Lucina Schell at The Quarterly Conversation:
Before Leonora Carrington became a famed surrealist artist and writer, she went mad. In the late 1930s, the English debutante was living with her lover Max Ernst (more than 20 years her senior) in a farmhouse in Provence, when Ernst was imprisoned on a visit to Paris and sent to a concentration camp. As the German army advanced, Carrington fled across the Pyrenees into Spain, where, after exhibiting increasingly deranged behavior, she was interned in an insane asylum in Santander. Down Below is Carrington’s brief yet harrowing account of her journey to the other side of consciousness.
It was André Breton who encouraged Carrington to write down her experience. Liberation of the mind was the ultimate aim of surrealism, and Carrington, already consecrated as a surrealist femme-enfant, a conduit for her much older lover to the realms of youth and mystery, had now traveled further than any of them and lived to tell the tale. While she was predisposed to find artistic merit in her experience of madness, Carrington’s reasons for telling her story seem more personal and therapeutic: “How can I write this when I’m afraid to think about it? I am in terrible anguish, yet I cannot continue living alone with such a memory…I know that once I write it down, I shall be delivered.”