discussion board





short assignments

Early in 1880, in spite of a well-founded suspicion as to the advisability of perpetuating that race which has the sanction of the Lord and the disapproval of the people, Hedvig Volkbein, a Viennese woman of great strength and military beauty, lying upon a canopied bed, of a rich spectacular crimson, the valance stamped with the bifurcated wings of the House of Hapsburg, the feather coverlet an envelope of satin on which, in massive and tarnished gold threads, stood the Volkbein arms, - gave birth, at the age of forty-five, to an only child, a son, seven days after her physician predicted that she would be taken.

--opening paragraph of Nightwood

Published in 1937, Djuna Barnes's novel Nightwood was immediately recognized as a great work of art, a masterpiece comparable, T.S. Eliot argued in his enthusiastic introduction, to the finest Elizabethan tragedy. In complex, dense, and stunningly beautiful prose, Barnes delineates the lives of her characters: the mysterious expatriate American Robin Vote, her Viennese husband Felix Volkbein, her lover Nora Flood, and their loquacious, outrageous friend Dr. Matthew O'Connor. As a meditation on love, loss, language, and identity, Nightwood invites study from a variety of literary, linguistic, and philosophical perspectives. Moreover, readers interested in history and religious studies will find much to repay their attention. Set mostly in Paris between the world wars, the novel has been seen as both a prescient critique of fascism and a trenchant deconstruction of the illusions of historical progress and historiography. Religious as well as national differences among the characters occupy much of the text's attention: Felix is a self-hating Jew, Nora a puritan Protestant, Matthew an Irish Catholic sinner, and Robin a Catholic convert. In short, Nightwood is an extraordinarily rich text and an ideal candidate for study in a Humanities Senior Seminar.

Humanities Senior Seminar
Spring 2004


by Djuna Barnes

MW 3-4:30

FAW 223

Frann Michel
office hours MWF 10:20-11:20, 1:50-2:50, and by appointment


The purpose of this course is to provide seniors in the humanities with an opportunity to synthesize the liberal arts experience through intensive study of an important text of the modernist era and through the production of a substantial scholarly and analytic essay. Requirements: active participation, brief writing assignments, oral report, one seminar paper of 20-25 pages.

I encourage you to read the novel as soon as possible. During the first half of the semester, we will reread the novel together and will read selected works of criticism. Students will complete short written assignments on these readings: for each chapter of the novel, choose one sentence and write an explication; for each critical essay, locate the thesis and write a discussion question about the essay. My hope is that these brief assignments will not only contribute to our discussions in class but also help students develop individual seminar projects.

On March 15, each student will turn in a proposal (about three pages) for a final seminar paper (about 20-25 pages), and in April will have the opportunity to discuss these proposed projects with visiting scholar Carolyn Allen. Final papers will be workshopped through oral presentations and through peer editing of multiple drafts. Seminar projects may focus on any aspect of Nightwood, and may examine the novel through any relevant theory, context, or intertext.

Please speak with me individually if you have a disability for which I can make accommodation.

See below for more information.




short assignments

discussion board: sign in to our class at blackboard ( to post your explications, discussion questions, and thoughts about Nightwood.

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Required text ordered at WU Bookstore:
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood: The Original Version and Related Drafts. Ed. Cheryl Plumb
Additional required texts will be placed on library reserve or available online

Recommended texts:
Any other edition of Nightwood
MLA Handbook or other style sheet including the most recent MLA guidelines


Barnes texts in Hatfield Library:

Nightwood: the Original Version and Related Drafts
PS 3503.A614 N5 1995

Ryder (novel)

Ladies Almanack….(novel, sort of)
PS3503.A614 L3

Selected Works (includes the play The Antiphon)
PS3503.A614 A6 1962

Collected Stories
PS3503.A614 A6 1996

New York (essays)
PS3503.A614 N4

Biography: Djuna: The Life and Works of Djuna Barnes, by Phillip Herring
PS3503.A614 Z68 1995

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Barnes links:

