Susan Sniader Lanser
If Djuna Barnes were still among us, it is not certain that a new edition of Ladies Alamanack would be seeing print. She claimed to have written it "in an idle hour," as a "jollity" for a "very special audience." Its first publication in 1928 was a private affair financed by friends, including the books own mock-heroine [Natalie Barney]; when its distributor Edward Titus backed out at the last moment, it was hawked by Barnes and her cohorts on Paris Streets. Forty years later, when Farrar, Straus issued her Selected Works, Barnes did not offer them Ladies Alamanack. To Natalie Clifford Barney, who repeatedly urged her old friend to "let that side of us" be memorialized, she wrote that the work was too "salacious" and "trifling" to be in print.
[Ladies Alamanack] is mow recognized as a brilliant modernist achievement and the boldest of a body of writings produced by and about the lesbian society that flourished in Paris between the turn of the century and the Second World War. Apparently conceived to amuse Barnes's love Thelma Wood during an illness, the book has as its first readers its own cast of characters, women associated with the wealthy American Writer Natalie Barney, dubbed "l'Amazone" by the poet Remy de Gourmont, whose salon on the Rue Jacob was a center of both literary exchange and lesbian friendship for more than half a century.
Barnes managed to publish only one work (the verse play The Antiphon in 1958) during the second half of her long life; she lived in poverty, seclusion, and ultimately great physical pain in a tiny apartment in New York's Patchin Place.
Barnes goes to Paris around 1920.
The picaresque her of Ladies Alamanack is the aristocratic Dame Evangeline Musset, her last name evoking the Romantic poet Alfred de Musset, celebrant of love who was also, disastrously, a lover of George Sand; her first name recalling both her American origins and her missionary zeal.
The book is structured as a monthly chronicle...within the frame of the calendar, Ladies Almanack, embeds both a picaresque fable of Dame Musset's life from birth to death and a variety of "digressions" that appropriate Western traditions and rewrite patriarchal texts, as if anticipating Monique Wittg's call to women in Les Guerilleres to "remember, or failing that, invent."
Monique Wittig (July 13, 1935 – January 3, 2003) was a French author and feminist theorist who wrote about overcoming socially enforced gender roles and who coined the phrase "heterosexual contract". She published her first novel, L'Opoponax, in 1964. Her second novel, Les Guérillères (1969), was a landmark in lesbian feminism.
Ms. Wittig's novel, ''Les Guérillères,'' appeared in 1969 in France and in 1971 in English. Sally Beauman in The Times Book Review called it ''perhaps the first epic celebration of women ever written.'' In that novel women live as guerrillas, fighting men and seeking a new age. They engage in bloody, victorious battles using knives, machine guns and rocket launchers. In one scene they win by baring their breasts, stopping men in their tracks.