Robin Vote, who is twenty-nine years of age when the novel begins, an expatriate American attempting to find fulfillment in Europe during the heady age of the 1920’s. She marries Felix Volkbein, who claims aristocratic heritage, and gives birth to their son, Guido. She is nature’s child and prepares for her pregnancy with a stubborn, cataleptic calm. The author’s symbolic character of American innocence abroad, Robin maintains an animal naturalness as she moves among society in European salons. She moves easily from her marriage with Felix to liaisons with others, in particular, two women, Nora and Jenny, both of whom she also leaves in accordance with her natural instincts. Her departures are quick, uncomplicated, clean, and unquestioning. Corrupted only in her contacts with civilization, she is described by Matthew O’Connor as “a wild thing caught in a woman’s skin.” Neither Felix nor Nora nor Jenny can understand her rootlessness, but the doctor can. In the end, her natural state triumphs in her return to rural New York, as she runs on all fours in the direction of Nora’s home, with Nora’s barking dog as her running companion. She escapes from Nightwood, her mythical embodiment of Dante’s Inferno.
Matthew O’Connor, an unlicensed physician who has never married. He is an expatriate from the Barbary Coast, San Francisco, and, in fact, an expatriate from life. He is the detached observer of the characters and events in the novel, sometimes functioning as a mover of events and at other times holding court when sought for advice. He meets Felix at a Berlin soiree and sometime later introduces Felix to Robin. At still another point, he serves as confidant to Nora, who comes to him for advice. He is a mythical character, a Tiresias figure (he enjoys dressing in...
(The entire section is 759 words.)