Save the feet for later

Edmund Gordon

  • The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington by Joanna Moorhead
    Virago, 304 pp, £20.00, April, ISBN 978 0 349 00877 6
  • ‘The Debutante’ and Other Stories by Leonora Carrington
    Silver Press, 153 pp, £9.99, April, ISBN 978 0 9957162 0 9
  • Down Below by Leonora Carrington
    NYRB, 69 pp, £8.99, May, ISBN 978 1 68137 060 6
  • Leonora Carrington and the International Avant-Garde edited by Jonathan Eburne and Catriona McAra
    Manchester, 275 pp, £75.00, January, ISBN 978 1 78499 436 5

What Leonora Carrington remembered most clearly about being a debutante in 1935 was her tiara ‘biting’ into her skull. In her short story ‘The Debutante’, the teenage narrator hates balls, ‘especially when they are given in my honour’ (Carrington’s parents threw one for her at the Ritz), so she engages a hyena to take her place: the animal is about the right size, and she reckons nobody will make it out properly in the candlelight. She gives it her dress, finds some gloves to hide its paws and teaches it to walk upright in heels. Then she summons her maid, whose face the hyena tears off to wear as a mask (it eats the rest of her body, except the feet, which it saves for later in a little bag). The narrator settles down with a copy of Gulliver’s Travels, but before long her mother bursts into her room complaining that as they sat down to dinner, ‘that thing sitting in your place … tore off its face and ate it. And with one great bound, disappeared through the window.’

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