This book. I just have no idea what to do with it. According to my friend Wikipedia, Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood ranked #12 on the Top 100 Gay and Lesbian Novels that the Publishing Triangle compiled in 1999. Really? I found moments and images extremely well-written, but then the rest of it alternately confused and depressed me.
Briefly, here’s the story: Robin Vote is a woman seeking some kind of security/safety/love, without realizing that she’s just super unhappy no matter where she is in life. She meets and marries the false baron Felix Volkbein, who really just wants a legitimate heir. She gives him a son, Guido, and then realizes she cannot live the kind of life she’s expected to. So she runs off with Nora and sets up house. But then she breaks Nora’s heart by running off with Jenny, a four-time widow who is described as stealing other people’s happiness. Interspersed are the wild monologues of Dr. Matthew O’Connor, a cross-dressing individual who is often caught in makeup and women’s clothing.
As far as early lesbian writing goes, Djuna Barnes is a visionary for crafting images and ideas that would later spur on queer writers and readers. As a story, it’s really more about Dr. O’Connor, and he’s a more interesting character than the rather elusive and selfish Robin. It’s an interesting read, if you don’t expect much “story.” It’s more a poetic-aesthetic experience than a novel.