Barnes, Djuna

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Jul-07-2004
  • Last revised: Sep-01-2006


This strange little tale, set in western Europe, revolves around the shifting relationships among an Irish doctor, a would-be Austrian baron, a circus performer, and the American woman, Robin, who is to become the nemesis of them all. The plot is unfolded in a long series of conversations, many convoluted by their stream-of-consciousness style, rather than in observed action.

The physician (it is never clearly stated that he is a fully trained physician but the point is probably moot, since he assumes the role), the most consistently present and verbal character, is a study in contradictions. He is essentially never portrayed in a classic physician role, but much is made of his profession. This may be explained by the fact that it is his profession that justifies his central position--he knows and is in the confidence of all other characters. The reader follows, by means of the long and complex dialogues, Robin’s systematic destruction of a chain of male and female lovers in what appears to be an obsessive desire for self-destruction.


This work is of interest for a variety of reasons. It is constructed using the reader-challenging language styles of Proust, Woolf, Eliot. The characters are studies in outrageous behavior growing from complex psychological and cultural needs. Dr. O’Connor, for all his bizarre ideology and elongated, obtuse digressions, is fascinating to watch. The psychopathology of obsessive love is displayed for all to see. This is not an "easy read" and can be discouragingly difficult, but persistence, and a re-read, pay off in artistic benefits.


First published: 1937


New Directions

Place Published

New York



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