies and dishonesty expressed from the very beginning when the false baron wishes to marry: "Old Europe': aristocracy, nobility, royalty. . . . He felt that the great past might mend a little if he bowed low enough, if he succumbed and gave homage." Immediately after seeing Robin, Felix confesses to the doctor that he "wished a son who would feel as he felt about the 'great past. It is a wish for a history which is essentially manufactured in memories and objects, but whose reality remains terrible and frightening.When Robin finds herself pregnant, she takes Catholic vows. We sense that she is searching for something against her nature, something she doesn't directly want but perhaps by doing such things, the inquietudes will cease in her own head. When she visits many different cathedrals to pray, we sense the desperation, but to know it, we have to understand it from others' perspective."She talked to the nuns and they, feeling that they were looking at someone who would never be able to ask for, or receive, mercy, blessed her in their hearts and gave her a sprig of rose from the bush." Even those who meet her know that she is seeking something she cannot have.Later we find Robin asleep with the memoirs of the Marquis de Sade and a line is underscored: Et lui rendit pendant sa captivite les milles services qu'un amour devoue est seul capable de rendre. In this I think we are given the greatest insight into Robin's character and distress, both the necessity to be "bound" through love and the overwhelming need to break free from bondage. Yet Robin must continue to do these acts of excess over and over in order to get her, excuse the expression, fix of freedom.But Robin, to her credit, finally figures it out. The last scenes, with Robin getting down on all fours and interfacing with the dog never made a great deal of sense to me, but it is ultimately the return to her animalistic primitive nature by which she finds, finally, a permanent sense of freedon. "Then she began to bark also, crawling after him- barking in a fit of laughter, obscene and touching. The dog began to cry then, running with her, head-on with her head, as if to circumvent her: soft and slow her feet went padding."It is difficult, especially with so many bizarre characters in the book and on first reading, not to imagine that this is something akin to a prelude of animal/human sex. Yet clearly this is nothing of the sort and it remains perhaps Barnes' disappointment with the way in which others interpreted the book. It is, ultimately, not a book about perversity, although certainly there is enough legitimate perversity throughout the world in plain sight. This is, instead, in my opinion, a book about a woman going aginst the grain and seeking to find freedom through a new connection with a pure and coarse basic instinct of femininity. In some senses, this is a frightening proposition and in others it is liberating in the extreme. Perhaps Barnes intended it to be a little of both.Concerning Jenny, Barnes says, "When she fell in love it was with a perfect fury of accumulated dishonesty; she became instantly a dealer in second-hand and therefore incalculable emotions. As, from the solid archives of usage, she had stolen or appropriated the dignity of speech, so she appropriated the most passionate love that she knew, Nora's for Robin. She was a "squatter" by instinct."I interpret the term "squatter" in two ways, the first denigrating Jenny because she is taking everything which belongs to someone else without concern and second, that she is only female in the sense that she exhibits the ridiculous and the frenetic. This thesis isn't all that important and I won't bother to develop it here.

Alex Testere

This book was incredible ... it took me beyond what I've come to expect of a novel in that it was wildly poetic and impossible to understand on the rare occasion, but the quality of the writing is so strong and expressive that I was moved to mark and commit to memory a passage on almost every page. It felt like a book that had been in my life a long time, just waiting to be read. An old woman saw me reading it on the train and said to me, "it's good to see that book is still around ... I read it almost *fifty* years ago." I choked on my words, caught completely off guard in the middle of a sentence, and she looked at me and continued, "you know, she was a great woman too," and she left the train, and left me awestruck. Did she know Djuna Barnes? Were they besties? WAS SHE ROBIN? WAS SHE JENNY? Was it all autobiographical? The book managed to transcend its pages on so many levels, and this experience was just one more. Highly recommend to anyone interested in poetry or novels, drama, love, and a good, rewarding challenge.


I'm confused why this book is held in such high regard. The characters are so whiny and fatalistic, moaning like cats that have survived being run over by a car rolling around on the road in agony. I just couldn't connect with this book at all. I can understand its cultural relevance and the source of the characters agonies are not lost on me but it's just so drawn out, poetically beating around the bush like a bad Marcel Carné movie.. I actually thought I was reading a poorly translated French book until the middle and I was surprised to learn it was an American author. The writing is just murky and awkward. Though Nightwood started off so compellingly evocative with some really wonderful writing for the first chapter it turns into a moaning and unsatisfying series of dialogues really quickly.Maybe I've been spoiled by my current and ongoing reading of The Recognitions which had some of the greatest and most psychologically convincing dialogue I have ever read. Nightwood really is flat and artificial in comparison.


