Date of Graduation

1989

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

Nightwood is a novel of life lived in the interstices of time and space by marginal characters, epitomized by the night people of Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. These epicenters of the cultural revolutions of the early twentieth century drew expatriates from all over the world. This novel captures the essence of marginality in images of the grotesque, the most appropriate symbol of the liminal life and the most useful art form to consider when investigating the complex style of a simple tale. In consequence, I use an interdisciplinary approach, combining art history of the grotesque, analysis of major motif patterns defined by the grotesque, depth psychology, and mythology as keys to Barnes' prose labyrinth. Her grotesque imagery opens and closes the text, drawing the "initiate," while repelling the uninformed or insensitive, to the carefully guarded center that reveals a numinous event of mythological, psychological, and spiritual significance. This study relies for the most part on the three major approaches to the grotesque in the twentieth century: Wolfgang Kayser's study of the estranging terrors of the night, Mikhail Bakhtin's focus on the liberating strengths of grotesque bodily humor, and Geoffrey Harpham's exploration of grotesque border states. His research forms a significant conjunction with Victor W. Turner's studies of liminality, a state characterized as neither this nor that, the exact condition of Barnes' major and minor characters, expecially Robin Vote, the chief enigma, a creature driven to return to her own time and space. Part One gives the history of the grotesque, including the connection between the grotesque and liminality. Part Two discusses the text as a labyrinth of the grotesque that captivates and instructs the inner eye. Here I trace the major categories of the grotesque patterns: the grotesque milieu as domestic space, the grotesque body as dissociated, and the grotesque body as confused sexuality and specie. Part Three follows Robin's insatiable quest to return home, as envisioned in a series of dynamic approach/avoidance conjunctions that intensify until the pentultimate moment in "The Possessed.".

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