Nightwood presents the narrative of people’s heartbreaking. The main character, Robin Vote, leaves broken hearts behind her the way the heartbroken leaves tissues and empty Ben and Jerry’s behind. The story begins with Baron Felix Volkbein’s history–all fake, which he attempts to uphold,because family name and European traditions define his (false) identity, and he believes that marrying Robin and siring an heir will keep his legacy alive. Robin gives birth to Guido and realizes that she desires something different from life, so she spends her nights away in debauchery and distracting herself with various affairs. Finally, she moves to America and shacks up with Nora Flood, who fails to hold Robin’s attention, who feels driven by the conflicts of “love and anonymity,” spending her time debauching and in elicit affairs away from home while Nora waits for her. During one such night Robin meets Jenny Petherbridge, a widow four times over, who “gains happiness by stealing the joy of others.” Jenny turns her attention to stealing Robin away from Nora, and succeeds. In her despair, Nora (like Felix before her) turns to the counsel of Dr. Matthew O’Connor to recover from the loss of Robin.

The doctor reminds me of a darker version of something Oscar Wilde might imagine. Matthew’s speciality is stories; he expertly weaves stories that help the people who seek his consul until the end of the novel after Nora unloads on him and he turns to alcohol to forget. His monologues present an interesting mediation on love and heartbreak and memory and death and desire– his locution amazes.

The novel ends with Nora back in America, camping in a forest with her dog, near Robin, who wanders the forest and ends up at an abandoned church. Nora’s dog gets away and Nora goes after it; the dog ends up leading Nora to the church where she finds Robin kneeling before an alter. In a mad fit, Robin sprints towards the door knocking Nora unconscious. Robin plays with the dog until she falls asleep.

Many critics discuss this novel as a mediation on heartbreak and love, but the love here is selfish and violent. Robin’s love manipulates her lovers, Nora’s heartbreak results from ego, Felix gives his love as part of a lie– the characters are misguided, selfish people who engage in love that fixes their object of love in an image and results in heartbreak when the object of love breaks the image. Robin is a spoiled brat, an Nora is a spineless nitwit. The doctor, the biggest lier of all, manages to know himself better than anyone else in the novel.