The Ladies’ Almanack

The Ladies Almanack by Djuna Barnes foretells a story that’s thought to be created as a ‘mocking’ of the society in which Barnes lived within at the time, Paris. The story is centered on Natalie Clifford Barney’s salon and depicts the lesbian social circle that sprawled itself around such parts. The Ladies Almanack has been thoroughly debated amongst readers, even today, as no-one really knows whether this book was a malevolent strike at those within her lesbian circle inside Paris or if it was written for a light-hearted, playful tease at those she surrounds herself with daily.

Within Barnes time period, being an ‘invert’ or lesbian was seen as a morally wrong and looked down upon concept. Because of this, The Ladies Almanack, in my opinion, would’ve provided those that were considered ‘immoral’ a somewhat backbone as it openly conveys lesbianism and is written depicting lesbianism an empowering force. This would have propelled Barnes as a somewhat icon to those that were inverted as the book doesn’t convey a story of suffering per say, like The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, but instead, provided readers with a more ‘human’ experience of inside jokes and humor, things that propel normalcy and thus lacks the focus on common societal exclusion that homosexuals generally experienced within such a time.

The notion of female empowerment is very prominent within the piece by the way in which Barnes has illustrated a seemingly ‘utopian’ world for herself and her readers conveying woman as the ‘centerpiece’ and neglecting the need for men sexually or as a life companion. Such feminist portrayals can be identified within the images that Barnes has illustrated herself within the story. Although the exact interpretation of these images is somewhat ambiguous, they definitely radiate a tone of female supremacy within their content, shape and form. A prominent display of such feminism can be viewed within the illustration on the front cover of the book. The image depicts what seems to be a single male leading a female infantry into battle. I am unsure if this was the original front cover of the book as Barnes saw it to be, but for it be the front cover of the version that we are reading in class, sends an automatic statement of fighting for a cause and pushing the stereotypic gender roles. It also envisages a type of movement, perhaps woman going into battle against the world? Overall, the image depicts a taste of what the plot is centered around before the reader has even opened the book itself.

Although the book seems to normalize lesbianism, what I found interesting was how Barnes appears to pinpoint how homosexuality is something that is deemed immoral because it goes against the biological framework of reproduction, something that we as humans are ‘supposed’ to have an instinctive drive to uphold, “Love in Man is Fear of Fear. Love in Woman is Hope without Hope. Man fears all that can be taken from him, a Women’s Love includes that, and then Lies down beside it. A man’s love is built to fit Nature…” [11]. This quote seems to represent this, as it insinuates the underlying moral, defining love as a choice and why people make a conscious decision to pursue love in a heterosexual manner.

The Ladies Almanack really places a spectacle on the world and society through Barnes’s pair of eyes. What is great about this novel, and rare, is how Barnes seems to propel the notion of female empowerment, however is still able to withhold a level of intimacy through the ‘personal digs’ at her ‘friends’, digs that make outsiders seem nothing but prying onlookers. This combination is why such a story is viewed as fascinating as it is and contributes as to why Barnes was and is still considered a prominent figure in literary history.




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Filed under Week 6: Stein, Barnes, Dean, Wittig

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