Collected Storiesby Djuna Barnes, Phillip Herring (Editor), Phillip Herring (Editor), Phillip F. Herring
In this carefully edited collection, which contains several unpublished works, all of Barnes's stories are brought together for the first time. These stories, along with earlier ones, reveal the breadth and consistency of Barnes's story writing and should establish her as one of the most interesting and vital storytellers of American literature after World War I.
Others, however, might be confused by the inadequately annotated gathering, since the 41 stories are not dated, nor are the original places of publication noted. Most of the early fiction (written for weekly magazines) is identifiable by its melodramatic naturalism: slangy stories of urban romance that emphasize class distinctions and the harsher realities of city life, featuring bohemians in Greenwich Village, dance-hall girls, and immigrant workers. Then, after roughly a hundred pages, the high priestess of modernism emerges in dark lyrical tales of disaffection and alienation. With their cosmopolitan settings and points of view, Barnes's mature work displays all the ambiguity, world weariness, and cynicism that distinguish Nightwood (1936), her dense, elusive modern masterpiece. There are several stories about dying aristocrats, beset by age, indifferent to their past. "The Terrorists" is a scathing view of la vie bohémienne (cafe revolutionaries preach destruction while indulging their appetite for the good life), and the particular horrors of modern life are on view in stories like "Oscar," with its intimations of incest, madness, and murder. Mismatched lovers are common in Barnes's work: older women entertain young men in hopes of staving off decay; a mother falls in love with her daughter's suitor; a doctor's wife randomly beds a salesman to debase herself; a wealthy woman wants to marry her footman; and two coquettish sisters tantalize Parisian gentlemen. At the center of many of these mordant tales are relations that lead to spiritual death, if not actual destruction. "Dusie," a portrait of bohemian lesbians in Paris, recalls the pervasive smolder of decay and decadence in Nightwood.
The best were already available in other collections, but it's always worthwhile to see an author complete. Unfortunately, you'll need a bibliography to locate many of these pieces in Barnes's unusual career.
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