Masters Thesis

Performance and grief: an analysis of Djuna Barnes's Nightwood

Barnes’s works are steeped in overt grief and rage, and all of her longer works can be directly traced back to traumatic events in her life. Antiphon and Ryder both are vicious retellings of her early family life. Themes of incest, rape and stolen virginity run through both. Her constant thematic repetitions have been considered by critics as a stylistic attempt to disassociate herself from the disturbances in her life, but she was never able to completely divorce her works from partially retelling her past. Her masterpiece, Nightwood, is no exception. It was written to cope with her anguish after her eight-year co-dependent relationship with Thelma Wood ended, and most of the characters are traceable to their real-life counterparts; for example, Thelma Wood is Robin Vote, and Djuna Barnes is Nora Flood. Nearly all of the characters in the book have been identified by researchers to their real-life counterparts. Barnes repeatedly called Nightwood “my life with Thelma,” and wrote to T. S. Eliot that the work was semi-autobiographical (Field 43). Nevertheless, care has to be taken not to confuse the events in the book with the reality of Barnes’s and Wood’s life together. The focus must remain upon the rhetorical and stylistics methods that Barnes uses within Nightwood to explicate the trauma of a failed relationship.

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