Djuna Barnes's The Diary of a Dangerous Child

Djuna Barnes's The Diary of a Dangerous Child

Length: 7477 words (21.4 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Djuna Barnes's The Diary of a Dangerous Child

"By this I mean that I am debating with myself whether I shall place myself in some good man's hands and become a mother, or if I shall become wanton and go out in the world and make a place for myself."

-Olga, "The Diary of a Dangerous Child"

In Djuna Barnes's short story "The Diary of a Dangerous Child" (1922), the narrator, an adolescent girl named Olga, ponders her destiny on the occasion of her fourteenth birthday: should she marry, settle down, and have children or become a "wanton," independent woman? During the rest of the story, however, the same young girl seduces her sister's fiancé, plans to dominate him using a whip, yet has her plan spoiled when her mother disguises herself as the fiancé and arrives at the proposed midnight rendezvous. The youth consequently decides to become neither a maternal wife nor an independent tramp; instead, Olga decides "to run away and become a boy" ("Diary" 94). Like many of her early writings, this Barnes story ultimately problematizes the unrelenting sexuality and corresponding apathy of the child vampire Olga and the "traditional" view that women have only two mutually exclusive lots in life: that of the domestic and that of the worldly. What differentiates this female vampire from other literary examples of her type is her age and the issues pursuant to it. Although disciplined in the end by her mother, Olga is but a child herself yet comes close to luring the unsuspecting fiancé into her game of sexual supremacy. Because literature and criticism lack a solid tradition concerning vampires and children, particularly a mixture of the two, one must pursue other sources as contextual avenues into this figure in Barnes's early works.

In its mixture of the domestic (baby/child/adolescent) and the sensual (vampire) and the dangerous appeal that fusion entails, the child vampire in Barnes's writings and illustrations symbolizes the ambivalence that American society of the Modernist period had about newly acquired freedoms for women. This paper explores a kind of perilous yet unwavering attraction that the child vampire epitomizes. In pursuing a contextual, interpretive framework that provides a path into Barnes's use of the child vampire, I turn to visual culture of the period, focusing upon the tradition of the screen vamp and the use of children in early American cinema as initial sources of these conflicting feelings.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Djuna Barnes's The Diary of a Dangerous Child." 06 Apr 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay on Analysis Of Djuna Barnes 's Nightwood

- In her 1936 novel Nightwood, Djuna Barnes explores colorful facets of the characters that we may liken to the dazzling performers in a popular Paris cabaret or cirque noir (p. 11). Although readers may argue that the novel’s central character is the “tall girl with the body of a boy,” whom we come to know as Mademoiselle Robin Vote, I agree with critics who claim, Dr. Matthew Dante O’Connor is the main character. Evan as O’Connor is serving as a friend and confidante to other characters in the novel, he captivating us with his woven tales of love and love lost (p....   [tags: Protagonist, Character, Antagonist, Djuna Barnes]

Research Papers
1389 words (4 pages)

Djuna Barnes: A Forgotten Ferocity of the 1920s Essay example

- Djuna Barnes was an outspoken and fiercely witty modernist writer of the 1920’s. She was known for her somewhat puzzling writing, her bravery when it came to her own journalism, and her everyday intense persona. She is a figure that, one would think, would have never been forgotten, yet with time, and somewhat by her own doing, she has faded into the background of the 1920’s writers. So much so that, “Barnes once described herself as 'the most famous unknown writer', and this was an astute remark.” (Loncraine.) Barnes was born in 1892, in New York state to her mother and her eccentric Father (who was rather fond of polyamory)....   [tags: puzzling writing, natalie barney, modernist]

Research Papers
1002 words (2.9 pages)

Virginis Wiilf and Djuna Barnes Essay

- Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes were writers experimenting with new, modern ways of life, and they expressed new-age philosophies in their novels. Both writers explore a more emotional side Modernism than the other male writers, with greater emphasis on character relationships, thoughts and emotions. To the Lighthouse does this by posing the futility of ambitions in the novel, suggesting that it is pointless to sentimentalizing previous dreams, since actuality is unlikely to reflect them. Both Barnes and Woolf look back at the great minds of history and critique their views, often dismissing them as old-fashioned....   [tags: Writers, Modernist Movement, Analysis]

Research Papers
1129 words (3.2 pages)

The Eccentric Work of Djuna Barnes Essay examples

- The Eccentric Work of Djuna Barnes It is precisely Barnes's relation to literary tradition that so troubles assessments of her work: readers do not know where to "place" her. . . . Although well respected by her contemporaries, Barnes's work has fallen prey to the same set of received notions that until very recently informed studies of Gertrude Stein: both women have been chastised for being significantly different from their Paris colleagues and for failing to master the Modernist enterprise....   [tags: Biography Arts]

Free Essays
4977 words (14.2 pages)

Essay on The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

- Today, I am going to discuss the bestselling, fictional novel, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. In her book, Annelise Marie – better known as Anne Frank, documents her experiences during the Holocaust and World War II (WWII). Readers are better able to get a feel for the suspense going on and emotion that Jews experienced, through a teenage mind. Anne Frank was only about 13 when she began writing about her book and 14 during hiding. She talks about the dangers of outside, bombings, shootings, and air raids of foreign enemies, as well as the “call ups” by Gestapo and the capture of her fellow acquaintances (including their experiences in the brutal concentration camps)....   [tags: The Diary of a Young Girl]

Research Papers
1314 words (3.8 pages)

