Date of Award

Spring 1992

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jean Kennard


This dissertation examines the work of four American lesbian expatriate novelists living and writing in Paris in the years between the two World Wars. Altogether six novels are discussed: The Uncertain Feast (1924), The Happy Failure (1925), and This Way Up (1927) by Solita Solano; The Cubical City (1925) by Janet Flanner; The One Who Is Legion (1930) by Natalie Clifford Barney; and Nightwood (1936) by Djuna Barnes.

Guided by recent conjectures on the significance of sexuality and gender development proposed by such feminist theorists as Luce Irigaray and Monique Wittig, this dissertation explores these six novels for evidence of shared imagery and communally evolving concepts regarding such issues as female autonomy, female friendship, lesbian identity, lesbian passion, and androgyny.

All three of Solita Solano's novels sustain an overt critique of heterosexuality; The Uncertain Feast offers a background example of primary affection between women that may be recognized as a highly encoded model for lesbian relationship. In The Cubical City, Janet Flanner foregrounds women-identified love against a portrait of marriage as a formula for female surrender and submission.

Natalie Barney's The One Who Is Legion experiments with narrative form while proposing gynandry as the ideal human state. In Nightwood, Djuna Barnes advances the concept of lesbianism as an entirely alternative ontological stance in a narrative analysis that seems to anticipate the recent theories of Irigaray and Wittig.

This study acknowledges Nightwood as a conscious disruption of patriarchal authority and challenges conventional interpretations of the novel as "tragic." Images that recur in the work of Flanner, Solano and Barney are collected and developed to their greatest potential within the densely metaphoric language and structure of Nightwood. Barnes's novel is recognized as the culmination of lesbian literary modernism that evolved during the first half of the twentieth century and is regarded as a work that ultimately calls for the necessity of devising a language capable of expressing female, and in particular, lesbian, reality.