‘I see London, blind …’

  • Jeremy Tambling


Blake’s ‘London’ (Songs of Experience) ends nocturnally in ‘midnight streets’. Night thoughts in midnight streets make the night the true Enlightenment, by questioning daytime identity. So does the American Djuna Barnes’s novel Nightwood (1936, originally Bow Down: An Anatomy of Night), which also has Night Thoughts behind it.1 Nightwood starts with Hedvig Volkbein, a Viennese, giving birth to Felix, a posthumous child. During the 1880s, Vienna was close to the racism where it was dangerous to be Jewish, like Felix’s father; so Hedvig had no wish for the son. Felix grows up obsessed with ‘Old Europe’ (p. 22) — self-hating, guarding a racial purity that excludes him. He also involves himself with the circus, which brings him into contact with the Irish/American homosexual Dr Matthew O’Connor, and the American Norah Flood. Felix would like to be a Gentile, and O’Connor would like to be heterosexual or a woman. O’Connor is seen later in his home in Paris and Felix meets the American Robin Vote, ‘a tall girl with the body of a boy’ (71). Felix marries Robin to have a son (desiring to perpetuate the official past), and Chapter 2 describes her giving birth to a boy, and rejecting maternality. She leaves Felix and becomes Nora’s lover.


East India Company Oxford Street Broad Street Racial Purity Official Past 
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© Jeremy Tambling 2005

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  • Jeremy Tambling

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