Djuna Barnes’s 1937 novel Nightwood has long been a mainstay of GLBTQ, lesbian, and/or queer canons, syllabi, and reading lists. This article argues that canons, syllabi, and reading lists promise readers the experience of “feeling public.” Drawing upon magazine and newspaper reviews, scholarly journal articles, memoirs, and reviews from the literary social networking site Goodreads, this article constructs a reception history of Nightwood that demonstrates that the book has been incorporated by modernist literary publics and lesbian publics into those publics’ own histories and into their members’ everyday worldmaking practices. This article compares historical and contemporary reading practices to argue that queer texts and reading practices make GLBTQ readers feel public, even in private. Queer novels performed important worldmaking work in the early 20th century, and continue to do so. Framed by affect studies, queer studies, and reception studies, the case study of Nightwood’s history demonstrates that categories like “queer literature” shape affective reading practices, and vice versa.


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pp. 71-94
Launched on MUSE
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