Nightwood: Thoughts before Annotating

Although unpublished until 1936, Barnes began drafting Nightwood much earlier. Cheryl Plumb, drawing on Barnes’s correspondence, estimates the starting date as between 1927 and 1931 (ix).

Barnes initially gave her novel the title Bow Down, and, later, Anatomy of the Night. In 1935, she introduced Nightwood as a potential title (ix). After some debate over which name to use, it fell to T. S. Eliot to decide. Philip Herring comments that Eliot “rejected the alternative title ‘Anatomy of Night,’ [sic] preferring Nightwood because he ‘wanted “something brief and mysterious giving no clue whatever to the contents’” (223). “Bow Down” became the title of the book’s opening chapter.

The would-be title, The Anatomy of the Night, mirrors the title of one of Nightwood(new)_134_201_c1_smart_scaleBarnes’s favorite works, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Moreover, the novel evokes Robert Burton’s discursive, tangent-filled, discussion of melancholy, a disease common to all as it “is the character of Mortality” (125). While common to all, melancholy poses a threat when it becomes a habit and, therefore, “a serious ailment, a chronick or continuate disease. . .it will hardly be removed” (127).

And so the project of annotating Nightwood begins.

If you’re seeking a copy of the novel, here you go:
Faber & Faber (introduction by T. S. Eliot)

New Directions (introduction by T. S. Eliot, preface by Jeanette Winterson)
Dalkey Archives: Nightwood: The Original Version and Related Drafts (ed. Charyl J. Plumb)

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