Eccentric & Morbid Quotes by Djuna Barnes

Djuna barnes portrait

Djuna Barnes (1892 – 1982) was a singular voice in the literary world, best know for her experimental novel, Nightwood. Often viewed as eccentric and morbid, it’s no wonder that quotes by Djuna Barnes can be described the same way.

Early in her career, Barnes became a freelance journalist and illustrator for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and in just one year she became a renowned feature reporter, interviewer, and illustrator.

She left for Paris in 1920, and continuing her work as a journalist, she interviewed expatriate writers and artists. Continuing to pursue her own writing, she established herself as a literary figure in her own right, producing plays, short stories, and poems. 

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“New York is the meeting place of the peoples, the only city where you can hardly find a typical American.” (“Greenwich Village as It Is” Pearson’s Magazine, 1916)

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“After all, it is not where one washes one’s neck that counts but where one moistens one’s throat.”  (“Greenwich Village as It Is” Pearson’s Magazine, 1916)

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“Suffering for love is how I have learned practically everything I know, love of grandmother up and on.” (from a 1934 letter to a friend)

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“I like my human experience served up with a little silence and restraint. Silence makes experience go further and, when it does die, gives it that dignity common to a thing one had touched and not ravished.”

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Djuna Barnes passport

You might also like: 5 Dark Poems by Djuna Barnes
Learn more about Djuna Barnes

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“The very condition of Woman is so subject to hazard, so complex, and so grievous, that to place her at one moment is but to displace her at the next.”

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“For most people, life is nasty, brutish, and short; for me, it has simply been nasty and brutish.”

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“We are beginning to wonder whether a servant girl hasn’t the best of it after all. She knows how the salad tastes without the dressing, and she knows how life’s lived before it gets to the parlor door.” (“The Home Club: For Servants Only” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1913)

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Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Nightwood is Djuna Barnes’ most enduring work

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“This life I write and draw and portray is life as it is, and therefore you call it morbid. Look at my life. Look at the life around me. Where is this beauty that I am supposed to miss? The nice episodes that others depict? Is not everything morbid?”

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“I am not a critic; to me criticism is so often nothing more than the eye garrulously denouncing the shape of the peephole that gives access to hidden treasure.” (“The Songs of Synge: The Man Who Shaped His Life as He Shaped His Plays” New York Morning Telegraph, 1917)

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“She was nervous about the future; it made her indelicate. She was one of the most unimportantly wicked women of her time –because she could not let her time alone, and yet could never be a part of it. She wanted to be the reason for everything and so was the cause of nothing.” (Nightwood, 1936)

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“The unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy.” (Nightwood, 1936)

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“I was doing well enough until you came along and kicked my stone over, and out I came, all moss and eyes.” (Nightwood, 1936)

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“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.

We were created that the earth might be made sensible of her inhuman taste; and love that the body might be so dear that even the earth should roar with it. Yes, we who are full to the gorge with misery should look well around, doubting everything seen, done, spoken, precisely because we have a word for it, and not its alchemy.” (Nightwood, 1936)

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“We are but skin about a wind, with muscles clenched against mortality.” (Nightwood, 1936)

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“’You know what man really desires?’ inquired the doctor, grinning into the immobile face of the Baron. ‘One of two things: to find someone who is so stupid that he can lie to her, or to love someone so much that she can lie to him.’” 

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Ladies Amanack by Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes’s books and biographies on Amazon

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