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl Essay

- As an ordinary Jewish girl who was one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Anne Frank was an incredibly memorable girl due to the publication of her diary. Anne Frank was a liberal Jew; as for she did not follow all the traditions of Judaism. On the fourteenth of August 1944, a group of German uniformed police arrested the Frank family and was sent into The House of Detention, transitioned into the Westerbork Transit Camp and then to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In July 1945, after the Red Cross confirmed the death of the Frank sisters, Otto Frank passed Anne’s diary to historians who made continuous attempts to publish it....   [tags: jewish girl, diary]

Research Papers
1593 words (4.6 pages)

Essay about An Outcast By William Barnes

- An outcast is a person who has been rejected by society or a social group, an outsider. Many times outcasts are rejected, isolated, and judged. However, what gives us that right to isolated, reject, and judge other people. When in fact you may not even know the person whom you are showing this impoliteness to. Djuna Barnes was an outcast. She has been rejected, isolated judged yet, she figuratively took the word outcast and made it her own. She speaks for those who can’t speak for themselves. Barnes childhood was unlike any other kids her age....   [tags: Love, Marriage, Personal life, Bertha Harris]

Research Papers
703 words (2 pages)

National Identity in Julian Barnes' England, England Essay

- National Identity in Julian Barnes' England, England “The finest tax-deductible minds were brought in to address the Project’s Co-ordinating Committee. The French intellectual was a slight, neat figure in an English tweed jacket half a size too big for him; with it he wore a pale blue button-down shirt of American cotton, an Italian tie of flamboyant restraint, international charcoal wool trousers, and a pair of tasselled French loafers” (54). Julian Barnes uses his postimperial novel, England, England, to critique what England, under Tony Blair’s administration, is moving towards – a recreated Britain, an all-inclusive nation with no appreciation of its history, except that which has been...   [tags: Julian Barnes England Nationalism Essays]

Research Papers
1109 words (3.2 pages)

The Metamorphosis of Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank Essay example

- The Metamorphosis of Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank        A young girl, Anneliese Marie Frank, receives an empty jar of a diary for her thirteenth birthday, amidst much political strife in her new home country of Netherlands. As a German-born Jew in hiding, Anne will eventually fill her diary with over 2 years of experiences of the Secret Annex. Initially, she makes use of her newfound outlet to exhibit her growing interest to become a writer. The diary, for Anne, acts as her personal confidante before her family goes into hiding, and becomes even more valued to her during their ordeal....   [tags: Diary of Anne Frank Essays]

Research Papers
1234 words (3.5 pages)

Applications of Diary of a Madman in Our Society Essay

- Applications of “Diary of a Madman" in Our Society Like any piece of good literature, “Diary of a Madman” does not just apply to the time it was written. It can also be seen as a critique on the world today. However, the relation between the story and the modern world is not easily visible on the surface. One must dig deeper in order to see the parallels. Once one examines the symbolism that is used, it is clear that the story is relevant to today’s world just as much as it was to the world in which Lu Xun wrote it....   [tags: Diary Madman Essays]

Research Papers
2157 words (6.2 pages)

Related Searches

The persona of the original screen vamp, Theda Bara, and her popular reception as well as the "dangerous" roles that children played in those early films reveal two sides of the same coin. The viewing audience vicariously indulged in the vamp's wickedness and then chastised the vamp for her "evil" ways. Likewise, the audience acted as a vicarious heroic protector of the innocent child on screen while ignoring the "dangers" that both the child and its cinematic protectors were exposed to. Each of these instances consists of a simultaneously positive attraction and negative repulsion. For the viewers of the vamp, this ambivalence lies within their unwitting draw towards yet moral repugnance by the vamp and her actions; for the viewers of the child, this ambivalence lies within their "fearless" protection of innocence by rescuing children from dangerous situations. In Barnes's combination of these figures, the use of the child vamp becomes a strategy that predisposes readers to the dangers of restricting women to the domestic or the sexual, a position in this period just as ambivalent as the positions of the aforementioned filmgoers.

In her journalistic career, Barnes interviewed a number of screen and stage vamps and major Hollywood players, such as the Russian actress Alla Nazimova; opera and burlesque star Lillian Russell; Arthur Voegtlin, artistic director of New York City's Hippodrome theatre; director D. W. Griffith; and Florenz Ziegfield, the manager of the Follies. Most of Nazimova's film roles were of "exotic and spellbinding temptresses," and Barnes complimented her on her ability "to look 'dangerous' and inexact" (Interviews 353; 355). When Barnes asked him what he wanted to produce on his stage, Voegtlin remarked that "it's only in the back streets that you get the vampires" (Interviews 81). In one interview, Barnes asked Ziegfield to define his conception of the vampire, to which he replied, "A vampire . . . is a good woman with a bad reputation, or rather a good woman who has had possibilities and wasted them" (Interviews 73). The vamp was consequently not an alien topic to Barnes; some pictures of Barnes show how she adopted some aspects of the vamp's dress: dark makeup, thick rouge, grandiose hats, and dark clothing. Theda Bara and her first film A Fool There Was (1915) were both enormously popular throughout the United States. The movie drew an estimated 440,000 people per day (Levine 273). In 1915, the same year that Fox released A Fool There Was, Vanity Fair named Barnes as one of the "eight greatest vampire specialists" in America ("Vampire Baby" 33). While it remains unlikely that Theda Bara went unnoticed by Barnes because of Barnes's position as a journalist, I concede that there is no solid evidence that Djuna Barnes knew Theda Bara or saw A Fool There Was. Nonetheless, Barnes was most certainly aware of the vamp and was in the atmosphere where she would have understood its powerful possibilities in the literary medium.

