Djuna Barnes once described herself as one of the most famous unknowns of the century. Revisionary accounts of female modernist writers have re-awakened interest in her work, yet she remains a unique and idiosyncratic figure, unassimilated by models of American expatriate or Sapphic modernism. In this illuminating and lucid study, Deborah Parsons examines the range of Barnes’s oeuvre; her early journalism, short stories and one act dramas, poetry, the family chronicle Ryder, the Ladies Almanack, and her late play The Antiphon, as well as her modernist classic Nightwood. She explores the psychological and stylistic aspect of Barnes’s work through close analysis of the texts within their social, cultural and aesthetic context, and provides an indispensable and enriching guide to Barnes’s artistic identity and poetic vision. Barnes’s determined inversion of generic, social, sexology, degeneration, ethnography and decadence, her unusual childhood, her professional friendships with T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, and her controversial lesbianism are all highlighted and discussed in this introduction to a bold and enigmatic writer.
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