The idea of madness in Dorothy Richardson, Leonora Carrington and Anais Nin

Stacey Fox

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] This thesis is concerned with the representation of madness in three texts by modernist women: Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage, Leonora Carrington's "Down Below", and Anaïs Nin's The Diary of Anaïs Nin. I suggest that the contested, overdetermined concept of madness is a productive trope through which to consider these women's negotiation of the models of subjectivity, creativity and femininity available within modernism; and I am interested in how various forms of modernist madness are taken up, reproduced, appropriated and reformulated in their work. My analysis explores the different ways in which madness functions in these texts: its multiple significations, the self-consciousness with which it is deployed, and the diverse purposes (narrative, ideological, intellectual and personal) it serves. This thesis is not about the figure of the modernist madwoman, it is about the figuration of madness in modernist women's writing. Richardson, Carrington and Nin are perhaps an unlikely grouping, as they have not all been thought of as especially 'mad' or notably modernist. Certainly, they are not the obvious figures one would expect in a study of modernist women and madness. My thesis, however, is less concerned with whether (or to what extent) they can be considered 'mad' and it is not my aim to argue for their place in the modernist canon. ... In attending to the multiple and diverse figurations of madness in these texts, I am also doing something more than simply applying current theorisations 1 of madness. As influential as Foucault, for instance, has been to thinking about madness or psychoanalytic theory to considerations of modernism, Richardson, Carrington and Nin offer their own theories of madness and modernism. As such, my analysis is driven by the complex figurations evident in their own writing rather than by how they might illuminate or be illuminated by contemporary theoretical formulations (while also acknowledging my necessary imbrication in, and indebtedness to, the current 'post-Foucaultian' and, more particularly, feminist critical context). In my analysis of Pilgrimage I argue that medical discourse and the urban environment are critical sites in and through which Miriam Henderson, Richardson's heroine, grapples with the fin de siécle conflation of femininity and madness. Given Carrington's relationship with Max Ernst and her familiarity with the Parisian Surrealists, "Down Below" has most frequently been read in relation to Surrealist theories of madness. My chapters on Carrington, however, argue for the benefits of considering "Down Below" in relation to frameworks other than Surrealism and I read "Down Below" as a critique of institutional psychiatry and as a form of war literature. Finally, in relation to Nin, I attend to the array of references to madness recurring throughout the Diary, and argue that Nin uses various conceptions of madness in order to carve out a space for her conception of a productive, feminine form of creativity. Approaching these texts through the oblique angle of madness is a surprisingly productive reading strategy, one which reveals unexpected connections between these three writers and opens up new readings of their texts and of modernism.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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