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The Militant Muse

Love, War and the Women of Surrealism

Whitney Chadwick

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An elegantly written exploration of the intense, complex and far-reaching female friendships among the surrealists

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‘I didn’t have time to be anyone’s Muse … I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist’ Leonora Carrington

The Militant Muse documents what it meant to be young, ambitious and female in the context of an avant-garde movement defined by celebrated men whose educational, philosophical and literary backgrounds were often quite different from those of their younger lovers and companions.

Focusing on the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Whitney Chadwick charts five intense, far-reaching female friendships among the surrealists to show how surrealism and the experiences of war, loss and trauma shaped individual women’s transitions from beloved muses to mature artists. Her vivid account includes the fascinating story of Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe’s subversive activities in occupied Jersey, as well as the experiences of Lee Miller and Valentine Penrose at the frontline. The book draws on personal correspondence between the women, including the extraordinary letters between Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini following the imprisonment of Carrington’s lover Max Ernst, and the letter Frida Kahlo shared with her friend and lover Jacqueline Lamba years after it was written in the 1930s during a difficult stay in Paris.

This thoroughly engrossing history brings a new perspective to the political context of surrealism, as well as fresh insights on the vital importance of female friendship to artistic and intellectual flowering.

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'A beautifully constructed study of the complicated ways women needed each other and urged each other on'

'An important contribution to the way surrealism is understood… it succeeds in transforming our understanding of a whole generation of artists, both women and men'
Literary Review

'Indefatigably researched and written with subdued passion … a valuable and absorbing account of the importance of female solidarity and friendship'
Times Literary Supplement

'A captivatingly rich account of female love, determination and support'
Vanessa Longden, LSE Review of Books

'Chadwick provides us with one way of re-establishing those connections and appreciating the remarkable lives of Surrealism’s neglected women'

'Engaging… Chadwick’s eloquence and research enable us to appreciate the substance of these women at last'
Church Times

'A glorious antidote to the macho myths of the avant-garde'

'Extraordinary and defiant; the history that Chadwick has unearthed will undoubtedly influence our understanding and interpretation of the surrealist movement for years to come'
Oxonian Review

'Engrossing … this book will surely go a long way to cementing their fascinating legacy'
Review 31

'Extraordinary … so well written … A strong book, with strong but also vulnerable women'
Breakaway Reviewers

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Publication date: 5 October 2017

ISBN: 9780500239681

Contents List

1. The Alchemy of Desire: Valentine Penrose and Alice Rahon Paalen, India 1937 • 2. The Two Leonors: Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini, Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche, 1938–41 • 3. ‘I Will Write to You with My Eyes’, Frida Kahlo and Jacqueline Lamba Breton, Mexico and Paris, 1938–45 • 4. Soldiers without Names, Claude Cahun, Suzanne Malherbe and Jacqueline Lamba, Jersey, 1938–45 • 5. Wars without End, Lee Miller and Valentine Penrose, 1940–78

About the Author

Whitney Chadwick is Professor Emerita at San Francisco State University. Among her other books are Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, Women, Art and Society and Significant Others: Creativity and Intimate Partnership.

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