Indeed, I am not the first to introduce the idea of the cinema vamp into Barnes criticism. Nancy Levine argues that "the most important source for Robin Vote, the heroine of Djuna Barnes' modernist novel, Nightwood (1936), is the vamp, whose heydey in the middle teens was also the period of Barnes' highest productivity as a newspaper journalist" (272). Levine speculates briefly that Barnes's mixture of vamp and adolescent qualities in her early writings prepare "a place in her life for [her future lover] Thelma Wood" (227). While acknowledging other "baby vamps" as she calls them in Barnes's writings and illustrations, Levine examines only two of Barnes's works that fit into this category. The biographical explanation that Levine cites remains likewise unsatisfying, relying upon Barnes's future sexual liaisons to explain choices of character types retrospectively. Though her analysis of Robin Vote as cinema vamp in Nightwood is convincing enough, Levine ignores almost entirely the child vamp figure in Barnes's other writings and illustrations.

In examining the child vamp in Djuna Barnes, this paper contains four different divisions. The first three sections will establish a larger cultural framework that could be used to explore this figure or its variations in other texts and will be used in the fourth section to explore Barnes's early works. The first section, "The Original Vamp: Theda Bara," explores Bara's paradoxical claim that her demonstration of "dangerous" vamping ways prevent those same acts from actually occurring in the public. The second section, "Youth in Danger: Children in Early American Cinema," inquires into the "aroused excitement" that audiences of early American cinema demonstrated when children were placed into and rescued out of danger (Jacobs 41). Next, "The Vamp's Child, The Child's Vamp: A Fool There Was" investigates the strangely parallel narratives of Theda Bara's vamp and her eventual victim's daughter in the film. Finally in "Domestic or Whore?: The Child Vamp in Early Texts of Djuna Barnes," the interpretive framework of ambivalence established in the previous three sections leads to a method of examining the writings and illustrations of Djuna Barnes which combine more overtly maternity and domesticity, sexuality and danger in the youthful vamp.

The Original Vamp: Theda Bara

The pure maid and the sexually destructive vampire were rivaling archetypes in the idealization of woman characteristic of Victorian sexuality. In this respect, the fact that the Fox Film Corporation released A Fool There Was a month before the premiere of The Birth of a Nation (1915) has importance (Golden 40). William Fox, whose Box Office Attractions Film Corporation transformed into the Fox Film Corporation and has now become 20th Century-Fox and Fox Television, had successfully fought the Motion Pictures Patents Company trust under the Sherman Anti-trust Act. Consequently, he entered into production to become the first to consolidate all three branches of the industry at the time: distribution, exhibition, and production (Golden 28). The first Fox hit, A Fool There Was was based on the Porter Emerson Browne melodramatic play that was based on the Rudyard Kipling poem "The Vampire." Kipling had in turn been inspired by his cousin's painting, Philip Burne Jones's "The Vampire." The Fox film was somewhat crude because of inexperienced director Frank Powell, but its cinematography rivals that of The Birth of a Nation, and it continued the vampire tradition in literature on screen (Golden 37). Theda Bara's sensuality and destructiveness as a siren would rival the Griffith image of imperiled white womanhood epitomized by Lillian Gish.

In the Prologue to Eve Golden's biography of Theda Bara, Golden recounts Bara's introduction to the press and the public in the months before the release of A Fool There Was. The meeting between the actress and a number of reporters took place in a Chicago hotel room "draped in Egyptian trimmings, sprayed with perfume, and bedecked in lilies and roses; deep velvet curtains were drawn and the room was stifling" (1). Fox publicists Al Selig and John Goldfrap recounted Bara's Arabian family history, her theatrical training in Paris, and her discovery in Paris by A Fool There Was director Frank Powell. After the publicists revealed Bara in all of her exotic grandeur and the press conference ended, all of the reporters left except for Louella Parsons. A Hollywood gossip columnist growing in fame at the time, Parsons "witnessed the Arabian star ripping her veils and coat off, staggering to the window, throwing it open, and gasping in perfect mid-American, 'Give me air!'" (Golden 3). This event is representative of a number of conflicting incidents and remarks that would occur in the course of Bara's career. Bara's attitude toward her role as a vamp drifted back-and-forth from embracing the vamp figure wholeheartedly to criticizing the vamp for her immoral ways. For Bara, her shifting attitude from positive to negative portrays Bara's own ambivalence about her vamp persona. This ambivalence accordingly spilled over into her viewers.

Born Theodosia Goodman on July 29, 1885, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Theda Bara was the first movie star to have a personality manufactured by studio publicity and the cinema's first sex symbol, according to Golden in Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara (7). Adela Rogers St. Johns, a writer and fellow member of the same Hollywood "Girl's Club" to which Bara belonged, credits the actress herself with the invention of her name and exotic background and the ability to carry it off (224). As a number of authors have pointed out, Theda Bara was an anagram for Arab Death. According to Selig and Goldfrap's original story, Bara was born to French actress Theda de Lyse and Italian sculptor Guiseppe Bara. Living in the shadows of Egyptian pyramids, Bara's mother "taught [her] the languages, expression, and the art of pantomine," and her father "taught [her] how to paint, and the beauty and combination of colors" (Golden 1). However, depending on the source, Bara's parents ranged from a desert sheik to an Egyptian princess. She had drunk serpents' blood as a child, married the Sphinx in a mystical ceremony, and had Egyptian nomads wage war over her hand. Selig and Goldfrap gave Bara credentials as a stage actress whether Egyptian princess or Arabian danger; Powell supposedly discovered Bara while she performed at the famous Théâtre Antoine in Paris (Golden 2). Initially, Bara fully collaborated with this elaborate production surrounding her personality. In her first public appearance, "the pale-skinned, black-haired actress reclined languidly on a chaise draped with tiger skins; she was dressed in velvet and veils in the sweltering heat" while speaking to reporters with "a Gallic shrug" (qtd. in Golden 2).

