Nightwood – Historical Timeline

“Robin was outside the ‘human type’—a wild thing caught in a woman’s skin, monstrously alone, monstrously vain; like the paralyzed man in Coney Island…”

Barnes, Djuna, and T. S. Eliot. Nightwood. New York: New Directions, 1961. Print. 155

Robin is described as perpetually and monstrously alone. In this passage, she is depicted as a self absorbed character incapable of feeling empathy. A common subject illustrated in many of my commonplace passages is the theme of isolation. Similar to my Nightwood commonplace, my commonplace passage choices in The Beast in the Jungle, Cane, and Mrs. Dalloway, all explore the theme of lost identity and seclusion. In The Beast in the Jungle, Marcher feels completely alone once May dies: “She was dying and he would lose her; she was dying and his life would end” (James, 477). Marcher spends the entirety of his life anticipating a life altering event. By doing so, he is unable to truly love and appreciate his life. Once May finally dies, Marcher realizes that he is utterly detached and he feels completely alone in the world. While Marcher is internally alone, Becky in Cane is externally ostracized and isolated: “When the first was born, the white folks said they’d have no more to do with her. And black folks, they too joined hands to cast her out” (Toomer, 8). Because Becky has two black sons, she is secluded from her society. Becky is not accepted by both the black and white community, and as a result, she is completely isolated. In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway also struggles with isolation and self identity: “But often now this body she wore (she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing — nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa anymore; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway” (Woolf, 10). Through her marriage, Clarissa loses her self-identity and feels entirely isolated. She feels insignificant and internally inaccessible. By planning a party, Clarissa is able to distract herself from her true feelings and insecurities. The theme of isolation in literature is significant because it exposes the true nature of each character. The theme of isolation allows the reader to distinguish external perception and internal reality.

Mrs. Dalloway

“But often now this body she wore (she stopped to look at a Dutch picture), this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing — nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.”

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), 10

Clarissa completely loses her identity through marriage. She feels utterly insignificant and  identifies herself solely as Richard’s wife. Clarissa has lost all ambition and sense of self.

Cane “Becky”

“When the first was born, the white folks said they’d have no more to do with her. And black folks, they too joined hands to cast her out.”

Toomer, Jean. “Becky.” Cane. New York: Liveright, 2011. 8. Print.

Becky is ostracized by both black and white members of her community for having two black sons. Becky’s seclusion stems directly from the social limitations in the south in 1923.

The Beast in the Jungle

“She waited once again, always with her cold sweet eyes on him. “It’s never too late.” She had, with her gliding step, diminished the distance between them, and she stood nearer to him, close to him, a minute, as if still charged with the unspoken. Her movement might have been for some finer emphasis of what she was at once hesitating and deciding to say… She only kept him waiting, however; that is he only waited. It had become suddenly, from her movement and attitude, beautiful and vivid to him that she had something more to give o him; her wasted face delicately shone with it – it glittered almost as with the white lustre of silver in her expression. ”

James, Henry. “The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/bettersort00jamegoog. 226

May Bartram is running out of time to get through to Marcher. It seems that she is attempting to bridge the emotional gap between them by lessening the physical one in this scene. The line that stood out to me the most was May saying, “it’s never too late”. Is she be simply answering his question literally, about what is to come in his life? or is she attempting to penetrate his emotions, almost silently begging him to see that it is never too late to see what he has now: her love. Words used to describe her like “glittered”, “white lustre of silver”, her “gliding step”, how her “wasted face delicately shone”, all make her sound like a ghost. Her physical appearance is already seeming to reflect her impending death. Is it too late for Marcher to realize what he has before it’s gone?