Ladies Almanack (1928)

Sara Flores on “Ladies Almanack: Mama Djuna’s Guide to Living”

The world of Barnes’ Ladies Almanack (full title: Ladies Almanack: showing their Signs and their Tides; their Moons and their Changes; the Seasons as it is with them; their Eclipses and Equinoxes; as well as a full Record of diurnal and nocturnal Distempers, written & illustrated by a lady of fashion) is one entirely unique to Barnes herself. The plot, at its most basic level, revolves around group of lesbian friends. However, upon further analysis, it becomes an ever-changing satire of the perception of normality in 1920s America.

Barnes alleges in her 1972 forward that this book was written in “an idle hour” (Barnes 5) and it is further explained Christine Berni’s “A Nose-length Into the Matter”: Sexology and Lesbian Desire in Djuna Barnes’ Ladies Almanack that it was written “while her lover Thelma Wood lay convalescing in a Paris hospital” (Berni 83). The work is filled with word-play, tongue twisters, interesting uses of capitalization throughout and a strong sense of individuality. It is a roman- à-clef and Barnes uses herself as well as her real-life friends as a model for different characters in the book.

Ladies Almanack utilizes medieval-sounding language and terminology, full of visual obstacles.

“Sweet MAY stood putting on her last venereal Touches while Patience Scalpel held forth in that divine and ethereal Voice for which she was noted, the Voice of one whose Ankles are nibbled by the Cherubs, while amid the Rugs Dame Musset brought Doll Furious to a certainty.”

This does not feel like Barnes’ attempt to place herself above the reader but to create a very specific world. Berni refers to the work as “a satiric tribute to the women who frequented Natalie Barney’s Paris salon in the 1920s” (Berni 83) and with this outlook, one can read the characters of Patience Scalpel and Doll Furious as more than just Chaucer-esque odes to virtues and sins.

When Barnes tells readers that all ladies should carry her almanac (Barnes 8), it is easy to wonder whether she is joking or not as an almanac is a guide to living life in the most sensible and practical of ways. Barnes may be telling readers that what doesn’t immediately make sense may actually be the purest and most sensible form of living. This utterly modernist work is such in that it sets itself apart very intentionally. It is clear that Barnes’ is subverting the language and the ideals of modern life, contorting our version of reality to reach a higher sense of understanding with her reader.

Works Cited

Neilen, Deirdre, Phillip Herring, and Djuna Barnes. “Djuna: The Life and Work of Djuna Barnes.” World Literature Today 70.3 (1996): 702-03. Web.

Cowley, Malcolm. Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1976. Print.

Hardie, Melissa Jane. “Repulsive Modernism: Djuna Barnes’ The Book of Repulsive Women.” Journal of Modern Literature 29.1 (2006): 118-32. Web.

Barnes, Djuna, and Susan Sniader. Lanser. Ladies Almanack: Showing Their Signs and Their Tides, Their Moons and Their Changes, the Seasons as It Is with Them, Their Eclipses and Equinoxes, as Well as a Full Record of Diurnal and Nocturnal Distempers. New York: New York UP, 1992. Kindle.

Bernie, Christine. “A Nose-Length into the Matter”: Sexology and Lesbian Desire in Djuna Barnes’s “Ladies Almanack.”Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 20.3 (1999): 83-107. University of Nebraska Press. Web.


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