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This article is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

When the Puppets Come to Town (introduced by Rebecca Loncraine) Djuna Barnes

After Djuna Barnes's death in 1982, publishers began reprinting her work, in an effort to make her writing more widely available. However, an important piece was left out of the 1989 collection, New York . Barnes wrote and illustrated `When the Puppets Come to Town' in 1917, in the early years of her career when she was working as a journalist in New York. This strangely overlooked article, which draws on Heinrich Von Kleist's famous essay, `On the Marionette Theatre', throws light on her poetry and her 1936 novel Nightwood in particular. Some commentators on Barnes's work have been critical of what they see as the absence of psychological interiority in her writing. They regard this as odd in an author writing in a literary age preoccupied with Freud, and, in Woolf's words, a desire to depict `the life of the mind'. In his biography Djuna, for example, Phillip Herring says of her writing that `what is usually missing is psychological depth'. `When the Puppets Come to Town' shows that Barnes was fascinated by marionettes, and their `charming angular fidelity to moments that we should have slurred by our roundness of perception and our more flexible motions'. This helps make sense of the characterisations in her later work, where the emphasis is on language as an external performance and not a sign of psychological interiority. Her work is often more about language than the people who use it. Furthermore, her writing is filled with individuals who are described as ...


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