Djuna Barnes Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Djuna Barnes was born into an eccentric, bohemian family at Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, on June 12, 1892. Her mother, an amateur violinist who wrote poetry throughout her life, was perhaps the most conventional figure in the Barnes family. Barnes’s father, Wald Barnes, rarely held any substantial employment, and he was a notorious philanderer. He adopted his mother’s surname as a reaction against his own father, and his first name was merely one of many he employed throughout his early life. Wald’s mother, Zadel, also lived with the family, and supported her son’s interests in spiritualism. During her late childhood, Barnes moved with her family to a farm on Long Island, but her parents soon separated, the eccentric and self-indulgent Wald having exceeded even his wife’s amazing tolerance of his selfish behavior.

Partly as a consequence of her family’s eccentric opinions, Barnes never attended public school, but she did move to Manhattan to attend art school. Her first book, a collection of poems and drawings titled The Book of Repulsive Women, was published in 1915, and Barnes for a time considered the careers of artist and writer to be equally open to her. During much of World War I, Barnes lived in Greenwich Village and earned a living as a freelance journalist for various small New York and Brooklyn newspapers.

With her expatriation to Europe in 1919, Barnes’s life began a new chapter; no longer simply a member of an artistic community in the United States, she became a celebrated figure of international, although predominantly American, bohemian culture. It was in Europe that Barnes...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barnes is perhaps the most important woman writer to emerge from the American expatriation in Paris in the 1920’s. Her rhetorical mastery of a variety of prose forms and her concern with the unconscious enabled her to execute novels that are held together by their metaphoric associations rather than by the demands of plot or chronology. In this respect, her work is an important example of the modernist development of the novel form. In addition, her exploration of the roles of women, both through lesbian love and through the oppressive nature of patriarchal culture, make Barnes’s work an important anticipation of the issues to emerge from later feminist writing.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

As a child, Djuna Chappell Barnes received no formal education, but she was educated at home in Cornwall-on-Hudson. She was one of five children in a difficult and polygamist family structure. She left for New York City after a brief and inappropriate marriage and then studied art at the Pratt Institute (1912-1913) and the Art Students League (1915-1916). While living in Greenwich Village, she became a reporter and covered political issues such as women’s suffrage (her grandmother had been a suffragist), and wrote popular feature stories and conducted interviews.

Barnes moved to Paris and by the early 1920’s was well established in expatriate circles on the Left Bank. She came to know James Joyce, Stein, Eliot, and...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Djuna Chappell Barnes has been a writer more often praised than read, and more praised than understood. She was, by some accounts, the most important woman writer in the expatriate Paris of the 1920’s, and her brilliant novel Nightwood influenced many subsequent writers—William Faulkner and John Hawkes, to name two examples. In her own words, she became “the most famous unknown writer” of her time. Nightwood has been in print for decades; however, it sells only a few thousand copies every year. Barnes is one of the most important American modernist figures. Her readership is small, but it has always been composed of people important to literature.{$S[A]Steptoe, Lydia;Barnes, Djuna}


(The entire section is 1228 words.)