The Barnes papers at U Maryland

PDF guide to the Barnes papers at U Md

The Book of Repulsive Women (poetry and drawings by Barnes)

A site on Barnes and Modernism

A (partial) bibliography of primary and secondary works

a Barnes page with Eliot's Nightwood introduction & a short biography

South Bank U Lesbian & Gay Staff Association page on Barnes

a review of the collected stories

an appreciation, with links

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Tentative Schedule

M Jan 19 Introductions

W Jan 21 "Bow Down"

M Jan 26 Plumb, Cheryl. Introduction (vii-xxvi ) and Textual Apparatus (143-319, esp. 143-155, 187-190, 211-218) to the Original Version and Related Drafts

Allen, Carolyn. "'Dressing the Unknowable in the Garments of the Known': The Style of Djuna Barnes' Nightwood." Women's Language and Style. Ed. Douglas Butturff and Edmund L. Epstein. Akron: L & S Books, 1978. 106-18. On reserve.

W Jan 28 "La Somnambule"

M Feb 2 Eliot, T.S., Introduction to Nightwood.

(From that page, click on the link at left for Eliot's introduction)

Marcus, Jane. "Mousemeat: Contemporary Reviews of Nightwood." Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes. Ed. Mary Lynn Broe. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991. 195-204. On reserve

W Feb 4 "Night Watch"

M Feb 9 Frank, Joseph. "Spatial Form in Nightwood" (from "Spatial Form in Modern Literature"). The Widening Gyre: Crisis and mastery in Modern Literature. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1963. 25-49. On reserve

Singer, Alan. "The Horse Who Knew Too Much: Metaphor and the Narrative of Discontinuity in Nightwood." Contemporary Literature 25.1 (1984): 66-87. Available through Academic Search Premier; accession number 5034492.

W Feb 11 "'The Squatter'"

M Feb 16 Marcus, Jane. "Laughing at Leviticus: Nightwood as Woman's Circus Epic." Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes. Ed. Mary Lynn Broe. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991. 221-50. On reserve.

Kaivola, Karen. "The 'beast turning human': Constructions of the 'Primitive' in Nightwood." The Review of Contemporary Fiction. 13.3 (1993): 172-185. Available through Academic Search Premier; accession number 9401201021

W Feb 18 "Watchman, What of the Night?"

M Feb 23 Altman, Meryl. "A Book of Repulsive Jews?: Rereading Nightwood." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.3 (1993): 160 71. Available through Academic Search Premier; accession number 9401201020

Veltman, Laura J. "'The Bible Lies the One Way, But the Night Gown the Other': Dr. Matthew O'Connor, Confession, and Gender in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (2003): 204-27. Available through Project Muse

W Feb 25 "Where the Tree Falls"

M Mar 1 Harris, Andrea. "The Third Sex: Figures of Inversion in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." Eroticism and Containment: Notes from the Flood Plain. Ed. Carol Siegel and Ann Kibbey. New York: New York UP, 1994. 233 59

Smith, Victoria L. "A Story beside(s) Itself: The Language of Loss in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. 114.2 (1999): 194 206.

Allen, Carolyn. "The Erotics of Nora's Narrative in Djuna Barnes's Nightwood." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 19.1 (1993): 177 200. Available through Academic Search Premier; accession number 9403082356

W Mar 3 "Go Down, Matthew"

M Mar 8 "The Possessed"

W Mar 10 no class meeting

M Mar 15 -F Mar 19 and M Mar 29-F Apr 2 individual conferences

M Mar 15 Project proposal due; oral presentations

W Mar 17 oral presentations continued

M Mar 22-W Mar 24 spring break: Be working on your drafts

M Mar 29 Draft due (minimum12 pages, maximum 30 pages); peer editing (three copies)

W Mar 31 Peer editing continued

F Apr 2 250-word abstract due by 3pm

M Apr 5 Working bibliography due

Tu Apr 6- Th Apr 8 Carolyn Allen on campus; individual conferences

W Apr 7 Carolyn Allen class visit

Th Apr 8 Carolyn Allen lecture: "Djuna Barnes: Looking Like a (Lesbian) Poet" Hatfield Room, 7pm

