Those looking for geographic synchronicities will take not of the fact that during a seminal period in the life of Djuna Barnes, a central figure in the expatriate writing communities of Paris and Berlin in the 20s and 30s, and later a reclusive and legendary denizen of Greenwich Village, was spent on a family farm in Huntington - only a few miles from the birthplace of Walt Whitman.

A biography by Phillip Herring, entitled "Djuna: The Life and work of Djuna Barnes (Viking, 1995), corroborated by checking the 1909 Belcher Hyde maps of the Huntington area, reveals that the family of Djuna Barnes, whose family name at the time was Gusafson, resided in what was then known as "Upper Half Hollow Road," today's Half Hollow Road just west of Deer Park Road in the southern portion of the town. Zadel bought two parcels of property on July 1, 1902, near what was then known as "Heck's Drug Store" a few hundred yards west of Deer Park Road; it was not til the age of twenty that she moved from the family farm into New York City; and while Djuna moved to Greenwich Village and began associating with artists and writers there as early as 1915, Zadel continued to live on the farm til her dying day in 1917.

The association with Huntington is not just a passing one, it seems, though the impact on Barnes can scarcely be thought of as being of the kind recollected by America's "Good Gray Poet." As told by biographers, the complex character of Barnes' persona, the conflicts she exhibited regarding sexuality and interpersonal relationships, was in no small measure formed during her childhood experiences at the farm.

Primarily known in American literary circles today for The Book Of Repulsive Women, a collection viewed widely as overtly lesbian poems, Barnes' literary output was once lionized by the likes of TS Eliot and Peggy Guggenheim, and two of her novels - Ryder and Nightwood - were considered vital reading in the modernist canon. A sought after columnist and essayist on the New York journalistic scene, like her grandmother Zadel before her, Barnes' colorful lifestyle in the inner circle of the American avante garde and later expatriate community both revealed her socially radical leanings and obscured the forthright and daring in her literary work.

Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) has long been seen as a near legendary figure by her admirers, and in recent decades has taken a place among the ranks of the major American authors of her era.

Her circle included many legendary figures - in her early years with figures like Edna St Vincent Millay and Eugene O'Neill; later, to modernists and surrealists that included Gertrude Stein and Charles Henri Ford, Ernest Hemingway and Mina Loy, Berenice Abbott and William Carlos Williams, James Joyce and Kay Boyle. And over the course of her flamboyant early years the combination of overt challenging of social conventions with a deeper need for privacy caused her work and her personality to be confused and misunderstood by many. These days she is held up by gay and lesbian writers as an important early example of forthrightness and courage in addressing these themes; however, as in other matters, Barnes' sexual orientation was far more complex than that - and in fact, was deeply influenced by the singular household life she experienced on the farm in Half Hollow Hills.

It seems that Zadel, her grandmother, was a product of the Free Love movement of the late 19th century and according to Herring, the farm on Upper Half Hollow Hills road - which she owned, and which Djuna's father Wald was primary figure in after Zadel - was home to a lifestyle that included multiple marriages, wideranging liaisons and the distinct suggestion of incest. Through the rest of her life, biographers suggest, the boundaries of Barnes' romantic and emotional relationships were profoundly shaped by this period of her pre-teen and teenaged years, providing her with both a broader range of acceptable behavior than many other people, and at the same time a negativity and pessimism perhaps brought on by the traumatic experiences of that time.

In books like Nightwood, she examines with barely concealed venom and vindictiveness events in her relationship with Thelma Wood, her lover for many years in Paris, a process that not only provided searing drama and explosive writing to readers, but after its publication violent reactions in some of the individuals she fictionalized.

In poems from "The Book of Repulsive Women," her ambiguity about the scope and nature of the intimacies in her life are made manifest. Originally published in the landmark chapbook series by Bruno of Greenwich Villlage in 1915, the volume of poetry presents portraits of women of the period - a mother, a prostitute, cabaret dancer and others - which critic Douglas Messerli explains were wildly radical in their day, 'dominated as it was by Victorian mores. There is still "in these rhythms," he notes, "a seething beat of sexuality and vice, whipped up into a delicious sense of perversity by Barnes' art."

What Messerli does not mention is a palpable sense of disallusionment, ennui and even contempt - beyond what is found in other modernist writing of the era, as in this passage from Seen From The El: "So she stands - nude - stretching dully/Two amber combs loll through her hair/A vague molested carpet pitches/Down the dusty length of stair/She does not see she does not care/It's always there." Or here, from the poem From Fifth Avenue Up: "Someday beneath some hard/Capricious star..We'll know you for the woman you are...With your legs half strangled/In your lace/You'd lip the world to madness/On your face."

Through the texts of her life and her writing, Djuna Barnes tantalizingly reveals and hides the woman she was - and how her years living in Half Hollow Hills so indelibly shaped her character and disposition.




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