This website is an interactive academic
tool for CEA-UNH course:
Gay Paris:
Culture, Society, & Urban Sexual Identity

CEA GlobalCampus | Spring 2009
UNH Course Code: GEN230
Credits: 3 | Location: Paris, France

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nightwood: Chapter 5 | Watchman, What of the Night?

Chapter Summary

Late one night, Nora goes to seek the advice of the Doctor. She makes her way up the six flights of stairs in his run-down building to the tiny room he rents. When she arrives at his door and hears (from the novel): "his 'come in' she opened the door and for one second hesitated, so incredible was the disorder that met her eyes...In the narrow iron bed...lay the doctor in a woman's flannel nightgown. The doctor's head, with its over-large black eyes, its full gunmetal cheeks and chin, was framed in the golden semi-circle of a wig with long pendant curls that touched his shoulders...Nora said, as quickly as she could recover herself: 'Doctor, I have come to ask you to tell me everything you know about that night.'" (p. 70-71)

The Doctor spends a large portion of the chapter delving into his thoughts about 'the night' - in its many senses, according to him. At the outset of their conversation, he asks Nora her thoughts on the night. She says, "I used to think that people just went to sleep, that they were themselves, but now, now I see that the night does something to a person's identity, even when asleep." (p. 72) The Doctor prods on. He asks, "Have you thought of the night, now, in other times, in foreign countries - in Paris? When the streets were gall high with things you wouldn't have done for a dare's sake, and the way it was then...I can see you have not! You should, for the night has been going on a long time." (p. 73)

There is always dissonance between the Doctor's long monologues and Nora's short responses - as if they do not hear one another at all. The Doctor's long ramblings are difficult to plow through, but once you do, you will find beauty in small passages - like poetry. For example, "Burn Rome in a dream, and you reach and claw down the true calamity. For dreams have only the pigmentation of fact. A man who has to deal in no colour cannot find his match, or if he does, it is for a different rage. Rome was the egg, but colour was the tread." (p. 77) This is lyrical writing - but nonsensical on a certain level. (Like Stein).

At the end of a very long tale of many things at the same time, the Doctor comes to the question at hand and speaks of the night of Nora's inquiry. He tells Nora of where Jenny and Robin first met - at an Opera - Rigaletto. Even the Doctor is no fan of Jenny. He says, "She has a longing for other people's property, but the moment she possesses it the property loses some of its value, for the owner's estimate is its worth. Therefore it was she took your Robin." (p. 87) He goes on, "I have always thought I, myself, the funniest looking creature on the face of the earth; then I laid my eyes on Jenny - a little, hurried decaying comedy jester, the face of the fool's stick, and with a smell about her of mouse-nests."

He ends with a final description of what happened in the carriage that night between Jenny and Robin, "And then I saw Jenny sitting there shaking, and I said: God, you are no picture! And then, Robin was going forward, and the blood running red, where Jenny had scratched her, and I screamed and thought: 'Nora will leave that girl some day; but though those two were buried at opposite ends of the earth, one dog will find them both.'" (p. 95)

"...and there is a metallic odor, as of beaten irony in a smithy." (p. 71)

connivance (p. 73): the act of coniving

the palaces of Nymphenburg (p. 73): was the summer residence of the rulers in Bavaria (in Munich)

Ah, Mon Dieu! La nuit effroyable! La nuit, qui est une immense plaine, el le coeur qui est une petite extrémité! Notre Dame-de-bonne-Garde! (p. 74): Ah, My God! The night is horrifying! The night, which is an immense plain, and the heart which is a small extremity! (Notre Dame...Name of a church in Longpont-sur-Orge \ Dept. 93 outside of Paris)

bretelle (p. 76): suspenders/strap

cantiques (p. 76): hymn

L'Echo de Paris (p. 80): A literary journal published between 1884 and 1944

Misericordia (p. 81): mercy (in the religious sense)

pissoirs (which in the 1920s in Paris were ubiquitous) (p. 81):

garrulity (p. 81): excessive talkativeness

pteropus (p. 82):

mortadellas (p. 84): a large smoked sausage made of beef, pork, and pork fat and seasoned with pepper and garlic

profligate (p. 84): the wildly extravagant

Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) (p. 85): archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father

Parsifal (p. 86): an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner

The Lily of Killarney (p. 86): an opera in three acts by Julius Benedict

Ocarina (p. 87): an ancient flute-like wind instrument

"Now was there ever any man seen to sleep in the Cart, between Newgate and Tyburn (p. 87): Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch. The two places referencing execution and death. Executions took place at Tyburn until the 18th century.

saltarello (p. 87): was a lively, merry dance first mentioned in Naples during the 13th century

corbeille (p. 89): basket

"Adam's off ox" (p. 91): an older American phrase meaning somebody you don't know

Don Antonio and Claudio (p. 92): the reference is from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

"So Cibber put it, and I put it in Taylor's words: 'Did not Periander think fit to lie with his wife Melissa after she had already gone hent to heaven" (p. 93): Periander was the second tyrant of Corinth, Greece in the 7th century BC. Among his acts were sending young boys from Corcyra to be castrated in Lydia, and the murder (and possible necrophiliac rape) of his own wife, Melissa.

Montaigne (p. 92): one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance (16th c.)

Catherine of Russia (p. 93): reigned as Empress of Russia for 34 years, from 1762 until her death 1796

Crupper (p. 94): a piece of tack used on horses and other equids to keep a saddle, harness or other equipment from sliding forward

1 comment:

  1. I really like that Jenny has been introduced into the book. I think she is very different from Robyn but I see a lot of similarites she shares with Nora. I can see that Jenny and Robyn may be compatible as lovers in the near future. I thought it was very odd that Nora went to the Doctor to seek advice about the dark and troubled life she is living. The reader can tell she is very upset and confused with the actions of Robyn and is very fearful of what may happen to their relationship. The doctor continues to suprise me. When Nora found the doctor dressed up like in a women, either in chapter 4 or 5, you could tell he was not expecting Nora to be his visiter. He was obviously waiting for other company. It seems that the doctor is very deep and vast in his knowledge of the world and people which continues to bring life to the book.