Dalvaux, 1952 by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
Dalvaux, 1952 by Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
You probably know Leonora Carrington for her rich, wry surrealist paintings, sculptures, drawings, and sketches. She also wrote rich, wry surrealist tales, which the good people at Dorothy have collected in The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington.
I kind of flipped out when I first saw the publication announcement for this collection. Her work has been out of print for ages. Years ago, I found a samizdat copy of The Oval Lady (1975) on the internet (and shared some of the stories on this blog), and consumed it in an hour or two. Witty and weird, Carrington’s stuff defies easy allegory or staid symbolism. Her stories are fun but dark, paragraph unfurling into paragraph in a strange dream-logic that recalls her visual skill as a painter.
The Complete Stories is so complete that it contains a pawful of unpublished stories, including “Mr. Gregory’s Fly,” which you can read on LitHub. I’ve dipped into the stories a few times, reading slowly—Carrington’s sentences are loaded with imagery, rich, but somehow light and not dense. Full review to come, but for now, here’s Dorothy’s blurb (and a few paintings):
Surrealist writer and painter Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) was a master of the macabre, of gorgeous tableaus, biting satire, roguish comedy, and brilliant, effortless flights of the imagination. Nowhere are these qualities more ingeniously brought together than in the works of short fiction she wrote throughout her life.
Published to coincide with the centennial of her birth, The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington collects for the first time all of her stories, including several never before seen in print. With a startling range of styles, subjects, and even languages (several of the stories are translated from French or Spanish), The Complete Stories captures the genius and irrepressible spirit of an amazing artist’s life.
Concurrent with The Complete Stories, the NYRBooks will be publishing Carrington’s memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams.
I’m in the middle of Paul Bowles’s stories right now, and loving the weird sinister menace of it all. I’ll probably take a crack at some of his novels this year too (The Sheltering Sky next? I’ll need to pick them up).
Senges’s The Major Refutation is also on deck.
Not pictured, because it’s not out yet, is Leonora Carrington’s The Complete Stories (forthcoming in the spring from Dorothy); I’m really looking forward to this one. The NYRB is also publishing Carrington’s memoir Down Below, which looks really cool. I’ve only read the collection The Oval Lady (and that through samizdat means), so I’m happy to see Carrington’s words in print.
Also not pictured because its forthcoming (from Two Lines Press) is Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll (translated by Adam Morris). I’m anxious to read more from Noll after digging his novella Quiet Creature on the Corner.
Back to the stack in the picture: I loved Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo and The Freelance Pallbearers (which strikes me as a really under-remarked upon novel), and I plan on getting to Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down at some point this year.
I’ve had a few false starts with Arno Schmidt’s The Egghead Republic, but maybe I can knock it out in a weekend.
I’ve taken multiple cracks at the novels by Gray, Murdoch, and Hawkes in the stack…so we’ll see.
I read Leon Forrest’s There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden in a blur; I’d like to reread it and the other Forrest novel I picked up last month, Two Wings to Veil My Face.
I’ve read enough Pynchon now to make a better effort with Vineland…but again, we’ll see (I’m actually kind of jonesing to reread Against the Day).
(And oh I didn’t make a list like this in 2016, but I was 4 for 8 in the one I did in 2015).
The Temptation of St. Antony, Leonora Carrington
Nice piece by Alice Sprawls on Leonora Carrington (whose work is now on display in the Tate) in The London Review of Books today. Excerpt:
Domesticity in Carrington’s paintings and stories is the scene of Ovidian and spiritual transformations; cooking was a sort of alchemy, like painting, and she began increasingly to use egg tempera – influenced by paintings she had seen in Siena but also by its almost culinary processes (separating the egg yolk, adding wine or vinegar then water and pigment). She refused to explain her personal symbolism, but called reading The White Goddess ‘the greatest revelation of my life’. The figure of the muse, Robert Graves’s ‘Mother of all Living, the ancient power of fright and lust’, became less burdensome as manifested in The Giantess (c.1950), whose colossal central figure towers over the scene like a Madonna della Misericordia. She cradles an egg; geese fly out from beneath her pallium; her golden hair is a field of wheat. Around her feet a hunt is taking place – Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest but with a sylph instead of a stag – while the sea behind is teeming with boats, whales, crabs and bizarre creatures like monsters on a medieval map.
From 1950 the paintings become even more fantastical. Many are dominated by bald, spectral white figures: the Sidhe of Irish legends her grandmother told her. In Darvault(1950), Carrington’s two sons by Weisz, Pablo and Gabriel, stand in a de Chirico-esque courtyard, pale and cloaked with small plants growing from their heads. Is Carrington the feline figure in the apron with the elaborate white headdress and whiskers? InDown Below Carrington had described the worldview of her madness – ‘the father was the planet Cosmos, represented by the planet Saturn: the son was the Sun and I the Moon, an essential element of the Trinity, with a microscopic knowledge of the earth’ – and in Mexico she incorporated more and more elements of myth and occultism into her works; not just the Catholicism and Celtic stories of her childhood but astrological and Egyptian imagery, cabbala, Tibetan Buddhism, tarot.