Paris: Printed for the Author, and Sold by Edward W. Titus, 1928. Barnes, Djuna. First Edition. Full vellum self wraps. 1st edition (in English), the most deluxe and limited state from a total edition of 1,050. Number 4 of only 10 copies on Verge de Vidalon, with both covers of the vellum dustjacket and all 22 line drawings painted in color by Barnes with her own hand and signed by her as “A Lady of Fashion.” And our copy is also a contemporary presentation copy, inscribed to Lady Rothermere, (in ink), signed again by Barnes, this time with her real name, and dated “Paris, 1928.” Original full vellum self–wrappers, vellum dustjacket, more delicate than a sea monkey, yet fine condition (others aren’t fine), a tribute to the care Lady Rothermere took with the contents of her library and, needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, a rare book when it’s 1 of 10 (no copy at auction in 50 years), a state often mentioned but never seen for sale. Of the 1,040 remaining copies of the 1st edition, the 1,000 on Alfa were neither colored nor signed, and the 40 on Rives, were colored (with less attention) but also not signed. Fine / Fine. Item #5
This is the Paris lesbian’s roman à clef, written under a pseudonym because of legal uncertainties, and Edward Titus (the printer) blocked out his name on the title page for the same concerns. So the establishment searched the left bank to identify the author with the focus of an undertaker scrutinizing the obituaries for trade, but Barnes’ decision to inscribe this copy with her real name begins to explain how word of the Almanack’s authorship became public rather quickly. Novelist, dramatist, artist, and poet, Djuna Barnes was held by many of her loudest and liveliest 1920s peers as their generation’s most talented American writer, of either gender. Her companion (Natalie Barney) suggested the Almanack as a series of satirical biographical sketches of her fellow Parisian expatriates. Apart from Barney (in thin disguise as Evangeline Musset), there are character keys based on Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Una Troubridge, Radcliffe Hall, Solita Solano, Elisabeth de Gramont, and Dolly Wilde, a who’s who of the Left Bank lesbian elite, and affixed to them is a take on Mina Loy, portrayed as Patience Scalpel, the lone heterosexual. The Almanack is told in a voice of Joycean obscurity and bawdiness, with a digressive, circuitous, calendiac storyline. Its theme is simple; never trust anyone with a penis, but the form is looser than a wizard’s sleeve, and it’s just as drolly amusing and affectionate, as it is serious and biting. 22 beguiling illustrations accompany the text (feminized zodiacs, medieval grotesques, sexual caricatures, baroque cherubs, parodic iconography, and other emblems archaic and arcane), all tame these days but risqué in their time. Over 87 years, interest in this book has moved to and fro, like The Imperial Hotel during the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, but it has always been (and remains) radically representative of the underground in a transitional time, an awakening for all authors and for all artists, and our copy is both unflawed, and (indisputably) rare, so it won’t be equaled very soon, or very often, if ever (meaning never).