Publicity stories about Theda Bara stressed the grim and hideous, although many of the morbid stories came from Bara herself. In one of her first interviews, Bara told her interviewer the story of the snake bracelet she was wearing. Reporter Nixola Greeley-Smith related Bara's story in her article:

An East Indian Gaeker had given the actress a wonderfully wrought snake bracelet containing an Indian poison. Mlle. Bara was showing [a] young man the secret spring by which the poison was released from the mouth of the hollow gold snake when he suddenly seized it from her and, placing it to his lips, died at her feet! (qtd. in Golden 56)

She was often compared with Lucretia Borgia, Delilah, and Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian woman who lived in 1624 and killed six hundred girls daily to bathe in their blood for its supposed cosmetic qualities. One newspaper even claimed that the souls of these deadly women "had come to rest in this 'half-Italian, half-French' actress" (Golden 57). When asked about these ghoulish figures and her relation to them, the newspaper wrote, "Mlle. Bara cannot answer" (qtd. in Golden 57), leaving the readers open to ponder the more supernatural possibilities. Like this instance, Bara on a number of occasions simply reinforced or advanced her myth-like status. This lead even savvy interviewers to believe the fake stories. Magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson wrote that Bara's lips "scorch like living fire" and that her kiss is "destruction." "In her dark eyes lurks the lure of the vampire; in her every sinuous movement there is a pantherish suggestion that is wonderfully evil" (qtd. in Golden 57). Even Bara's comments on men sometimes reflected the evil philosophy of the vamp. In an interview, she once said that a "vampire must never love . . . . I have never loved, and if I ever fall under the spell of a man, I know that my power over men will be gone! Every woman must choose whether she will love or be loved. She cannot hope for both!" (Scrapbooks). Her comments about the power she held over men lent credence to the idea that Bara possessed supernatural powers.

As demonstrated in her remarks and her actions, Bara used the vamp figure to advance her career. However, when the vamp's "immoral" qualities were not advantageous for her, Bara appeared to be a different person with different motivations. Although she originally seemed to savor the vamp role, a number of times Bara remarked that she was "not particularly happy" about being a vamp, contradicting both her actions and her other comments (qtd. in Golden 47). In fact, when the crew on The Clemenceau Case (1915) began calling her "vamp" as a nickname, Theda "was proud of her new title." However, in a year or two, she grew tired of the label, viewing it instead as a "harness" to her career (Golden 55). Bara eventually stated that she wished someone would write her "a kind-hearted, lovable, human" part to play. She likewise excused the vamp's actions, making the vamp into a figure for feminism:

. . . believe me, for every woman vamp there are ten men of the same . . . men who take everything from women-love, devotion, beauty, youth, and give nothing in return! V stands for Vampire and it stands for Vengeance, too. The vampire that I play is the vengeance of my sex upon its exploiters. You see, . . . I have the face of a vampire, perhaps, but the hears of a 'feministe.' (qtd. in Staiger 160)

Bara justified the vamp through a feminist perspective. She did more than just steal husbands and tear families apart on screen; she fought the male sex on behalf of the perceived "weaker" female sex. Bara seemed simultaneously bothered by and attracted to the qualities of the vamp.

The most extreme statement about vamping attributed to Theda Bara was its Victorian rationale. In an open letter to the mayor of Cincinnati that responded to The Catholic Federation's rejection of her film The Serpent (1916), Bara wrote that every "mother, every minister, every person [concerned] with the well-being of the younger element of Cincinnati owe [her] gratitude for what" Bara had accomplished with her films (qtd. in Golden 79). Bara recognized the draw of the cinematic medium and the effects it had upon its audience-particularly easily convinced youth. Additionally, the moviegoers also went to see the vamp because they could participate vicariously in Bara's unrestrained wickedness and derive the satisfaction of moralizing about it at the same time. Reinforced by publicity stunts, this voyeurism and chastisement accordingly strengthened the association of women and sex with sin. Although a traditional male point of view, it possibly caused ambivalence in women who viewed the vamp films. There were probably a number of women in the audience who enjoyed seeing the husband's downfall, the faithful family's ruin, and the vamp's victory. As Bara said, "The sad ending is sort of compensation for the woman whose sense of justice would be outraged if sin were to triumph in the end, but who nevertheless craves a little of its color and excitement . . ." (Scrapbooks).

