Communication as Cure
Treatment & Text in Leonora Carrington’s Down Below
Fleeing oncoming enemy forces in Southern France in the summer of 1940, Leonora Carrington passed into Spain and suffered a mental breakdown. Written in the summer of 1943 in an abandoned embassy building in Mexico City, the essay Down Below recalls this treatment in unnerving detail, anticipating later (semi-)autobiographical works such as Janet Frame’s Faces in the Water (1961) or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963). This essay seeks to build upon this scholarship by examining the composition of the text as a ‘treatment’ in itself, thus centring the clinical reality of Carrington’s experience, but also re-asserting her authorial agency. The intensely complex gestation of the text is, the author argues, intrinsic to its central themes and concerns, as well as constituting an essential element of the journey from illness to health. The author draws a comparison between the dehumanising effects of the sanitorium and the convulsive drug Cardiazol, whereby the isolation of madness is unbearably heightened; and the collaborative restoration of identity that occurs through narration.
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