T.S. Eliot and Gothic hauntings in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Barnes’s Nightwood

T. S. Eliot's embrace of European high culture, so evident in his critical writings, is accompanied by an elision of the American and the popular, including the Gothic, despite the fact that his own poetry contains powerful Gothic resonances. Eliot's critical appraisal of Djuna Barnes's work is shown to be informed by a perspective which reveals an American anxiety concerning tradition and the individual talent. The coupling of A Handful of Dust and Barnes's Nightwood might initially seem a strange one, given Evelyn Waugh's image as an essentially conservative satirist of English society and the recent retrieval of Barnes as a radical lesbian Modernist. The title evokes not only the wilderness of Modernist preoccupation but also the tradition of American Gothic in which the haunted forest and the haunted cave were substituted for the haunted castles, ruined abbeys and dungeons of its European precursor.

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