Youth in Danger: Children in Early American Cinema

In the American cultural tradition, two primary yet opposing viewpoints have been associated with childhood. On the one hand is the wild child that needs to be tamed; on the other hand is the gentle and innocent child (Elkin and Handel 4). Each view has been the dominant one in some period of America's history. For example, because of their belief in the doctrine of original sin, the Puritans believed that children must be disciplined and regimented to become God-fearing adults (Grylls 24). This view of children changed with the advent of American Romanticism; Albert E. Stone writes that "children, far from being little limbs of Satan, were in fact innately superior to adults, closer to Nature and hence to God, more alive to sensuous emotional and moral experience," issues important to Romantic writers like Emerson and Thoreau (viii). Although mischievous characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were brought to life in the nineteenth century, it was the naughtiness that attracted adults to these characters, for the child's inappropriate actions simply demonstrated its ignorance of the effects of its actions (Sommerville 175). In the twentieth century, the all but vanished bad child likewise took a back seat to the innocent child, arising mainly out of America's optimism in its own future (Lewis 13). Nowhere in the early twentieth century in America is the privileged position of the innocent child more noticeable and prevalent than in early American cinema.

From the start, American filmmakers wanted narrative filmmaking, and that required character development. Filmmakers had to learn how to put into visual images that innocence that had become associated with children by this time. One of the ways to visualize innocence was to concentrate on the child's vulnerability by placing it into a dangerous situation. The image of the child in danger appeared in the early films of Edwin S. Porter, one of America's first influential filmmakers. In The Life of an American Fireman (1902), the first dramatic film made in the U. S., Porter carefully created the scene of a child in danger (Jacobs 37). Sitting at his desk in the police station, the police chief falls asleeps and dreams of a woman putting a child to bed. He awakens quickly only to wonder nervously who might be in danger from fire at that moment. The fire alarm goes off, and the next several scenes depict the Newark, New Jersey, Fire Department, complete with fire-fighting equipment, leaving for the blaze. Upon arriving, the firemen find a burning building with a mother and her child trapped inside. A fireman rescues the woman first, who begs him to return for her child. The fireman reenters the building and several moments later returns with the child. As Lewis Jacobs notes, as "the child, being released and upon seeing its mother, rushes to her and is clasped in her arms, thus making a most realistic and touching ending of the series" (39).

Following Porter's lead, D. W. Griffith featured a child in The Adventures of Dolly (1908). Griffith believed that a child in danger could hold his audience's attention. Adhering to the idea that the child is vulnerable and in need of protection, he filmed the story of Baby Dolly, who is kidnapped by a band of gypsies. The gypsies put the child in a water cask, put it in their wagon, and go quickly off. Moments later, the cask falls into the river and travels downstream through rapids and over a waterfall. Meanwhile, Dolly's parents realize that she is missing, and they begin to look for her. Finally, some boys fishing on the river find the cask, hear sounds in it, and open it to find the child cheerful and well. In the film's final scene, Dolly is reunited with her grateful parents (Jacobs 101).

This simple, melodramatic plot of The Life of an American Fireman emphasizes several characteristics of the child's early image in American films. Both the mother and the young child are depicted as helplessly in danger while men attempt to rescue them; in essence, the woman and child are of one domain, the men of another. Upon the mother's rescue, her only thought is of her child; she is obsessive and hysterical while the men are calm and deliberate. Within this film, the point of view lies with the fire fighters. As Jacobs notes of the film's release:

The Life of an American Fireman aroused excitement wherever it was shown. Audiences, as if viewing a real crisis, could not remain passive. They identified themselves with the fireman and the rescue on the screen. The fire engines simply had to get to the fire on time! The mother and child must not perish! Such intense personal reactions to a movie were unprecedented. (41)

Like the fire fighters, then, the audience members assumed the role of protector while they watched the helpless child languish on screen. Griffith's hunch to follow Porter's lead proved correct: Dolly succeeded, and Griffith signed a contract at $45 per week plus royalties (Jacobs 101). Of course, the presence of a child character was not the only reason for Dolly's recognition. Movies, because they were such a new medium, were exciting to their audiences, almost regardless of their content. Filmgoers suspended their disbelief to a greater extent and had overtly grandiose physical reactions to the images shown on screen. As with The Life of an American Fireman, the audience watching Dolly identified with the rescuers, not the little baby or the gypsy villains; thus, the viewers assumed the role of protector. The reaction of the audiences to these two films suggests a necessary part of the child-as-innocent image. If children are helpless innocents, they must be protected; it is up to adults to guide and help the child. However, within this use of the innocent child is a sense of inherent impropriety. What creates this sense of impropriety is the selfishness that motivates the audience. The audience exhibits an overt satisfaction from the innocent child in danger. They do not realize the extremity of the situation and do not care. They simply desire the rush of the rescue.

The Vamp's Child, The Child's Vamp: A Fool There Was (1915)

Theda Bara had a story that she repeated with some variation in a number of interviews. Eve Golden related this story in Bara's words:

I was walking near my home in Manhattan. I had a big red apple in my hand, and ahead of me I spied a little girl with thin legs, a faded calico frock, and oh, such a hungry look! . . . I put my arm around her and put the apple in her hand, and she looked up with a frightened, happy little laugh. Then her eyes fell on my face, and a look of terror came into hers. She stumbled backward, away from me. I was frightened, too. Other little girls came up. 'It's the vampire!' whispered the biggest, in a croaking way. Then they all ran, and I went home and sobbed like the littlest of them. (qtd. in Golden 65)

This story is important for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates what is usually thought of as the relationship between the vamp and the child: the vamp evokes fear within the child and consequently does not enter the world of childhood, a type of disconnection. Secondly and more importantly to this interpretation of A Fool There Was is how it concurrently demonstrates similarity between these normally disparate figures; Bara cries "like the littlest of them" because of the children's reactions. This examination of Bara's first vamp film explores this connection between her Vampire character and the daughter of her eventual victim John Schuyler. The Child's behaviors in the film create a type of metanarrative of the Bara's Vampire narrative. This parallel between the usually innocent Child and the not-so-innocent Vampire produces ambivalence; viewers of the film do not know quite how to feel about the Vampire and the Child who seem to share some of the same qualities and "powers."

