glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Barney, Natalie Clifford (1876-1972)  

In addition to being the muse and inspiration of other writers, American expatriate Natalie Clifford Barney, known as the Amazon, was a poet, memoirist and epigrammatist in her own right.

Barney was born in Dayton, Ohio, on October 31, 1876; she grew up in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. Her father, Albert Clifford Barney, inherited a railroad fortune, and when the family lived in Washington, Natalie moved in the highest social and diplomatic circles. The rigid protocol of high society bored her, however, and she was eager to pursue her own adventures in an atmosphere more conducive to sexual, and especially lesbian, expression. As a child, she had visited Europe many times, and when she was twenty-four she settled permanently in Paris.

Famous for her operatic love affairs--most notably with the poet Renée Vivien and the painter Romaine Brooks--and her philosophical commitment to flirtation and nonmonogamy, Natalie Barney met her last lover on a park bench on the Avenue des Anglais in Nice, in 1956 at the age of seventy-nine.

Her life and temperament have provided inspiration for many literary portraits, including those of Flossie in Liane de Pougy's Idylle sapphique (Sapphic Idyll, 1901), Miss Flossie in Colette's Claudine s'en va (Claudine and Annie, 1903), Valerie Seymour in Radcliffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928), and Laurette in Lucie Delarue Mardrus's L'Ange et les pervers (The Angel and the Perverts, 1930).

Though these characters are quite different one from another, they share a strong lesbian identity, generosity of spirit, and the ability to laugh at themselves. René de Gourmont, the French writer and literary critic, struck up a close friendship with Natalie Barney after reading her Eparpillements (Scatterings, 1930). He published two collections of the letters he had written her. Lettres à l'amazone (1914), and Lettres intimes à l'amazone (1926), thus she became known in French literary circles as "the Amazon."

Barney was not merely the muse of other writers, but a poet, memoirist, and epigrammatist in her own right. Her first collection of poetry, Quelques portraits-sonnets de femmes, celebrating many of her lovers, was published in 1900.

Although her poetry and plays are mostly works of juvenilia or old-fashioned exercises in nineteenth-century French verse style, her memoirs and portraits such as Aventures de l'espirit (Adventures of the Mind, 1929), and Souvenirs Indiscrets (Indiscreet Memoirs, 1960) are vivid, perceptive pieces that describe many of the gays and lesbians who frequented the literary salon she held in Paris for fifty years: Colette, Andre Gidé, Lucie Delarue Mardrus, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Romaine Brooks, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust. She comments on the gay lifestyles of the period, producing a spirited defense of homosexuality with the same unabashed openness and enthusiasm with which she lived her life.

It is, however, the epigrams--Eparpillements, Pensées d'une amazone (Thoughts of an Amazon, 1920) and Nouvelles pensées d'une amazone (More Thoughts of an Amazon, 1939)--that show a real literary merit and a rare talent for beautifully turned, perfectly aimed verbal barbs and ironic comment.

Natalie Barney died on April 24, 1972, at the age of ninety-five in the same house at 20 rue Jacob where she had lived and run her salon for more than fifty years. It was not, however, until 1992 with the publication of A Perilous Advantage and Adventures of the Mind that her work became available to English-speaking readers.

Anna Livia


zoom in
Natalie Clifford Barney.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots

Gay Liberation Front

The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980

Leather Culture

Anthony, Susan B.
Anthony, Susan B.

Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence



Computers, the Internet, and New Media



   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, 1900-1969

American lesbian literature prior to Stonewall exploited the "outlaw" status of the lesbian as it moved from encrypted strategies of expression to overt political celebrations of woman-for-woman passion.

literature >> Overview:  Amazons

Historically either distrusted as agents of chaos or admired as examples of female power and intelligence, Amazons were depicted as heterosexual until the twentieth century, when lesbians adopted them as symbols of powerful women living without men.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Lesbian

From the great modernist writers of the 1920s and 1930s to the pulp writers of the 1950s to the lesbian writers of today, lesbian novelists have had a powerful impact on the lesbian community.

literature >> Barnes, Djuna

American novelist Djuna Barnes sought new forms of self-representation of lesbians in the face of society's compulsory heterosexuality.

literature >> Colette

One of France's most beloved authors, Colette wrote novels with strong lesbian subtexts.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

literature >> Hall, Radclyffe

Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, is best known for The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.

arts >> Johnston, Frances Benjamin

Pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston served as the official White House photographer during several administrations and earned fame as a photojournalist and documentary photographer.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

literature >> Vivien, Renée

Renée Vivien, who had many affairs with women, openly celebrated lesboerotic love in her poetry and dreamed of women-controlled spaces in an era when most women were still domestically confined.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Causse, Michele and Berthe Cleyrergues. Berthe ou un demisiècle auprès de l'amazone. Paris: Editions Tierce, 1980.

Colette. Claudine s'en va. Paris: Ollendorf, 1903.

Gourmont, René de. Lettres à l'amazone. Paris: Cres, 1914.

_____. Lettres intimes a l'amazone. Paris: La Centaine, 1926.

Hall, Radcliffe. The Well of Loneliness. New York: Covici-Friede, 1928.

Jay, Karla. The Amazon and the Page. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Mardrus, Lucie Delarue. L'Ange et les pervers. Paris: Ferenczi, 1930; trans. as The Angel and the Perverts by Anna Livia. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Pougy, Liane de. Idylle Sapphique. Paris: Plume, 1901.

Robinson, Christopher. Scandal in the Ink: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century French Literature. London: Cassell, 1995.

Rodriguez, Suzanne. Wild Heart. A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney's Journey from Victorian America to the Literary Salons of Paris. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2002.

Wickes, George. The Amazon of Letters: The Life and Loves of Natalie Barney. New York: Putnam, 1976.


    Citation Information
    Author: Livia, Anna  
    Entry Title: Barney, Natalie Clifford  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 27, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.