ISBN: 0811216713
ISBN 13: 9780811216715
By: Djuna Barnes T.S. Eliot Jeanette Winterson

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About this book

Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' strange and sinuous tour de force, "belongs to that small class of books that somehow reflect a time or an epoch" (TLS). That time is the period between the two World Wars, and Barnes' novel unfolds in the decadent shadows of Europe's great cities, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—a world in which the boundaries of class, religion, and sexuality are bold but surprisingly porous. The outsized characters who inhabit this world are some of the most memorable in all of fiction—there is Guido Volkbein, the Wandering Jew and son of a self-proclaimed baron; Robin Vote, the American expatriate who marries him and then engages in a series of affairs, first with Nora Flood and then with Jenny Petherbridge, driving all of her lovers to distraction with her passion for wandering alone in the night; and there is Dr. Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O'Connor, a transvestite and ostensible gynecologist, whose digressive speeches brim with fury, keen insights, and surprising allusions. Barnes' depiction of these characters and their relationships (Nora says, "A man is another person—a woman is yourself, caught as you turn in panic; on her mouth you kiss your own") has made the novel a landmark of feminist and lesbian literature. Most striking of all is Barnes' unparalleled stylistic innovation, which led T. S. Eliot to proclaim the book "so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it." Now with a new preface by Jeanette Winterson, Nightwood still crackles with the same electric charge it had on its first publication in 1936.

Reader's Thoughts

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.


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 odd duck of “novel”, a cascade of beautiful and sometimes disturbing images written in poetic yet comic prose. People looking for a book about a realistic treatment of a lesbian relationship or a book of female empowerment might be confused by this book, as this is all about the language and the truly weird characters. The female empowerment is in the fiery eccentricities of Barnes’ writing. The combination of the poetic, the ominous, and the comic earns her comparisons to Joyce, Pynchon, and Nathaniel West.(Also of a piece with the work of Jane Bowles, Isak Dineson, Angela Carter, and Rikki Ducornet)


After a second reading had to include the missing fifth star. Full reassessment soon. ...So I'm not used to this kind of reaction with a book--finished it this morning, and I might very well start it all over again. Immediately. This never happens to me. And this despite not knowing what the hell was going on half (most?) of the time, but by the end I became intoxicated by the sheer absurdity that made me laugh stupidly despite being in public, the unexpected submersions into harrowing despair, the (to blatantly steal Ned Rorem's characterization) "gorgeous claustrophobia" the novel evokes. I've never come across anything quite like this before. Was initially intrigued by Susan Sontag's comment in her journal that her and her friends were essentially characters out of this novel; I wonder now how much of her own romantic sufferings were modeled off of Norah Flood's..."'How do you stand it, then?' she demanded. 'How do you live at all if this wisdom of yours is not only the truth, but the price?'"


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.

Tom Meade

Well this was a strange, yet strangely compelling book. Lauded by William S. Burroughs - an introduction by T.S. Elliot - the better part of its length is taken-up with bizarre monologues against the insanity and artifice of modern society, delivered by an unlicenced, transvestite medical doctor. It has all the markings of a cult classic and couldn't possibly be as good as it sounds - but then it actually is.I wonder if we can trace modern literary fiction's obsession with writing purely in epigrams to this book? I doubt it, but Barnes' prose style does inhabit a beguiling region between imagist and decadent realms. She has an incredible knack for startling turns of phrase - take perhaps my favourite, "Her face was like something once beautiful found in a river". It's lovely. In any case, Barnes' book hits on a lot of interesting topics - lesbianism, transgenderism, and, most importantly of all, the necessity of playing a role. Everyone in this book is play-acting, and most people are deeply unhappy both with the role they were born to and the one that they are attempting to make a play for. Barnes seems to have hit upon love as the central topic of the book, if only because romantic entanglements are some of the most stressful and multifaceted going. Similarly, she uses the plight of the Jew-in-hiding as a metaphor for isolation from a community of which one is an integral part. Then she leads the reader on through a morass of disappointments and human stupidity and we end with the saddening, but perhaps not unexpected, revelation that nothing is going to work-out and that people are never going to be able to truly, you know, connect.So it might not seem like revelatory conclusion at this point, but it was probably a bit more novel in the 1930s. In any case, this is a very strange and fascinating book that is far too complicated for me to have appreciated it fully on a single reading. I don't reread books often, but Nightwood all but demands it.