From the first moment the Child sees the Vampire, the Child appears intrigued by her mien. In one of the opening scenes that involve the Vampire, her current victim, the Child, and the Wife, the Child runs happily over to the darkly dressed Vampire with no hesitation. Unlike the Wife who never acknowledges the Vampire's presence in this scene, the Child and the Vampire exchange smiles and waves. This exchange between the Child and the Vampire mirrors the friendly exchanges just witnessed among the Friend, the Wife's Sister, the Child, and the Husband. The Vampire does not ostensibly scare or intimidate the Child, but rather the Child treats her as she would one of her family members. Although one could argue that this exchange reflects the Child's ignorance of the danger that the Vampire poses, the Vampire poses no apparent danger to the Child. She simply wants to interact with the Child. This reciprocating interest repeats when the Child and Wife's car pulls alongside the Vampire and the Husband's car while both cars are moving down the street. Trying to avoid the embarrassing gaze of her husband with another woman, the Wife looks one way and the Husband looks the other way. However, like a replay of the previously discussed scene, the Child and the Vampire wave to one another and shout greetings. The Child and the Vampire are not afraid to acknowledge each other's existence; they see each other in a positive light. The Child is not frightened even in the ending scene where the Vampire steals the Husband away from his family one last time; indeed, the Child waves and smiles at the Vampire again. The Vampire does not have quite that same positive rapport with anyone else aside from the Child.

The Child likewise exudes the same control over men that the Vampire has. Although the Child's power does not contain the sexual component of the Vampire's power, they each make men do their bidding. For the Vampire, this man is primarily the Husband, and for the Child, this man is primarily the Butler. The Vampire's power over the Husband brings about the typical results for the Vampire: the Husband cavorts with her in a foreign country and ignores propriety, ignores pleading letters from home, and eventually deserts his family for the Vampire's fleeting "love." For the Child, her power over the Butler is a more dominating, humiliating one. For example, in the scene entitled "Innocence breakfasts," the Child forcefully points twice to the seat beside her, commanding the Butler to sit down after having served her breakfast. The Child again commands the Butler to take her puppy and sit beside her while she eats her breakfast. She even grabs the newspaper from in front of him and puts on his glasses to read it. These actions of the Child create a paradox of the "Innocence breakfasts" scene by calling into question exactly who possesses the "innocence." This ambiguity about the source of innocence produces a kind of disguise for the Child. Unlike the Vampire with the Husband, the Child never dominates the Butler in front of others, so she maintains the false appearance of complete innocence to the other characters while remaining ambiguous to the audience, perhaps a much cleverer tactic than the Vampire. In a later scene, the Child forces the Butler to bow before her numerous times by pulling down on his jacket and follows him out of the room while pulling his coattails. The most important role of the Child in the film hinges on her power to attract men, specifically her father, the Husband. The Wife, "[a]s a last appeal," brings the Child to the Husband at their townhouse where he is with the Vampire. As the Child gazes upon the Husband, he seems to become regenerated and hugs the little girl. All is well until the Vampire shows up. Because she is not a sexualized being and because the father is too far-gone-as demonstrated by his corpse-like physical appearance at the end-the Vampire's gaze, the look that earlier drove a man to suicide, proves stronger than the gaze of the Child.

The Child inhabits many of the same spaces as the Vampire, particularly the bedroom and the garden. For the Vampire, her living space and sleeping space-and thus her insinuated sexual space-have become one; her bed is in the space where she receives guests and has parties. Upon returning from a knock at the door during a party that she was throwing, the Vampire finds one of the female partygoers in her bed. Protecting her domain, the Vampire immediately kicks her out. Likewise, the Child is often shown in her bedroom playing with dolls or speaking with the Wife, day-to-day activities for the Child. None of the other characters are shown in their bedrooms with the exception of the Wife's Sister who is carried to her bedroom after her accident, but even then, she is hidden behind a dressing screen. The Child and the Vampire also have an affinity for flowers and gardens. It is a flower dropped by the Vampire that first draws the Child to her. When the Vampire attempts to give the Child the flower, the Wife grabs the flower from the Child's hands and throws it back on the ground. This action causes the Vampire to respond, "Some day you will regret that." Aside from the ill actions of the Vampire and of the Wife, the Child also becomes implicated in initiating the eventual tragedy; if not for the first interaction between the Vampire and the Child caused by the Child's curiosity, the Vampire probably would never have sought to destroy the Schuyler family.

This begins to generate a tension between the simultaneously unifying and destructive effect of the Child. Although the Child holds the Wife and Husband together in the sunset scene, the Child's interruption of the romantic rendezvous between the Sister and the Friend in the garden foreshadows the destruction of the family that will take place in the garden in Italy. This idea is carried further in the association of single flowers with the Vampire and multiple flowers with the Wife. When the Wife first appears on screen, flowers surround her on all sides; she appears through a small opening in the foliage in the center of the screen. She also gives the Husband a bouquet of flowers when he sets sail for England. This emphasis on blossoming foliage symbolizes the Wife's domestic and procreative roles. The Vampire, on the other hand, only has one flower throughout most of the film, that is, until she steals the heart of the Husband. Then she dons two flowers. In the opening scene, the Vampire crushes the petals of a flower and drops them to the floor, foreshadowing the final scene where she sprinkles petals over the Husband's "dead" body. She also uses the single flower to initially attract the Husband to her, pretending to drop it next to him. He becomes so engaged in her gaze that he gives her the bouquet instead of her single flower. The Vampire continues to gently tease him with the petals of her flower, a similar sexual image to the Wife's bouquet but with different connotations. The Vampire's love is not procreative; likely, it will be deadly, as demonstrated by her destruction of the petals. Like the Vampire, the Child desires only a single flower or wears a hat made of only a single kind of flower instead of different kinds like the Wife.

