Peter Adkins, University of Kent
Elizabeth Pender and Cathryn Setz, eds, Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019)
Shattered Objects is an apt title for this new collection of essays on Djuna Barnes. Taken from a 1935 letter that Barnes wrote to friend and fellow writer Emily Holmes Coleman, in which she asserted that ‘[t]here is always more surface to a shattered object than a whole object’ and that ‘the surfaces of a fragment are less “cheering”’ (p. 1), it offers, as editors Elizabeth Pender and Cathryn Setz point out, a good metaphor for an oeuvre that has often been seen to resist organic unity. Barnes, whose first publication was in 1911 and last in 1982, authored a body of writing that, thanks its sheer breadth, variety, and difficulty, offers an excess of surfaces and fragments. Yet, the image of the shattered object also offers a fitting symbol for Barnes criticism. As Tyrus Miller argues in his contribution to the volume, while Nightwood (1936) has surely ‘crossed the threshold of full canonization in modernist studies’ (p. 162), other works, such as her first novel Ryder (1928), have remained of peripheral interest even to critics working on her. As such, while Nightwood has steadily seen its critical stock rising from the 1980s onwards—both within modernist studies but also, as Julie Taylor shows in her chapter, within a twentieth-century canon of gay, lesbian and queer literature—Barnes’s wider achievements have been only partially and intermittently the subject of attention. Indeed, while a handful of monographs have done much in the last fifteen-years to challenge the perception of Barnes as a one-hit wonder, it is nonetheless the case that criticism on Barnes has generally remained fragmentary and selective, not yet coalescing into a recognisable field that we might safely call ‘Barnes studies’.
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