Barnes once said she wrote because she was her father's daughter. Wendell Ryder, like Barnes's father, is a larger-than-life American character, a back-to-nature bigamist and charlatan who one can easily picture in a battle with state militia. The only other male figures in Ryder's patriarchy are some sons and the old-fashioned family (being both midwife and abortionist) doctor, Matthew O'Connor, the same friend to sailors who plays such a large role in Nightwood.

Otherwise, the book consists of complaining or combative women. Wendell's mother, Sophia, is the most enduring and endearing, though she puts her all into upholding a patriarchy she despises:

"... and I went further where was Julie in the deep of the garden, and I said, 'I love you,' and I could not kiss her, as I had kissed the others, because she was thinking something outside the family. Therefore I leaned my head upon her little breast, and she said, 'You have betrayed me,' and she held me with her arm, and because she doubts me, and becuase there is trouble in the house, I shall remember her always, and she will walk to my grave, and will doubt me long, until I am a memory with her, as long as I was a life, and then she will condemn herself, and I shall not be there to comfort her. So I must say, many times, that one of the sayings will live after me, 'I love you and will take care of you.'"

"Um," said Wendell, "but she has always been a hussy and a stubborn girl...."

"She has always been you," Sophia answered; "I have seen you from the seed," she continued, "and I have seen her, and you are exactly alike, except" -- she made a period in the air with one of her Jesuitical hands -- "that she is unhung, and you are slung like a man; it will make the difference."

"To get back to me," said Wendell.

-- Ryder, p. 169-170

Copyright 1996 Ray Davis, except for excerpts from the art of Djuna Barnes