Who are the characters of Nightwood?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Djuna Barnes' novel Nightwood, published in 1936, was iconic and groundbreaking for its open portrayal of lesbian relationships, as well as its unusual literary style. Barnes was admired and praised by Anais Nin, another experimental and progressive writer of the period.

Although the novel is narrated by a man, Matthew O'Connor, who poses as a doctor, the main character is a woman and the focus is on her relationships. O'Connor is also a figure who serves to comfort and console the novel's true protagonist.

The main protagonist is Robin Vote, a woman who is conflicted about her own sexual identity. The name "Robin" is somewhat androgynous and also associated with springtime, a time of romantic exploration and new beginnings. She says she seeks "secure torment" which implies she wants a relationship but also craves emotional complexity and difficulty, and perhaps even enjoys emotional suffering. Though she marries someone she thinks is a wealthy and sophisticated man, (Baron Felix Volkbein, introduced to her by the doctor), she is unhappy and decides, after the birth of their son, to leave him.

Robin travels to America and meets a woman named Nora Flood (whose name suggests the emotional excesses that Robin seeks). The two enter into a romantic relationship and eventually move to Paris together. However, Robin still feels unsettled and unhappy and begins to have casual flings with other women. When Nora finds out, she is desperate to win Robin's affection back.

But then Robin meets Jenny Petherbridge, an older woman who has been widowed several times. Jenny decides to steal Robin away from Nora and succeeds, but Robin is no more happy in this new relationship than she had been previously. Robin is portrayed as a woman unable to be content and constantly seeking for something that may not exist. The novel is not necessarily characterizing lesbian romance as being difficult or unsatisfying, but more likely addressing the idea that women who pursued this lifestyle at that time were little understood, and felt forced to pursue relationships that were unorthodox and therefore socially problematic.

mikb456 | Student

The characters of Nightwood are:

Robin Vote- Who is most likely the main character. In fact with she cannot just sit down. Every single movement is a wandering pace for her. She solicits people while she having a secret lover.

Dr. Matthew O' Connor-Narrator of the novel. Who is also a fake doctor who has a secret relationship with Robin.

Nora Flood- A second lover who works at a salon. When she and Robin were together. Where she could not handle Robins wandering tendencies

Jenny Petherbridge- Is a widow that has been divorced four different times. When she had moved to Paris, to where she has lost all interests in doing anything. Nora feels just like Robin who just doesn't want to do anything during the time and place in her life.

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