Can't quite speak to why I loved this book. The reviews on here don't appear too kind; likewise, my classmates were befuddled and frustrated by Nightwood. Admittedly, it's sort of amusing to watch a group of budding-scholars with the arrogance to believe they can dissect any text (after all, this is our training, no?) encounter one that leaves them cross-eyed and faint. Which isn't to say that I wasn't often confused, but that when I realized it was pointless to try and 'answer' what this novel was trying to articulate, I decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.Is there a hero of Nightwood? Who knows? Doctor Matthew certainly talks the damn most; but then, I think, Robin Vote (must as with Doctor Matthew) is the flame that all the moth-ciphers of the novel are seduced by. And indeed, I do think of these characters as cipher-figures; they're somewhat like walking ideas, trapped in a script that is not really their own. One quote cut to the quick: Jenny Petherbridge "defiled the very meaning of personality in her passion to be a person." But I think this fits all of the specters of the novel; each is seeking desperately to become a person (re: all of them taking up mantles that are not their own, as Felix and his 'royal lineage' and the 'Doctor' his medical merits), and so fucks everything up entirely. I'm really curious about the uncensored version that's supposedly available now; Eliot edited much of the explicit sex, I hear, but still I was shocked by the unreserved portrayal of female-female desire. It was sort of exhilarating, because the 'anti-normative' position of homoerotic desire at this historical moment seemed so incidental in the crazed circus of the novel. Certainly not the 'Well of Loneliness' approach, though this novel likewise plays with a narrative of contemporary tragedy (not engendered by gay desire, though, which was nice). Anyway, you'll likely fall on one side of the spectrum or the other--you'll either be confused and frustrated and possibly want to throw the book across the room; or you'll be invigorated by the stunning prose, the ghostly characters, the rejection of plot-conventions (everyone I know said the problem with this novel was that nothing happens--which I simply don't understand--the novel simply pays obsessive mind to non-events and breezes over more typical novelistic 'happenings'), and the kookiness of it all. In a nutshell, this novel seemed to me what might have happened in V Woolf wrote an Angela Carter novel (which I guess she sort of did, with Orlando). There's a dash of Flannery O'Connor as well. I don't mean to diminish Barnes's achievement in the slightest, but just to provide a quicker reference for those still up in the air as to whether or not it's worth it. I say yes.


i read this book in college and have read it on an almost annual basis since. and i swear, i never feel like i'm reading the same book. it's prose is thick with lush descriptions and imagery reminiscent of a lot of the ex-pat's of paris at the time. it's intoxicating. the only drawback is that there's not a whole lot of djuna barnes' work available. so don't get too attached. and if you do, don't say i didn't warn you. i'm notorious for my warnings and i've worked hard to garner such a reputation. so don't fucking undermine me. dick.

Margaret Sankey

Rather than re-read a Hans Fallada to get me in the mood for 1920s-30s Europe in class, I took a recommendation and branched out to Djuna Barnes for this truly strange novel. One one level, it is self-absorbed bright young things chasing an unobtainable woman, but on a more symbolic analysis, Robin Voter IS the new post-war world--without moral judgement, halfway between human and animal, sleepwalking over the brink of disaster before expressing any individual will. Each character fails to hold her because they attempt to impose their own projection of order--Felix and his faux old world aristocracy, Norah her Yankee practicality, Jenny and her covetous second-hand emotional vampirism. It's weird and tedious, and T.S. Eliot's preface warns us not to feel smug and superior to these people, but fundamentally, if Robin is the new world, there is no better description of 1936 than her job as the advance person for a decrepit and debauched circus.

D.S. West

OK whoa, my girlfriend wasn't kidding about this one being a doozy. Literary and high-minded as hell, high falutin and pretentious, but nonetheless outstanding. Nightwood is a gleefully bizarre marriage of Shakespearean tragedy and experimental Modernist prose. Dr. Matthew O' Connor is an out-of-place--gay and a transvestite, and a theatrical monologuist among a cast of internally disquieted novel characters. Dr. O' Connor provides most of the exposition, is endlessly quotable (even when one has no damned idea what he's babbling about), and is certainly both the protagonist of the novel (Nora takes second fiddle if you ask me--typical roman a clef be damned) and one of the chiefly memorable characters in Modern lit. "If you don't want to suffer you should tear yourself apart." The good doctor has already been torn apart, yet because of the troubles of those he keeps company with, as well as his own incongruence, still he suffers. Tragic, illuminating stuff! Some of the passages had a psychological resonance that reminded me of the jester/Lear conversations in Lear. I can't say why exactly--I haven't read or watched that play in a number of years--but that's where the mind took me.Nightwood is a brilliantly written book. Even if it's not entertaining all the way through, or even decipherable, it is clearly a courageous deviation from the norm (even today) and an achievement. No wonder this year marks the first Djuna Barnes conference! I hate to fall back on the hackneyed "before his/her time" compliment, but...Djuna was before her time.


