Book Review

Vagaries Malicieux by Djuna Barnes

thoughts on a 1922 essay on travel

Written early October

I’d been meaning to make a big order of books from Sublunary Editions for a while, and using the excuse of my very own birthday last month, I did just that. 

If you haven’t encountered Sublunary Editions before, they specialise in printing beautiful, small, editions of new texts, beautiful, small, editions of freshly translated but not new texts, as well as beautiful, small, editions of semi-obscure out-of-copyright texts (some translated, some not), all of which are elegant, pocket sized and highly literary.

My order was massive, and probably about 60% of everything they’ve ever published during their two or three year history. One of the great thing about small books is their affordability; the other great thing is that even if you don’t like them, they’re already almost over.

The first Sublunary Editions text I decided to read was Vagaries Malicieux by Djuna Barnes.

I’ve never read any Barnes before, tho she’s one of the (very many!) American werewolf-in-Paris-type early 20th century writer who I usually enjoy. In fact, I have at least one of her other, more famous, books in my room-sized slab of unread books. 

Vagaries Malicieux is an essay Barnes originally published in a literary magazine in May 1922 about her thoughts on her first trip to Paris.

It takes in a transatlantic boat crossing and its alcoholic staff, meeting James Joyce and other arsty types in France; the tone is energetic and young and dismissive of the old guard and sneering and pretty fun, all in.

I think it’s not really a text meant for a Djuna Barnes naif like myself, and I’m sure someone already familiar with her work, tropes, aesthetics, ideas etc would enjoy this a lot more than I could, but as a brief, discursive exploration of 1920s Paris and a journey there from America, it’s a fun, engaging, trip.

Order direct from Sublunary Editions here.


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