Nightwood/Historical Timeline

“Its rots her sleep- Jenny is one of those who nip like a bird and void like an ox- the poor and lightly damned! That can be a torture also. None of us suffers as much as we should, or loves as much as we say. Love is the first lie; wisdom the last. Don’t I know that the only way to know evil is through truth?” (147)

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

Looking back, I realized that for the most part, my quotes that I have selected in each novel represent some kind of conflict or decision made by a character. The quotes that contained inner thought or stream of consciousness, correlated with this idea of internal conflict or discovery within the character. All the way back to Heart of Darkness and leading up to Nightwood, the characters are complex and hard to figure out. They struggle with their ability to say what’s on their mind, and come to a decision within the novel’s context. There is always some sort of conflict going on in each of these novels, and the thoughts and multiple emotions that the characters give us only add to the conflict.

One specific connection that I made is with this passage I have selected from Nightwood to parts of As I Lay Dying. During a zombie monologue, Addie Bundren talks about the concept of love, and how its meaning has tricked her. In this passage from Nightwood, something very similar is being said. The idea that “Love is a lie..” is portrayed within both of these novels, by characters who demonstrate a strange way of loving others.


Nightwood/Historical Line

“—so I looked at Jenny’s possessions with scorn in my eye. It may have been all most ‘unusual,’ but who wants a toe-nail that is thicker than common? And that thought came to me out of the contemplation of the mad strip of the inappropriate that runs through creation, like my girl friend who married some sort of Adriatic bird who had such thick ones that he had to trim them with a horse-file—my mind is so rich that it is always wandering!”

Djuna Barnes. Nightwood (New York: New Directions, 2006), 111.

After taking a look at my old commonplaces, I noticed that pretty much all of the books we’ve read so far pay a lot of attention to inner life or thought, usually expressed through FID or stream of consciousness. And I think often, allowing the reader to access a character’s thoughts often allows for sympathy. For example, in Cane’s “Bona and Paul,” Toomer uses FID to mark Paul’s feelings of exclusion; the reader can then access his back and forth inner conflict with himself, even though he remains silent about it. In Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf pushes external events further into the background, and as I had noted in my commonplace, movement in and out of spaces gives way to free-flowing thoughts that negotiate past and present.  Alternating narrators in As I Lay Dying, Faulkner allows individual accounts to reveal information about the characters that do not make their way into speech, creating an even wider range of perspective. For example, the reader sees more clearly how strangely perceptive Darl’s character is through the way his narration seems able to access other character’s thoughts and know all the family’s secrets. While these texts certainly don’t treat inner life the same way, I think it’s notable that these thoughts remain just that, as they’re not placed into dialogue. What Barnes does differently in Nightwood is place the doctor’s line of thought into direct reported speech, even though his dialogue borders on stream of consciousness. Instead of privileging inner life and voice, Barnes makes the doctor’s inner monologue get in the way of his story and also carry on in spite of Nora’s crying. When the doctors unfiltered thoughts turn into speech, his words are silly and unnecessary ramblings.  A “wandering” mind for Barnes then is not “so rich,” and she seems to construct a narrative that is often indifferent to inner life or expression of thought.

As I Lay Dying: Darl

She will go out where Peabody is…If you just knew. I am I and you are you and I know it and you dont know it and you could do so much for me if you just would and if you just would then I could tell you and then nobody would have to know except you and me and Darl.

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (New York: Vintage International, 1985), 51.

In this chapter, Faulker demonstrates more clearly how strangely perceptive Darl is. As narrator, Darl appears to be in multiple places at once. He is somehow back home watching his mother die, going into town with Jewel, and inside Dewey Dell’s consciousness. Here, Darl narrates Dewey Dell’s anguish of wanting to ask Dr. Peabody for an abortion, but lacking the courage to ask him. He begins with “she,” and then his voice seems to become Dewey Dell’s, or at least speak in the same tenor as she does, when he switches to a first-person “I.”

Septimus’s thoughts on tragedy

“It was their idea of tragedy, not his or Rezia’s (for she was with him).” (146).

In this sentence Septimus is about to kill himself by jumping out the window as Dr. Holmes was coming upstairs to see him. This is an interesting part of the book because up until a few pages before his suicide Septimus is portrayed as almost entirely insane. It is while helping design a hat moments before his suicide that he is said to be himself for the first time in a while. In the quote Septimus does not think that his suicide will be beautiful poetic or tragic. He believes that in killing himself he is giving everyone else what they want in the form of a tragic death thus him saying “I’ll give it to you!” (146)., right before jumping. This serves to show how his mind was not working properly as he is out of touch with the other characters believing that his death will serve them in a way that he could not in life.

Mrs. Dalloway

“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.” (Woolf 11)

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Penguin Group, 1992.

This selection is indicative of the feminist undertones to the character of Mrs. Dalloway and helps explain her function in the novel. The sentence also employs Woolf’s technique of run-on sentences, bridged by semicolons, which seems to create a stream of consciousness effect.

Mrs. Dalloway

“…soft with the glow of rose petals for some, she knew, and felt it, as she paused by the open window which let in blinds flapping, dogs barking, let in, she thought, feeling herself suddenly shrivelled, aged, breastless, the grinding, blowing, flowering of the day, out of doors, out of the windows, out of her body and brain which now failed, since Lady Bruton, whose lunch parties were said to be extraordinarily amusing, had not asked her.”

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), 30.

Woolf pushes free-indirect discourse into stream of consciousness. In this passage, like many moments in the text so far, she aligns a character’s train of thought with literal movement. Here, Mrs. Dalloway passes by an open window that seems to bring out her inner thoughts.  The external “blinds flapping, dogs barking” seem to disturb her internally, so that she feels “shrivelled, aged, breastless.” Her thoughts flow out of her “failed” body and brain, and she’s back to thinking about not being invited to lunch.