The Debutante and Other Stories
by Leonora Carrington
With an Introduction by Sheila Heti and an Afterword by Marina Warner
A debutante frees a hyena from the zoo so that it might take her place at her coming-out ball; an artist paints a portrait of a man’s dead wife, but finds she has painted herself instead; a woman makes love to a boar underneath a mountain of cats; a chicken is roasted with the brains and livers of thrushes, truffles, crushed sweet almonds, rose conserve and drops of divine liqueur; two noble sisters wonder whether anybody can be ‘a person of quality if they wash away their ghosts with common sense’; a psychoanalyst must decide what to do with the gift of a team of Russian rats trained to operate on humans. In this first complete edition of Leonora Carrington’s short stories, written throughout her life from her early years in Surrealist Paris to her late period in Dirty War-era Mexico City, the world is by turns subversive, funny, sly, wise and disarming.
Publication: 6 April 2017
Extent: 168 pages
Praise for Leonora Carrington
‘Leonora Carrington has unswervingly followed the intensity of her own particular vision and way of being . . . Her work bristles with a fierce, unconventional brand of feminism; anger gives it its final edge of irony and power.’ Angela Carter
'Leonora Carrington is a true one-off, but she has a place in that bright constellation of absurdists, fabulists and dream voyagers, alongside Artaud and Lewis Carroll, Firbank and Gertrude Stein, Angela Carter and Patti Smith. But for far too long her unmistakable voice, wonderfully strange and funny, could only be heard and savoured over beloved, read-to-bits old copies of her writings. So all congratulations now to Silver Press for brilliantly bringing back into print this rich collection of her incomparable tales.' Marina Warner
‘Carrington’s stories are optimistic and nihilistic, beautiful and grotesque, tender and cruel. She never contented herself with something simple or trite, a philosophy of life that can be shortened and simplified and put in a fortune cookie.’ Sheila Heti
‘Leonora Carrington is so inspiring . . . I love her freedom, her humour and how her work invents its own laws. What specifically do I take from her? Her wig.’ Björk
‘Romantic heroines, beautiful and terrible . . . come back to life in women like Leonora Carrington.’ Octavio Paz
‘Reading Leonora Carrington liberates us from the miserable reality of our days.’ Luis Buñuel
About Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was born in Clayton-le-Woods, Lancashire, the second of four children. Her mother, Marie Humphreys, née Moorhead, a great beauty, was Irish by birth; her father, Harold Carrington, had made a fortune in artificial textiles. Carrington was brought up at Crookhey Hall, a turreted grey stone mansion, in her mother’s Catholic faith, and sent away to convent schools, from which she was twice expelled. After being ‘finished’ in Florence, she acceded to her parents’ wish that she become a debutante in the 1936 season. A ball was held at the Ritz in her honour and she learned, to her outrage, that women weren’t allowed to place their own bets at Ascot. (She read Eyeless in Gaza there instead.) Carrington studied painting in London, against her father’s initial objections: first at Chelsea School of Art and then at the Amédée Ozenfant school, where she began to develop her exacting style. At a dinner party given by fellow student Ursula Goldfinger in 1937, she met the artist Max Ernst, with whom she went to live in Paris, though as she later put it: ‘I ran away to Paris. Not with Max. Alone.’ In Paris, Carrington began writing stories, in French, and publishing them privately, illustrated with her own drawings or etchings by Ernst. It was there that she completed her major self-portrait, Inn of the Dawn Horse (1937). Meeting the surrealists emboldened Carrington: Buñuel remembered her leaving a conversation midway through to take a shower fully clothed, and then coming back to continue it dripping wet. There are stories of naked dinner parties, of Carrington spreading mustard on her feet and serving guests omelettes made with their own hair.
The couple moved to the village of St-Martin-d'Ardèche in 1938, in part to avoid Ernst’s wife, Marie-Berthe. When war broke out, Ernst was arrested and interned as an enemy alien. Carrington, aged 22, suffered a breakdown and – after fleeing to Spain – was held in an asylum in Madrid, where she was given the drug Cardiazol, which induced fits. She described the experience in her memoir, Down Below (1944). Released into the care of her nanny, Carrington – who had no intention of returning to England – escaped from her in Lisbon and took refuge in the Mexican Embassy. A marriage of convenience to the Mexican diplomat and poet Renato Leduc, a friend of Picasso, allowed her to travel on to New York, and then to Mexico City, where she arrived in 1943.
In Mexico, Carrington joined an artistic circle which included Octavio Paz, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo as well as Remedios Varo, a fellow émigré, who became her closest friend and collaborator. She married the Hungarian photographer Imre (Chiki) Weisz in 1946. Their first son, Gabriel, was born in 1947, followed soon after by Pablo. Her short stories, many autobiographical, were published in several collections. Like her paintings they contain references to strange creatures, alchemical rituals and human folly. She also wrote several plays.
Politically active in the causes of human rights and women's rights, Carrington left Mexico for a year in 1968 in protest at the Tlatelolco massacre, where the military police shot hundreds of demonstrating students. In 1973, she designed a poster for the Mexican women’s liberation movement, of which she was a co-founder. Her best-known written work, the novel The Hearing Trumpet, was published in 1974. She died on 25 May 2011 in Mexico City and is buried in the British cemetery there.