Domestic or Whore?: The Child Vamp in Early Texts of Djuna Barnes

Unlike A Fool There Was which only implied connections between children and vamps, Djuna Barnes melds the two figures. While one could argue that characters like Julie Ryder from Ryder (1928) and Miranda from The Antiphon (1958) contain vampish qualities in a larger sense of the word, this section will focus on four of her early works that she wrote and drew at the height of the vamp craze in the late teens and early twenties. While I do not think that this exploration totally exhausts the promise of this interpretive framework in Barnes's texts nor prevents possible uses that the framework might hold for other authors, these four works most overtly demonstrate the influence of cinema on Barnes's writings in this respect. The child vamps in Barnes's early texts are figurative mixtures of domestic, family life (the child) and blatant, independent sexuality (the vamp). By combining two contrasting elements, Barnes's texts and drawings satirize lingering Victorian notions of feminine identity. By demonstrating the dangers of relegating women to only two roles-domestic or worldly-these selections and the child vamps in them parallel one of Barnes's larger projects: to radically break down stereotypes of women. In the four pieces examined below-"The Diary of a Dangerous Child" (1922), "Little Drops of Rain" (1922), "Djuna Barnes's Vampire Baby" (1915), and an illustration from The Book of Replusive Women (1915)-this deconstruction occurs through the symbolism of the child vamp in one of six ways: dress and looks, exaggeration, environement, gaze, disguise, or sex. All of these elements are associated with the vamp in one way or another. Because of the child's implicit sense of possibility, hope, and optimism for life, Barnes mixes the vamp with the child to support this point.

Barnes was one of the first to point out that vamps had their own fashion style and look (Levine 271). The child vamps in her texts are no exceptions. However, because the vamps in these texts are babies, children, or adolescents, the combination of mature clothing and children create a sense of discomfort in the viewer. Barnes's vampire baby wears a fitted shawl as a hat whose style can be seen in photographs on Theda Bara and even Barnes (link to images) herself. This type of head covering would have most likely been inappropriate for any child, as it was associated with older women, yet the covering appears to fit snuggly on the baby's head. Although it physically fits, it seems oddly out of place on the baby, making the baby appear older than it really is, as do the lips seemingly smeared with lipstick. This idea of age appropriateness also applies in the case of the impish figure from The Book of Repulsive Women. Her undressed body is serpentine, reminiscent of Bara's many public appearances with various snakes (Golden 48). However, she also appears pre-pubescent: her breasts have not fully developed, and she seems to have a child-like navel. Again, the figure looks very natural in the nude and in the seductive position because of her sleek uninterrupted lines, but elements of the drawing refuse that "natural" designation; there is nothing natural about a nude adolescent girl. Even Olga in "The Diary of a Dangerous Child" tries to get "rid of her freckles" and does her hair differently in an attempt to look older on the occasion of her fourteenth birthday ("Diary" 56). The idea being put forth here in making the child vamps look older is to limit the possibility of youth; the illustrations and the character satirize the idea that, with only two possible roads in life for women, why not begin preparing female children early for what they are going to have to become.

The next way in which Barnes's child vampires act criticize traditional notions of femininity is through exaggeration. Everything seems to be out of proportion in some way. The vampire baby has a grotesquely large, chubby head and thick, big lips. Its wide, pig-like nose recalls images of George Grosz's pig-like distorted representations in his paintings. One character in each of the short stories also tends to blow their speech out of proportion. For example, Olga's diary is full of melodramatic exclamations; she believes that she is a "Vixen!" and a "virago at fourteen!" ("Diary" 56), making us question her validity as a narrator. Likewise, Lady Lookover's exaggerated stories have the opposite effect; they make Mitzi's postulations appear more relevant and useful. After Lady Lookover's long tirade arguing the silliness of twentieth century women in comparison to nineteenth century women, she tells Mitzi that she "must conserve." Nonetheless, Mitzi replies that she wants "to abandon" herself so that she might "live fully." Lady Lookover believes this action to be foolish, yet Mitzi's "uncontrollable urge to go to the dogs" when compared with the hyperbolic rhetoric of Lady Lookover seems like a rather tame request ("Little Drops" 50). These overstatements relate to both Theda Bara's elaborate publicity stunts and the vamp's lifestyle in general and to a child's natural tendency to blow things out of proportion. These magnifications mock the child-like, Victorian ideals that society had for women during the early part of the twentieth century.