I read this book during my junior year of college, I absolutely loved it. Everytime I read this book, I just want to put Aimee Mann on. Save me from the freaks who suspect they can never love anyone except the freaks who suspect they can never love anyone, rings in my ear. However, Mann's lyric gives a simple portrait to this poetic novel. I think it depicts the truth of rejection, love lost and pain. I am not even really sure how to do this book any justice, but it is beautiful. I am not sure I use that description for many novels, but in the depths of all the sadness there is such beauty in the words that Barnes portrays in this novel. Nothing has moved me emotionally as much as this novel and it is worth reading every year. On a side note, I look forward to read Eliot's pompous remarks every year.

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

T.S.Eliot wrote an introduction to this novel in 1937. He said he has read it "a number of times." Twelve years later, in 1949, he wrote a note to the book's second edition. He said his "admiration for the book has not diminished."In 1937 T.S.Eliot said that this novel would "appeal primarily to readers of poetry." I agree. I could even dare say that this is poetry masquerading as prose. Thus, even with a deceptively simple plot, almost in every page passages will move you even if you're unsure what they mean. Then you read them again and again, with them becoming more beautiful each time, even if you feel you understand them less and less.One thing T.S.Eliot missed--or maybe dared not write in 1937/1949--is that this is a gay love story. Check out its principal protagonists: 1.Robin Vote - the beauty. She married Felix, the "Baron" and had a child by him but she left them. In several scenes, she wears boys' clothes; 2.Felix, the "Baron" - a Jew with pretensions of nobility; 3. Nora - Robin's lover whom she (Robin) later abandoned; 4.Jenny - Robin's other lover for whom Robin left Nora; and 5. Dr. Matthew O'Connor - a closet gay and a cross-dresser (in private) who, at one time, confessed that "no matter what (he) may be doing, in (his) heart is the wish for children and knitting (and that he) never asked (God) better than to boil some good man's potatoes and toss up a child for him every nine months by the calendar."Gay lovers in anguish and what poetry! At one point the doctor said (and read this aloud and see if it does not sound like poetry):"We swoon with the thickness of our own tongue when we say, 'I love you,' as in the eye of a child lost a long while will be found the contraction of that distance--a child going small in the claws of a beast, coming furiously up the furlongs of the iris. We are but skin about a wind, with muscles clenched against mortality. We sleep in a long reproachful dust against ourselves. We are full to the gorge with our names for misery. Life, the pastures in which the night feeds and prunes the cud that nourishes us to despair. Life, the permission to know death. We were created that the earth might be made sensible of her inhuman taste; and love that the body might be so dear that even the earth should roar with it. Yes, we who are full to the gorge with misery should look well around, doubting everything seen, done, spoken, precisely because we have a word for it, and not its alchemy."Or Nora explaining the difference between a woman loving a man, and a woman loving another woman:"A man is another person--a woman is yourself, caught as you turn in panic; on her mouth you kiss your own. If she is taken you cry that you have been robbed of yourself. God laughs at me, but his laughter is my love."Djuna Barnes, who died in 1982, was said to be gay herself. That may explain the rigorous, manly tone of her writing, like she really has the heart and mind of a man. Only a guy, for example, could have described Felix's first meeting with Robin like this:"She (Robin) closed her eyes, and Felix, who had been looking into them intently because of their mysterious and shocking blue, found himself seeing them still faintly clear and timeless behind the lids--the long unqualified range in the iris of wild beasts who have not tamed the focus down to meet the human eye."The woman who presents herself to the spectator as a 'picture' forever arranged is, for the contemplative mind, the chiefest danger. Sometimes one meets a woman who is beast turning human. Such a person's every movement will reduce to an image of a forgotten experience; a mirage of an eternal wedding cast on the racial memory; as insupportable a joy as would be the vision of an eland coming down an aisle of trees, chapleted with orange blossoms and bridal veil, a hoof raised in the economy of fear, stepping in the trepidation of flesh that will become myth; as the unicorn is neither man nor beast deprived, but human hunger pressing its breast to its prey."Such a woman is the infected carrier of the past: before her the structure of our head and jaws ache--we feel that we could eat her, she who is eaten death returning, for only then do we put our face close to the blood on the lips of our forefathers."Gays, I mean, guys you have to read this before you die!

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