Walking backward

Robert Taubman

  • Selected Works of Djuna Barnes
    Faber, 366 pp, £5.50, July 1980, ISBN 0 571 11579 9
  • Black Venus’s Tale by Angela Carter
    Next Editions/Faber, 35 pp, £1.95, June 1980, ISBN 0 907147 02 X
  • The Last Peacock by Allan Massie
    Bodley Head, 185 pp, £5.95, April 1980, ISBN 0 370 30261 3
  • The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis
    Duckworth, 152 pp, £6.95, July 1980, ISBN 0 7156 1491 6

Not long after Ezra Pound, the precocious Djuna Barnes arrived in Paris already equipped with a style derived from the Jacobean dramatists and French post-symbolist poets, and so with as good a claim as any to be counted among the founders of Modernism. In 1936 T. S. Eliot warmly sponsored Nightwood, and one has heard since that her vision of Hell can be traced as an influence in Nathanael West and Malcolm Lowry, and her sort of Gothic fantasy in John Hawkes. In spite of this, when her books reappear it doesn’t seem to be so much in response to a public demand as because the time has come once again for a reappraisal. Has she a place of her own, in or outside the Modernist movement? I don’t think anyone really knows what to make of Djuna Barnes.

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