As demonstrated in A Fool There Was, the Vampire is a master of her environment; so are the child vampires of Barnes's texts. The imp figure from The Book of Repulsive Women has taken control of the almost completely dark environment. Like Bara's opening scene in the film, the figure has flowers in her hands, possibly dead from her iron grip. With the exception of the flowers, she is the only thing visible in the surrounding darkness. Although the vampire baby has no drawn surroundings, viewers can assume that the baby's realm is the home, "maddening" its inhabitants with its "Belial-baby" cries. In "Little Drops of Rain," Mitzi has the same attributes as the garden: "at once melancholy and charming" (50). In spite of that, she does not fade into her environment, as Lady Overlook appears to have done. She herself cultivates her garden, and when she tells Lady Overlook of her affair with Overlook's former beau, she "holds up a tiny and imperious pink palm," a pun which equates her action to control the situation with her control over the garden. None of the child vamps fade into their environment and lose their own sense of existence. Such was one of the fears of women of the period, the fear of becoming only another housewife or only another tramp on the streets. Only by manipulating their environment and gaining power through and over it-by saying no to both options for women and constructing their own way-would more roads be opened to women.

The most interesting aspect of the gaze in these examples lies within the fact that the eyes of both drawn characters-the two most visually stimulating of the figures-are closed and slanted, limiting the possibility of their sight. Additionally, Olga limits herself by closing her eyes to any alternate possibilities aside from wife or wanton. As she criticizes herself in the mirror, she seems to hypnotize herself with her own vamp qualities. Before the mirror episode, Olga seems open to either possibility, yet while looking in the mirror, she "fights down that bright look" in her eyes. She writes only two days later that she "shall get what [she] wants," a noted change from the indecisive girl just forty-eight hours earlier. These child vamps do not have the foresight or optimism of their singular counterparts. They cannot or will not gaze into their potential. Instead, they close their eyes to the future and alternate possibilities.

The last two categories of examination-disguise and sex-work together in this instance. The baby vampire's head covering blocks half of its face from being seen, making the reader ponder what exactly is under it. Could it be covering some serpent or bat, as appears on three of the eight vamps' heads on the page? Also, aside from the title, there is no visual or textual evidence that the baby is necessarily sexed female; unlike the other vamps in the article, there is nothing definably feminine about the baby. The true Mitzi, her vamp side, also remains disguised until the last paragraph of the dialogue. Although she challenges Lady Lookover with her positions, she does not reveal her seduction of Lookover's former love until the end of their conversation, a type of final blow in their argument. Although everyone believes Olga to be an innocent little girl, her mother unmasks her betrayal in the end by disguising herself as Don Pasos Dilemma, the fiancé. The mother disguises her sex with the use of Dilemma's cape, and Olga consequently decides to disguise her sex by "becoming a boy" ("Diary" 94), a remark that suggests the lunacy of the Victorian way of viewing women. The use of disguise and shifting sex identity in these stories prove appearances are not always what they seem. They oppose the scientific objectivity of Enlightenment thinking; just because a woman is a woman does not mean that certain realms should be left closed to her or that she has to be necessarily openly feminine. Women do not have to be passive. Correspondingly, ambiguous sex classifications seem to lessen the roadblocks to opportunity.


The purpose of this paper has been twofold. First, it has provided an interpretive framework for dealing with the figure of the child vamp through its examination of Theda Bara, children in early American cinema, and A Fool There Was. Second, it has applied that framework to some of the early texts of Djuna Barnes and in turn developed six strategic categories one can use in exploring this figure or its variants in other texts. As with the screen vamp and children in early American cinema, the ambivalent symbolism of the child vamp in Barnes's early texts works on several different levels; this paper offers another way that the visual and the textual of Modernism affect each other. Hopefully, other critics will find this cultural framework and the ideas presented in its application to Barnes's texts useful to expand upon in Barnes criticism as well as other areas of study, like traditional "walking undead" vampire novels and their contemporary incarnations.

Works Cited

Barnes, Djuna. The Book of Repulsive Women: 8 Rhythms and 5 Drawings. 1915. Los
Angeles, Sun and Moon P, 1994.

"The Diary of a Dangerous Child." Vanity Fair July 1922: 56+.

"Djuna Barnes' Vampire Baby." "Vampire Women: Eight Pen Portraits, from Life."
Vanity Fair 1915 No. 5: 33.

Interviews. Ed. Alyce Berry. Washington, D. C.: Sun and Moon P, 1985.

"Little Drops of Rain." Vanity Fair September 1922: 50+.

Elkin, Frederick, and Gerald Handel. The Child and Society: The Process of Socialization. New York: Random House, 1980.

Golden, Eve. Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. New York: Emprise Publishing, Inc.,

Grylls, David. Guardians and Angels: Parents and Children in Nineteenth Century Literature. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1978.

Jacobs, Lewis. The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History. New York: Teacher's
College P, 1939.

Lewis, R. W. B. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth
Century. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1955.

Levine, Nancy J. "'I've always suffered from sirens': The Cinema Vamp and Djuna Barnes'
Nightwood." Women's Studies 16 (1989): 271-8.

Sommerville, John. The Rise and Fall of Childhood. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1982.

Staiger, Janet. Bad Women: Regulating Sexuality in Early American Cinema. Minneapolis: U
of Minnesota P, 1995.

Stone, Albert E. The Innocent Eye: Childhood in Mark Twain's Imagination. New Haven:
Yale UP, 1961.

Theda Bara Scrapbooks, Robinson Locke Collection, Library of the Performing Arts, New York, NY.

Works Consulted

Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.

Bordwell, David, Kristin Thompson, and Janet Staiger. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.

Eiss, Harry, ed. Images of the Child. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1994.

Twitchell, James. The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1981.

"The Vampire Myth." American Imago: A Psychoanalytic Journal for
Culture, Science, and the Arts 37 (1980): 83-92.

Wojcik-Andrews, Ian. Children's Films: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory. New York:
Garland Pub., 2000.
Return to