Le merveilleux in the writings of Gisèle Prassinos and Leonora Carrington

Abigail Richards

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores le merveilleux in the experimental writings of two avant- garde women artist-writers who worked in dialogue with Surrealism – Turkish-born Gisèle Prassinos (1920-2015) and British-born Leonora Carrington (1917-2011). Prassinos’s ‘automatic’ writings were discovered by chance by her brother who introduced her to the surrealist group in 1934 while Carrington was introduced to the group by Max Ernst in 1937. Carrington has received more scholarly and popular attention than Prassinos who remains a lesser-known figure. In 2017, we celebrated the centenary of Carrington’s birth and she is now one of the best-known creative women of the French avant-garde. We are also approaching the one-hundredth anniversary of Prassinos’s birth and so this is an opportune time to bring her writings to the foreground. The Surrealists cast both young women into the role of the femme-enfant. In my thesis, I disentangle their identities as writers from this trope of the surrealist mythic image of woman.
Taking André Breton’s 1924 and Pierre Mabille’s 1940 theories of the surrealist merveilleux as a starting point (and Tzvetan Todorov’s 1970 theory of it as a literary genre as a point of comparison), I demonstrate that le merveilleux is an expansive concept. The Surrealists assigned le merveilleux a special status in their writings and redefined it from a specifically surrealist perspective. I argue that le merveilleux (as the discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary) emerges as a key concept in Prassinos’s and Carrington’s texts and that this aspect of women’s writing in relation to Surrealism remains unexplored. Through original close readings of a range of their writings, I bring to light my interpretations of le merveilleux in their prose and poetry. Overall, this thesis will present an alternative version of the surrealist merveilleux, extend what we know about it, and argue that women’s texts must be taken into account in a fuller appraisal of surrealist writing.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hemus, Ruth, Supervisor
  • Robertson, Eric, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Surrealism
  • Gisèle Prassinos
  • Leonora Carrington
  • Le merveilleux
  • Avant-garde
  • Women's writing

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