'Elementary, my dear Djuna'

Unreadable Simplicity in Barnes's Creatures in an Alphabet

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Manchester Metropolitan University Daniela.Caselli@manchester.ac.uk
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‘From the rue St. Romaine to Patchin Place, the caped and cloched Djuna Barnes cut a striking figure in Paris and Greenwich Village of the 1920s and 1930s. Contemporary writers and artists praised her style, feared her tongue; she was a beauty, but a talented, acerbic and powerfully intelligent one.’ Djuna Barnes is the attractive, mysterious, sexually daring American expatriate who led the glamorously bohemian life of Parisian cafes in the thirties; her figure, impressively clad in a black cape, keeps gliding down Parisian rues and New York alleys alike. An eccentric character, who produced a sui generis and almost forgotten masterpiece – Nightwood – and survived her previous mythical self as a hermit in a studio flat in Greenwich Village until the early eighties. At the end of her life she wrote a ‘slight’ work, a ‘bestiary’ called Creatures in an Alphabet, a sad ending of a great, if unorthodox, literary career.

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