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View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Djuna Barnes's 'Nightwood' (86 comments)

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  •  I find myself feeling absurdly let down... (5+ / 0-) hear that T.S. Eliot likely edited out all the "pornographic" bits. I know not everyone shares my taste for kink, but really, that just seems so like him...bless his little 20th-century angsty insurance clerk's soul!  But at least he had the wit to read it and appreciate it, which sounds like it's more than you can say for most folk.  

    Been meaning to give Djuna Barnes a try for quite some time.  Maybe I'll nudge "Nightwood" closer to the top of the pile, far, your taste hasn't steered me wrong. (loving Mrs Dalloway, btw - who knows if I ever would have tackled it but for reading your review?  It's great on audio book - Phyllida Law is reading it, and while I'm not familiar with her work I love her voice!)

    For what is the crime of robbing a bank, compared to the crime of owning one? BBrecht, Happy End

    by Miss Bianca on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 03:33:19 PM PST

    •  I'm glad you're enjoying my Books Go Boom and some (5+ / 0-)

      of the books that boom here, Miss Bianca. I may well steer you wrong with future titles, though (if I achieve my aim) I will also warn you sufficiently of their flavors that, by the time you finish those reviews, you'll know those titles aren't for you. I mean that, though I aspire to cover mostly good books, I'm also determined to cover books of every single flavor I can find.

      Yes, T. S. Eliot has a priggish side, I think. But in this case, he had sound business reasons - Ulysses was banned for more than a decade, and it had both greater plaudits and less kink to it. And he probably forgave the dirt in Nightwood, for its aestheticism.

      If you want to find the unexpurgated beast, you can. My version is about 200 pages; this one is 319:

      Nightwood: the original version and related drafts (Dalkey Archive Press, 1995)

      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 respects from the book Djuna Barnes actually wrote. Unable to find a publisher for her earlier, more explicit versions, Barnes allowed her friend Emily Coleman and her editor T. S. Eliot to cut much material - ranging from a word to passages 3 pages long - to create a book "suitable" for publication. Barnes scholar Cheryl J. Plumb has studied all surviving versions of the work to re-create the novel Barnes originally intended. The Dalkey Archive edition not only restores to the main text the material Barnes reluctantly allowed to be cut - along with her preferred spelling and punctuation - but also reproduces in facsimile the 70 pages of discarded drafts that survive of earlier versions. The restored text and related drafts are accompanied by an introduction tracing the novel's composition and by a hundred pages of textual apparatus.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 10:07:30 PM PST

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      •  Ha! (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, suka, micsimov, Brecht

        Is that like the annotated Nightwood? (kidding)

        That's a lot of cutting. I'm almost tempted to try again, just to read the naughty bits. :-D

        Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

        by Youffraita on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 10:26:09 PM PST

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      •  I was just going to suggest that edition, (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Brecht, RiveroftheWest, suka, Youffraita

        it's the one I took out from the library, knowing you were doing this diary.  A few years ago I read the first published version, then last year I read 'the original version and related drafts.'  Plumb did a great job in assembling all the emendations, textual notes annotations, the assortment of drafts etc and the introductory essay is very informative, so if you're not sure if you want to read or reread the book the essay is quite good and may lead at least to an appreciation of one of America's great and original (LGBT) 20th century writers.  People like Barnes, Bowles, Miller etc have done so much to break down barriers, equality and free artistic expression as well.

        The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

        by micsimov on Sun Dec 08, 2013 at 07:59:45 AM PST

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        •  Was it way wickeder than the originally published (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, suka, Youffraita

          version? And were there fascinating pieces in the new material, or enough background sketched in that the grand design was made clearer?

          Stylistically, Nightwood reminded me obliquely of The Velvet Underground & Nico. It was famously said of that album, that only a few thousand people bought it - but they all went out and started rock bands. I could see people reading Nightwood, and later stretching their own writing along new branches, which Barnes first pointed them to.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sun Dec 08, 2013 at 10:22:11 AM PST

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          •  I think what stands out (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, suka, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

            in the 1995 Dalkey version is the whole package, the background that Plumb provides, the text is marked throughout so one can check with notes in the back etc; since I read both with years in between I'm not able to at this point intelligently  comment about any significant, if any, variances between the two.  The introductory essay is invaluable in that it highlights the artistic creation process Barnes employed and the collaborative efforts, most famously TS Eliot but also Emily Coleman.  Barnes accepted some advice/suggestions and rejected others; some of the chapters were rearranged in their sequence for example.  Barnes successfully resisted suggestions, however, that she curtail the role of Dr O'Connor and the story of Felix and Robin.

            All in all, the editorial hand was light; certainly because he anticipated potential difficulty with censors, Eliot blurred sexual, particularly homosexual, references and a few points that put religion in an unsavory light.  However, meaning was not changed substantially, though the character of the work was adjusted, the language softened.  Beyond that, there is the standard tightening of a phrase or two, punctuation, and spelling.
            Also of note with respect to Barnes and her less well known working relationship with Emily Coleman ( a writer too):
            With respect to Nightwood, what Barnes and Coleman shared most clearly was a desire to probe human nature beneath the surface, though here too they differed ... Part of the difference between them was that Coleman believed in an afterlife.  For Coleman, afterlife meant Christian resurrection, but for Barnes, her afterlife was life after Thelma, life after that death. ... Nevertheless ... Coleman's intense excitement over the human truths of Nightwood helped keep Barnes focused on the work, willing to rewrite, able to hear Coleman's demand for a clearer structure to carry the reader, and yet able to execute her own version of that structure ... Coleman's role with respect to Nightwood was not limited to seeing the manuscript revised for the third time; she was also instrumental in getting it to Eliot and perhaps indispensable in ensuring his careful reading.

            The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

            by micsimov on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 09:51:50 AM PST

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      •  yeah, kind of forgot... (4+ / 0-)

        ...about the whole obscenity uproar, but you're right - it was a happening thing. Thanks for the info!

        For what is the crime of robbing a bank, compared to the crime of owning one? BBrecht, Happy End

        by Miss Bianca on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 04:23:48 PM PST

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