Nightwood Love and Youth

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is a contemplative piece that transports the readers into their own world, where vices roam and debauchery is welcomed. From the struggles of maintaining a strong family tree to the rejected transformation process for members of the LGBTQ+ community, Paris in the 1920’s is shown through the vantage point of multiple characters. The chapters change as the story is flipped on its own end through the alteration in viewpoint, making the entire novel feel as confusing as the characters themselves.

When approaching this story for the purpose of this assignment, it became apparent of the many angles that could be taken. The most striking of plot values, that continued to show itself in deeper analysis, was quite obviously the love triangle between three characters: Robin, Nora, and Jenny. The vagabond nature of Robin throughout the story perpetuates a simultaneous juxtaposition and co-mingling of love and hate. After it has become apparent that Robin has fallen in love with, and left with Jenny, the reader is welcomed into a conversation between Dr. Matthew and a heartbroken Nora.

The long monologues by Matthew to Nora are only interrupted when Nora’s arguably whiney voice describes her emotions about the situation. During one part of the interaction, Nora and Matthew say:


“Matthew,’ she said, ‘have you ever loved someone and it became yourself?’

For a moment he did not answer. Taking up the decanter he held it to the light.

‘Robin can go anywhere, do anything,’ Nora continued, ‘because she forgets, and I nowhere because I remember.’  She came toward him.  ‘Matthew,’ she said, ‘you think I have always been like this.  Once I was remorseless, but this is another love — it goes everywhere; there is no place for it to stop — it rots me away.”


Upon reading this, I was immediately reminded of a song that I had listened to far too frequently:


“And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one

‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone

Setting fire to our insides for fun

To distract our hearts from ever missing them

But I’m forever missing him”


Youth by Daughter is a slow and emotional indie song about heartbreak, and the direct result it can feel like it is having on one’s body. The metaphorical lines in the song tell the story of a woman, post-breakup, who is unable to find a hope for the future. Life had suddenly become only but a beginning and an end, and everything in between had lost meaning without that person. Losing them was losing everything, and every breath and thought without them has become destructive.

Nora’s “rotting” description to Matthew is just that: destructive. Under the absence of Robin, and subsequently their love, Nora has lost meaning for everything including her life. The loss is so heavy that she feels as if her life is falling apart – literally, as she “rots” from the inside out.

Djuna depicts a type of a love that falls apart, where only one side of the couple is deeply affected. This component supports the notion that this novel is compiled of a sort of non-story, in the sense that it lacks a normal pattern. Nora is left heartbroken and helpless, while Robin appears to be happy with Jenny. It becomes obvious, however, that Robin is truly never happy and Jenny is wholly aware of this, leaving this love triangle lacking any deep connection.

This non-story novel is an unconventional tale about unconventional love, that leaves every reader with a different perspective, mimicked by the different character vantage points throughout. The story does not entirely make sense, but at the same time, makes so much sense to very different people. In the same, the song connects to people through various heartbreaks, while also pulling in questions of youth and adolescence, and the impact of society. They both struggle with finding a strong meaning but somehow achieve it at the same time.