M Apr 12 Detailed outline due (one copy)

W Apr 14 SSRD; no class meeting

M Apr 19 Revised draft, complete (20-25pages)

W Apr 21 peer editing

M Apr 26 Complete revised draft due; copy editing

W Apr 28 editing

M May 3 last day; Final essay due


Assignments: Explications, Thesis & Discussion Question, Proposals, Draft, Outline

For W Jan 21 & 28, Feb 4, 11, and 25, and Mar 3 and M Mar 8
About one page (1-2 pages, 250-500 words) typed

Choose one sentence from the chapter of Nightwood assigned for that day. Retype the sentence (both for ready reference, and for the sake of the detailed attention required to copy a text exactly; include page number). Then, as the term "explication" suggests, unfold its meaning, give a detailed explanation of it, develop its implications, analyze it logically. Consider what it says at the most denotative level (often itself a challenge in Nightwood), as well as how it says it and what it suggests. Look closely at the grammar and structure of the sentence, assess its figurative language and connotations (you might want to check the OED, available online through the Hatfield Library webstation), consider its role in the immediate context and in the book as a whole-its implications for character, narrative, or themes.

Thesis & Discussion question
For M Jan 26, Feb 2, 9, 16, 23, and Mar 1
About one page (½- 1 page, 150-250 words) typed

You are responsible for all of the readings assigned for a given day, but you may choose to focus your writing on a single critical reading for the day. Locate the thesis--either rephrase it in a single sentence of your own words, or quote a thesis sentence (give page number). In addition, write a discussion question. This need not focus on the thesis of the article. It may address the internal logic of the critical argument or the essay's application to the novel. A discussion question is one that cannot be answered simply by looking the answer up somewhere, one that does not have an obvious answer, but that must be explored and argued. It is not completely open-ended, but specifically grounded in the text. It arises from careful consideration of the reading assignment: what the text says, and how it says it. In about half a page (150 words), explain what prompted the question, what thinking went into arriving at the question, what possible answers (if any) have been considered, and why those answers are unsatisfactory. You may wish to quote from the text (include page numbers). Try to frame the question itself in one brief interrogative sentence.

Project proposals
Due M Mar 15; oral presentations M Mar 15 and W Mar 17
About three pages (2-3 pages, 500-750 words) typed

What will you be writing your final paper about? The topic is up to you, as long as it's about Nightwood. You might compare the original and published versions, or the related drafts and final text. You might focus on a particular section, chapter, character, motif, or theme. You might examine the novel in relation to another work by Barnes or another literary or artistic work mentioned or alluded to in the text. You might place the novel in the context of a contemporary issue or movement (e.g., modernism, surrealism, eugenics) or approach it through a particular theoretical lens. Describe your thinking about the project so far and your plans for future research and study. Include a working thesis; this will presumably be developed and refined as you continue to think and research and work on the project, but formulate your central idea as fully and precisely as you can at this stage.

First draft - Monday Mar 29
Ideally, this will be close to the final length of 20-25 pages, but it may be longer or shorter depending on your own writing style and revising process. It should contain the complete argument and discussion of the essay as you understand it at this point. If your overly dense drafts tend to get longer as you revise, 12 pages is an acceptable (minimum) length; if your diffuse drafts tend to get shorter as you revise, 30 pages is an acceptable (maximum) length. At this point you should have completed additional research (for example, other critical responses to the novel, and if you're working with another literary text, criticism of that work as well).

Abstract - F Apr 2
This should be a one-page (250-word) version of your paper. See a recent table of contents of PMLA for examples. These will be made available to Carolyn Allen before your individual meetings with her.

Bibliography - M Apr 5
List the sources you are currently using for your paper. Use MLA style.

Detailed Outline
Monday April 12
This should include your revised working thesis, and should provide a brief sketch of the current state of your essay and its structure (that is, please use complete, informative sentences).