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 a full Record of diurnal and nocturnal Distempers



Djuna Barnes took as her book's central model not the romance novel or the bildungsroman, but Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar: a dozen vignettes in archaic vocabulary and crude woodcuts, each simultaneously covering a month of the year and a segment of the chief character's life, each ending in December and Death. The only Spenserian element Barnes left out was an extensive explanatory apparatus. Typical.

To criticize Ladies Almanack for its peculiar dry fantasy is to forget the mournfulness which hounded all early "realistic" treatments of The Third Sex. Virginia Woolf's more upbeat Orlando also had to be written as fantasy. As Samuel R. Delany has suggested, it's technically unfeasible to conjoin perversity and happiness in mundane fiction.

And when they came to the ash that was left of her, all had burned but the Tongue, and this flamed, and would not suffer Ash, and it played about upon the handful that had been she indeed. And seeing this, there was a great Commotion, and the sound of Skirts swirled in haste, and the Patter of much running in feet, but Señorita Fly-About came down upon that Urn first, and beatitude played and flickered upon her Face, and from under her Skirts a slow Smoke issued, though no thing burned, and the Mourners barked about her covetously....
Djuna Barnes, Ladies Almanack

Copyright 1996 Ray Davis, except for excerpts from the art of Djuna Barnes