What follows involves, mostly, some playing with the Oxford English Dictionary. The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary. I also reference page numbers here that belong to the New Directions edition of Nightwood (preface by Jeanette Winterson).
Genuflexion a. The action of kneeling or bending the knee, esp. in worship. b. Surg. A forcible bending of the knee as a curative measure in popliteal aneurysm (OED)
“Guido had lived as all Jews do” A reference to the historical treatment of the Jewish people who, often exiled, ghettoized, and victimized, were branded as “Other” See A History of the Jews, by Abram Leon Sachar (a copy of which belonged to Barnes) for detailed accounts.
Barony 1. The domain of a baron 3. The rank or dignity of baron; the office of Baron of the Exchequer; baronship. 4. The tenure by which a baron held of his superior; military or other ‘honourable’ tenure (OED).
Baron 1. Hist. Originally, one who held, by military or other honourable service, from the king or other superior; afterwards restricted to the former or king’s barons, and at length mostly applied to the greater of these (the Great Barons) who personally attended the Great Council, or, from the time of Henry III, were summoned by writ to Parliament; hence, a lord of Parliament, a noble, a peer. 2 a. A specific order or rank, being the lowest grade of nobility.From the earliest period we find baron distinguished from earl, as the designation of an untitled military tenant; the name may be considered to have itself become a title, as distinct from a description of feudal relationship or of parliamentary privilege, with the creation of barons by patent, which began in the reign of Richard II. 2 b. A magnate in commerce, finance, or the like; a great merchant in a certain commodity, usu. defined by a qualifying word, as beef baron, coal baron. (Cf. king n. 6a) orig. U.S. (OED).
“He adopted the sign of the cross” At the time of the novel’s opening, Viennese law forbade marriages between Jews and Christians: “for a mixed couple to marry, one of the partners had to convert either to the religion of the other or to the neutral category, Konfessionslos, ‘without religious affiliation’” (Rozenblit 128). The law also points toward the trend for assimilation amongst Jewish Austrians.
Coat of Arms The coat of arms is described a few pages later, “[i]nto the middle of each desk silver-headed brads had been hammered to form a lion, a bear, a ram, a dove, and in their midst a flaming torch. The design was executed under the supervision of Guido who, thinking on the instant, claimed it as the Volkbein field, though it turned out to be a bit of heraldry long since in decline beneath the papal frown” (Barnes 8).
“One branch of his family had bloomed in Rome” See Nightwood’s earlier reference to the Roman races. See also the comparison of Guido to “certain flowers”
“Her goose-step of a stride” Goose-step: Mil. a. An elementary drill in which the recruit is taught to balance his body on either leg alternately, and swing the other backwards and forwards. b. A balance step, practised esp. by various armies in marching on ceremonial parades, in which the legs are alternately advanced without bending the knees (OED).
- Although armies throughout Europe and the East used the Goose-step to varying degrees, the march is most keenly identified with the Prussian military (Davies).
“A house in the Inner City” The Inner City (Innere Stadt) was a privileged area of Vienna that “housed many aristocrats, and [which] became the home of the richest Viennese” (Rozenblit 73).
The Volkbein home “overlook[s] the Prater, and, essentially, the site of the Viennese ghetto. Vienna’s grand park, the Prater, is located in the zone known as Leopoldstadt, which made up a large part of the ghetto in the seventeenth century. In the 1920s, Jewish writer Joseph Roth wrote that the Leopoldstadt, the home of “immigrant Jewry,” acted as “a sort of voluntary ghetto” (Roth 55).