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Biography of Julie von Bartmann
Series No.: 211
ISBN: 9781557134219, Pages: 96
American Literature, Drama
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Written in France in 1923–24 and never previously published, Djuna Barnes’ play, Biography of Julie von Bartmann, is related to several of her early stories—particularly “A Night Among the Horses”—and to her 1928 fiction Ryder. Like the father, Wendell, of her fiction, the father of this early play, Basil Born, refuses to let his children attend public school, and challenges the school authorities, opposing their teaching methodologies: he wins. And like the early short story, one of Barnes’ best, a strong and sophisticated woman verbally destroys her “bestial” horse groom.
Yet it is hard even to speak of “events” such as these in Barnes’ work. Unlike most US plays, which lay out a “story” through their characters’ lives, Barnes’ highly artificed theater is centered in what one might describe as “revelations,” mostly long statements about oneself and life, alternating with questions or sparring conversations, such as those between the powerful opera singer Julie von Bartmann and the strong-minded “landholder” Born. And even the “revelations” are less revealing of how the characters think than of how they perceive the world morally and philosophically; yet since these statements are presented in a highly literary language, filled with aphorisms, puns, extended metaphors, and dualities, we cannot even be sure whether the character is speaking honestly or attempting to play out a desired notion of themselves.