New York: The New Classics/New Directions, 1945. 1st Edition. 12mo, publisher's light blue cloth, spine stamped in black, original illustrated dust jacket.
“We are but skin about a wind, with muscles clenched against mortality. We sleep in a long reproachful dust against ourselves. We are full to the gorge with our own names for misery. Life, the pastures in which the night feeds and prunes the cud that nourishes us to despair. Life, the permission to know death.” Midcentury printing of Djuna Barnes's roman à clef and lesbian fiction cult-classic. Originally published in 1936, the novel was widely praised but also highly controversial due to its explicit engagement with lesbianism, and to this day stands as one of the most influential works of lesbian literature. Set between the two World Wars among gritty alcoves of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, the novel is replete with a cast of unconventional characters, but is predominantly centered around a "love quadrangle" of four women. Many of Barnes's characters are thinly veiled depictions of people she had intimate ties with, and it's widely accepted that the protagonist, Nora Flood, is an auto-fictionalization, while one of Flood's lovers, Robin Vote, is a rendition of Thelma Wood, an artist with whom Barnes had an eight-year relationship. Barnes notoriously refused to identity as a lesbian, despite having numerous affairs with women throughout her life. (When asked about her sexual orientation, she claimed, "I'm not a lesbian, I just loved Thelma.") Dust jacket designed by Alvin Lustig, who took a revolutionary approach to book cover design in the 1940s. Rather than attempting to illustrate the book in one image, Lustig tried to gain a sense of the author’s "creative drive," and interpret it in his own style. He designed more than 70 dust jackets for the New Directions' "New Classics" series from 1945 until his death in 1955. Introduction by T.S. Eliot, who praises Barnes's ability to retain a prose style while writing in an avant-garde fashion, remarking that Nightwood is "so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it." This edition, the first in the Lustig dust jacket, dates to 1945, as indicated by the publication date of the latest New Classics title listed opposite the title-page (Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts). Some pencil underlining to introduction. Light sunning to top edges of cloth; price-clipped dust jacket with some chipping to spine-ends and light rubbing to edges. Quite good. Item #1978