A love that has nothing to do with Human Rights: they reissue “The Forest of the Night”, a 1936 lesbian novel that now finds its moment

Djuna Barnes and “The Forest of Night”, 1936.

The latest reissue of the night forestof Djuna Barnes (1892-1982), includes the preliminary words of another North American, Siri Hustvedt, who, adopting a gender perspective, points out TS Elliot’s fatal omission from the original prologue.

This Nobel laureate, author of the wasteland, avoided the issue of the sexuality of Robin, Nora and Jenny, the lesbian triangle that gives life to this novel published in 1936, and preferred to keep an eye, among other points, on the altruism of the verbose Doctor O’Connor (a character who links the rest with his prolific speech often ignored) and on the style of Barnes , which does not leave this great text out of the fictional genre for him because it is poetic. Having received praise from his foreword did not, however, Djuna stop reacting to the omission: “is not hitting the target”said about Elliot.

It is that ignoring the subject of love between women in this book is, from a modern perspective, an impossible claim, especially when there are entire paragraphs dedicated to exploring the nature of that attraction as perhaps it has never been done since: “A man is another person, a woman is always yourself, surprised the moment you turn your face away in panic; in her mouth you kiss your own mouth. If they take it away from you, you scream as if you were robbed of yourself. God laughs at me, but his laughter is my love.”Nora says in one of her conversations with Dr. O’Connor. Perhaps the excessive centrality of this character (who admits to being asexual towards the end) was the resource she found Djuna Barnes so that a lesbian story could be told within a literary environment almost totally subjected to the Adam’s apple.

The forest, contrary to the deconstruction of linking sex-affective that current feminism proposes, loses the reins of desire by conceiving it unstoppable and offers a sample of inaccuracies

While the beans of silence and dissimulation were being sewn, which were essential to make the first publication possible, the publishing house Faber & Faber, accused of obscenity, managed to defend itself against the threat of a trial that was ultimately not carried forward.

In any case, the patriarchal rod judged Barnes putting his work on the side of the stylistic strangenessunlike what he did, for example, with the lofty pen of James Joyce. He says Siri Hustvedt: “The language of the night forest It’s hard, but no more than the Ulises of Joyce, who was a true brick in the construction of the literary pantheon. Djuna Barnes however, he did not hang his story on a Homeric skeleton. Yes Ulises generated a series of concordances, keys and authorized reading guides, the night forest caused confusion.”

From the point of view of a visibility that puts sexual topics on the same train of legitimacy as all the others and given the obvious fact that a shine like that of the night forest can never be obscured in the shadow of any taboo, it could be said that it is a text that finds its place in time at this time.

"the night forest". The 2022 version of a 1936 book.
“The forest of the night”. The 2022 version of a 1936 book.

Although more relevant now than at the time of its conception, the plot of this story is nonetheless trapped in a deep writingindefinable, complex, which departs from certain current narrative trends.

The way that the night becomes the weather itself that dominates the text, in the sense of a poetic intuition that guides the reader more in the dark than in transparency, is an invitation from the author to lose ourselves in its almost two hundred pages and abandon all illusion of control over language, and over the unpredictable course of the heart and spirit.

It is this same getting lost that leads the possessed woman in this story, Robin Vote, by the nose, and also Nora, taken by the love she professes for her, and that without being named as love, elliot called obsession. “That’s why I say, what about the night, the terrible night? The night is the cupboard in which your lover keeps her heart, she is the nocturnal bird that pecks at her spirit and yours at her, letting fall between her and you the horrible alienation of her entrails. The dripping of your tears is the relentless pulse of her”says Mathew O’Connor a few pages after Nora made the request, the fundamental question of the book: “Doctor, I have come to talk to you about the night”.

The forestcontrary to the deconstruction of linking sex-affective that current feminism proposes, loses the reins of desire by conceiving it unstoppable and offers a sample of inaccuracies that could never be part of any publishable novel these days but it is to point out the typology of an alpha male. However, it also proposes new readings of the most stigmatized points of the passionate irrationality because with poetry everything is conquered: “The heart of the jealous knows the best and most pleasant love, that of the other’s bed, where the rival perfects the imperfections of the lover”Barnes says.

This novel situated at the beginning in the Paris of the 1920sdelves, in large part, into the drama of the romantic psyche, by which that “you and me” that should sweeten the heart of the lover loses out against the ghost of survival threatened by the devastating feeling.

Instead, it is the “you or me” of animality and territoriality that Djuna Barnes put in the mouth of Nora, the slave of love: “Die now, and you will have peace, and they will not touch you again with dirty hands, and you will take my heart and my body, and you will give it to the dogs to smell. Die now and you’ll be mine forever.”.

It will be because of that type of contemptuous enunciation that in one of the essays of The end of sex and other liesthe journalist María Moreno immortalized that categorical statement about what, according to her, the night forest comes to say about love: nothing has anything to do with Human Rights.

♦ Born in New York State in 1892.

♦ Studied Art and Literature for a short time. To support his family, he worked as a journalist.

♦ To get that job, he claimed: “I know how to write and draw; If you don’t hire me, you’d be idiots.” There she wrote articles such as “What it feels like to be force-fed” and to do them she offered to do the experience herself. With her text appear photographs of herself on a stretcher surrounded by doctors who, while holding her, feed her through tubes.

♦ In 1921 he went to Paris, where he was part of the avant-gardes of the early 20th century. She carried a letter of recommendation from James Joyce, whom she had befriended.

♦ Wrote Ryderan autofiction novel inspired by her family’s history (including the possible rape of her father and an incestuous relationship with her grandmother), and women’s almanacinspired literary salon of Natalie Barney, a “lesbian of letters”.

♦ He returned to New York when World War II broke out, rented an apartment and stayed there for 41 years until his death in 1982.

On the second floor of the hotel (one of those second-class lodgings found in any corner of Parisneither bad nor good, but so typical that they wouldn’t surprise anyone even if they changed places every night) a door opened revealing a red-carpeted floor and, in the background, two windows that overlooked the square. In a bed, surrounded by a tangle of potted plants, exotic palm trees and flowers in vases, among the faint notes emitted by invisible birds that seemed forgotten (as if their owner had not covered them with the usual cover, similar to the cloth of the funerary urns, which good housewives put on their cages to silence them), the girl lay, inert and disheveled, beyond the cushions from which she had turned her head away in an instant of threatened lucidity.


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A love that has nothing to do with Human Rights: they reissue “The Forest of the Night”, a 1936 lesbian novel that now finds its moment