Our first seminar of the new academic session will be focusing on the early poetry and drama of Djuna Barnes.
Sarah Parker (University of Birmingham):
"Seen From the 'L'': The Book of Repulsive Women, Decadence and Lesbian Literary History
This paper will look at Barnes’ early poetry The Book of Repulsive Women (1915) and ‘Six Songs of Khaldine’ (in A Book, 1923), focussing on these texts’ contentious relationship to twentieth century lesbian feminism. Paying particular attention to Lillian Faderman’s negative reading of Barnes’ poetry — which she interpreted as displaying an internalised male decadence, constructing lesbianism in terms of self-destruction and perversion — I will ask whether more recent reassements of the fin de siècle in terms of sexual dissidence, and of male writers such as Swinburne as enabling ‘feminine’ precusors for women modernists, allow us to ‘redeem’ Barnes’ work, or whether such 'redemption' is now an outdated, irrelevant concept.
Katie Lowe (University of Birmingham):
She Tells Her Daughter: The Genealogy of Womanhood in Djuna Barnes’s Early Plays
This paper will explore Barnes’s representations of womanhood in her early plays, collected in the 1995 publication, At The Roots of The Stars: The Short Plays, focusing on the four dialogues of ‘She Tells Her Daughter,’ ‘Two Ladies Take Tea,’ ‘Little Drops of Rain,’ and ‘Maggie Of The Saints.’ Not only do these plays refer to images of woman throughout literary history, but they also precede Barnes’s later female figures in Ryder, Nightwood, and The Antiphon. They are ‘familiar in their estrangement,’ like Barnes’s Miranda and Augusta in her final play, and their obsession with the intergenerational chasm that divides them contrasts with their preoccupation with ‘types.’ Representing simultaneously the individual and ‘womankind,’ Barnes’s early women are by turns repulsive and divine, and these plays reflect the early twentieth century formal experimentalism which itself mirrors the contemporary fluidity of womanhood.
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