“Now this be a Tale of as fine a Wench as ever wet Bed . . . Thus begins this Almanack, which all Ladies should carry about with them, as the Priest his Breviary, as the Cook his Recipes, as the Doctor his Physic, as the Bride her Fears, and as the Lion his Roar!”
Barnes’s affectionate lampoon of the expatriate lesbian community in Paris was privately printed in 1928. Arranged by month, it records the life and loves of Dame Evangeline Musset (modeled after salon hostess Natalie Barney) in a robust style taken from Shakespeare and Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and is illustrated throughout with Barnes’s own drawings.
This new edition is a facsimile of the 1928 edition with the addition of an afterword providing details on the book’s origins and a key to its real-life models.
Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) was one of the great modernist writers, a novelist and playwright of bewildering poetic power, and among the first women to write explicitly of lesbian relationships. After a nightmarish childhood with her self-proclaimed “genius” father, Wald (a Joseph Smith-style polygamist with messianic pretensions), during which she was raped and forced to marry a family friend, she escaped to New York and then to Paris. She was an habituée of the era’s famous bars and salons, and her friends and rivals included Pound, Joyce, Eliot, and Cocteau. After World War II, she lapsed into virtual silence: between 1936 and her death in 1982, her publications were limited to a few poems and her final masterpiece, a three-act play called The Antiphon.