Barnes’s first novel, Ryder, is most significant for its display of technical virtuosity; it contains Elizabethan lyrics, audacious drawings, and enough ribald prose passages to have made it a minor scandal when it was first published. The plot describes the efforts of Wendell Ryder to found his own dynasty, but Wendell’s successes are achieved largely at the expense of the women in the text; his wife, Amelia, and his mistress, Kate Careless, are ruthlessly exploited to fulfill Wendell’s selfish ends. What impresses one most about Barnes’s first popular success, however, is her early feminism and her ability to manipulate the novel form.
While many of her compatriots were celebrating the triumph of male sexuality, Barnes was concerned with exploring the ways in which women were exploited by men. Chapter 5 in this novel, “Rape and Repining,” demonstrates her interest in early feminism in its mocking attack on women for their own misfortune. In addition, Barnes’s novel reflects the influence of Joyce in its use of a narrative that abandons strict chronology in favor of digressive commentaries upon the various women and their roles in the novel. For example, Barnes devotes a considerable amount of space to Kate Careless, one of Wendell’s mistresses and one of the most important figures in the text. At the same time, she recounts at great length the checkered career of Wendell Ryder, who is extravagantly indulged by his mother,...
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