Another book that the star rating system barely fits. This is a classic, interior, brilliant, odd, irritating, lovely, unpleasant, lyric, weird book from the '30's... self-impressed European decadence... traces of Sally Bowles, definitely expect that green nailpolish. It was heavily promoted by TS Eliot in one of those strange literary love affairs... You wince at the anti-semitism (I hate when people try to explain their characters as racial specimens, rather than human beings), and flounder a bit in the overwrought emotionality of the despair of a lesbian relationship gone bad--but then again, the language is so heady and incredible... the strange insights so apt! I compare it most to Anais Nin, who is a great favorite of mine--her 'Spy in the House of Love', where Sabina takes the place of the almost cypheristic object of desire in Nightwood, Robin Vote--but I believe Sabina where Robin is just a shadow on the cave wall. Yet, in digging further, I discovered that this is a largely autobiogrpahical book about Barnes and her own obscure object of affection. The only character who does actualy seem real and well observed is the one Barnes felt to be unregenerately and scathingly portrayed, Jenny the thief of love, the "looter" who can only experience things that have been experienced by others and then stolen for herself. (in the end, in a great scene, Robin lights a votive candle and Jenny sneaks in and blows it out and lights it herself). Didn't know whether to give it 4 or 5 stars, four for its maddening note of superiority vis a vis its characters, or five for the beautiful wiritng. Well, being me, I give it five. A five with flaws.

John David

For whatever reason, it seems that “Nightwood” has one of the more precarious reputations in twentieth-century literature. The name of its author, Djuna Barnes, is still synonymous with the life of the modern, and Modernist, American expatriate living in Paris; however, like Lawrence Durrell, another author I have been thinking quite a bit about, she seems to have fallen into disfavor – and this is quite a loss. And like Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet,” this coheres as fiction in a completely different way from most other fiction. While Durrell’s prose is florid and sometimes downright meretricious, Barnes uses her characters, especially the eccentric Dr. O’Connor, to stretch the limits of language and meaning. O’Connor, a fay dandy and philosopher-mystagogue, is so preposterous and unbelievable it’s a miracle that he even works as a character. He serves as a perennial touching conversational touching stone for all the other characters, endlessly and giddily upending their assumptions and, especially in the case of Nora, emotional commitments.The other characters, each histrionic in their own way, are all fairly normal in comparison; the plot is barebones and simple. The “Baron,” a self-stylized aristocrat manqué, marries Robin Vote, who seems lost and discontented whoever she surrounds herself with and wherever she goes, often being driven to roam the streets of the city at night, a listless flaneur. The chapter “Watchmen, What of the Night?” is one of the most beautiful meditations on night that I have ever read in literature. Soon after having a child with the Baron, she leaves him and moves in with Nora, with whom she is just spiritually out of place. Robin then finally leaves Nora for Jenny, at which point Nora turns to Dr. O’Connor for solace. His brand of consolation is some peculiar poesy to say the least. At the height of Nora’s despair, her heart rent in two by a woman she truly loved, O’Connor offers these words: “For the thickness of the sleep that is on the sleeper we ‘forgive,’ as we ‘forgive’ the dead for the account of the earth that lies upon them. What we do not see, we are told, we do not mourn; yet night and sleep trouble us, suspicion being the strongest dream and dead the throng. The heart of the jealous knows the best and the most satisfying love, that of the other’s bed, where the rival perfects the lover’s imperfections. Fancy gallops to take part in that duel, unconstrained by any certain articulation of the laws of that unseen game.”T. S. Eliot’s beautiful introduction does two things introductions rarely do: holds back any plot spoilers (not that there is really anything to “give away,” per se) and actually sheds light on the text. It can safely be read, as I read it, before finishing the book. And I second Eliot’s take on the novel, especially his observation that in “Nightwood” you will find “great achievement of a style, the beauty of phrasing, the brilliance of wit and characterization, and a quality of horror and doom very nearly related to that of Elizabethan tragedy.” The brilliance of wit and characterization is something I can only second and treble. This is bold, high Modernism at its most audacious, and the sum of its effects is simply stunning.

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.


One of my all-time favorites...abstract, lyrical, hateful, funny, beautiful, ugly and weird. I got very sucked into the entire literary-lesbians-in-Paris thing in my mid-twenties. It still fascinates me.

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.


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.

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!


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"

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'.

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