From the author of Nightwood, Djuna Barnes has written a book that is all that she was, and must still be vulgar, beautiful, defiant, witty, poetic, and a little mad.
Told as through a kaleidoscope, the chronicle of the Ryder family is a bawdy tale of eccentricity and anarchy; through sparkling detours and pastiche, cult author Djuna Barnes spins an audacious, intricate story of sexuality, power, and praxis.
Ryder, like its namesake, Wendell Ryder, is many things–lyric, prose, fable, illustration; protagonist, bastard, bohemian, polygamist. Born in the 1800s to infamous nonconformist Sophia Grieve Ryder, Wendell’s search for identity takes him from Connecticut to England to multifarious digressions on morality, tradition, and gender. Censored upon its first release in 1928, Ryder’s portrayal of sexuality remains revolutionary despite the passing of time and the expurgations in the text, preserved by Barnes in protest of the war “blindly raged against the written word.” The weight of Wendell’s story endures despite this censorship, as his drive to assume the masculine roles of patriarch and protector comes at the sacrifice of the women around him.
A vanguard modernist, Djuna Barnes has been called the patron literary saint of Bohemia, and her second novel, Ryder, evinces her cutting wit and originality. The nonlinear structure and polyphonic narration pull the reader into Barnes’ harlequin world like a riptide, echoing the melodic cascade of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the avant-garde feminism of Dorothy Richardson. The novel is a rhapsodic saga that could have come only from Barnes’ pen–and politics–as impactful today upon at its first pressing, a document of sexual revolution and censorship.