American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 1

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

DJUNA BARNES

1892-1982

DJUNA BARNES was born June 12, 1892, in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.She was the second child of an English violinist and aspiring poet, Elizabeth Chappell, and an American father, Wald (Buddington) Barnes, who was variously a musician, painter, and writer. When Djuna was five years old, her father's mistress, Fanny Faulkner, moved into their home, and throughout her childhood, Djuna would spend much time caring for an increasing number of siblings and half-siblings. The family moved many times before settling on a farm in Huntington, Long Island.

The Barnes family led a bohemian life. The children were kept out of the school system in the belief that public education would keep them from greatness. Djuna read novels and immersed herself in poetry and painting; later she attended Pratt Institute and the Art Students League. Her grandmother, Zadel Barnes, who lived with the family and later helped Djuna begin a career as a journalist, was an advocate of free love and a feminist who had been active in the suffrage movement. There is speculation that Djuna had a sexual relationship with her grandmother; Djuna also claims to have been violently raped at age 16. Whatever the truth—and surely some terrible event or events did occur—an intense bitterness toward human experience and toward her family would suffuse all her work.

In 1912, because of the increasing poverty that accompanied the expanding family, Djuna's parents divorced. She moved with her mother and younger brothers to New York City. There she wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle to support her family and, by the 1920s, was a popular contributor to Vanity Fair, The New Republic, and Smart Set. Many of the articles were unsigned, however, and remain uncollected.

In 1915, Djuna left her mother's home to live in Greenwich Village, and she published her first book, The Book of Repulsive Women. She wrote one-act plays, presented by the Provincetown Players. With a sense of sexual freedom since girlhood, Djuna Barnes had lovers of both sexes.

Barnes went to Paris as a magazine correspondent in 1921. Part of the wave of expatriate writers from America, she came to know Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Robert McAlmon, and Ezra Pound. A Book, a collection of poems, stories, and drawings, was published in 1923. She depicted Mina Loy and Natalie Barney in Ladies Almanack ( 1928)

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