Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot and the Gender Dynamics of Modernism: Tracing Nightwood

Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot and the Gender Dynamics of Modernism: Tracing Nightwood

Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot and the Gender Dynamics of Modernism: Tracing Nightwood

Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot and the Gender Dynamics of Modernism: Tracing Nightwood


This study looks at the origins of the modernist movement, linking gender, modernism and the literary, before considering the bearing these discourses had on Djuna Barnes's writing. The main contribution of this innovative and scholarly work is the exploration of the editorial changes that T. S. Eliot made to the manuscript of Nightwood, as well as the revisions of the early drafts initiated by Emily Holmes Coleman. The archival research presented here is a significant advance in the scholarship, making this volume invaluable to both teachers and students of modern literature and Barnesian scholars.


I really write to find out what I know about something and what is to
be known about something.

Rebecca West

The truth is how you say it, and to be ‘one’s self’ is the most shocking
custom of all.

Djuna Barnes

There is a two-thousand-year old philosophical problem, to be found in the Euphythro, where Socrates discusses whether an action becomes right because the gods admire it or if the gods only admire actions that are already right. Exactly the same dilemma affects the formation of high modernism. Its makers, the ‘Men of 1914’ (Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce), created a modernist manifesto set against the Romantic and the feminine tradition of writing. They believed in hard, emotionless and impersonal masculinist literature and devalued writing that indulged in expressions of the unconscious and the subjective experience. Despite the fact that these modernists were often keen to help female writers, such help, as the case of Ezra Pound’s editing of H. D.’s (Hilda Doolitle’s) poetry illustrates, enforced their own principles of writing on a female literary practice. This was frequently achieved at the cost of suppressing what was most distinctive about female writing. Were the ‘Men of 1914’ justified in imposing their masculinist practices of writing, because such practices were superior to the feminine in literature? Or did such practices come to be understood as superior only because their advocates propagated them as the only way to create high art? and was it therefore wrong of the ‘Men of 1914’ to devalue the female literary practice as inferior?

The relevance of modernism for literary studies today lies not only in the fact that it designates a distinct period in literature during the first half of the twentieth century and is equated with stylistic experimentation but also in the way gender is placed at the heart of its making. Whilst the makers of high modernism gendered their literary practice masculine, this gendering was later reinforced in academia by those who defined canonical modernism as the writing of a selective group of white, privileged men. They ignored the fact that much of modernist writing was founded on the . . .

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