In her novel Nightwood, Djuna Barnes presents the reader with Dr. Matthew O’Connor, a character whose identity is so complex that he arguably has no fixed identity. On the surface, he is a cross-dressing, homosexual gynecologist with no medical license. Neil Miller’s “Pioneers of Sexology,” provides contextualizing information about the prevailing ‘knowledge’ and attitudes regarding non-normative gender identities and sexualities around the time that Nightwood was written. Of particular interest is the notion of sexual inversion, or of the female soul residing in the male body. In her work, Marjorie Garber examines “vestimentary transgressions” and the erotic desire(s) and discomfort which these transgressions cause, suggesting that the transvestite is “a crisis of “category” itself.” Garber’s ideas aid in an analysis of the ways in which Dr. O’Connor defies categorization, as well as the ways in which other characters respond to his various transgressions. Finally, Esther Newton’s explanations of the sartorial and drag systems in “Selection From Mother Camp” provide additional ways for analyzing Dr. O’Connor and his speech, which may qualify him as a figure of Camp. This application of gender and queer theory to Barnes’ novel results in interpretations that are as fascinating as they are seemingly infinite.
"Trans-identity in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood,"
Proceedings of GREAT Day: Vol. 2011, Article 10.
Available at: https://knightscholar.geneseo.edu/proceedings-of-great-day/vol2011/iss1/10