“Now this be a Tale of as fine a Wench as ever wet the bed…”Ladies Almanack, 1928
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are celebrating Djuna Barnes’ female focused comedic satire Ladies Almanack!
Ladies Almanack was published in 1928 while Barnes was living as an expatriate writer/artist in Paris. She originally wrote it to entertain her partner Thelma Wood, who had been hospitalized. As such, the bawdy humor and absurdist parody almanac is full of inside jokes and references to Barnes’ and Wood’s lesbian (with the exception of Mina Loy) social circle of fellow modernist writers, artists, socialites, and literary women.
A new exhibit in Hornbake Library A Tale of Fine Wenches: the Women of The Ladies’ Almanack puts the spotlight on Djuna Barnes and the real women who inspired uproarious drama within Ladies Almanack. On display are a selection of items from the Djuna Barnes papers, including books, photographs, and correspondence that explores the relationships between these women, varying from platonic to romantic.
Ladies Almanack features a plethora of particularly scandalous women, whose unique vices reference various women, including Natalie Clifford Barney, Mina Loy, Jane Heap, Margaret Anderon, and Gertrude Stein. Characters also appear based on Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Solita Solano, Elisabeth de Gramont, and Dolly Wilde. Together, these women represent a thriving literary and artistic community living in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.
These women often met at Natalie Clifford Barney’s Parisian salon, which at the time was a popular place among writers and authors to discuss literature and art. Barnes characterizes Barney’s Almanack persona as an aged proprietor of the feminine arts, emphasizing her role as a mentor to the many women who visited her salon. Among these women, Djuna Barnes and Thelma Wood, and Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap were romantically involved. Barnes and Wood’s tumultuous decade-long relationship inspired Barnes’ novel Nightwood, and Anderson and Heap co-edited The Little Review, a literary magazine infamous for featuring works by prominent modernist writers and the first appearance of James Joyce’s Ulysses in a serial format.
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