Mental illness, women's writing and liminality: a comparative study of Leonora Carrington and Alda Merini

Zinnari, Alessia (2020) Mental illness, women's writing and liminality: a comparative study of Leonora Carrington and Alda Merini. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


In 1939, the English painter and writer Leonora Carrington was hospitalised against her will in Santander, while Spain was under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Carrington suffered a mental breakdown as a response to the outbreak of WWII and the arrest and deportation of her partner, Max Ernst. The account of her journey into madness is presented in her memoir of illness Down Below (1943). In 1964, the Italian poet Alda Merini was hospitalised in Milan at the request of her husband, as the result of a violent fight. From that day, Merini would spend ten years in and out of hospital, until the Basaglia Law closed the asylums at the end of the 1970s. Merini’s experience in the asylum is narrated in her memoir L’altra verità. Diario di una diversa (1986). By analysing Carrington’s and Merini’s memoirs of illness as feminist narratives, this study seeks to explore what the cross-cultural and interdisciplinary comparison of the writings of two women creators who experienced psychiatric hospitalisation in 20th century Europe tells us about the relationship between mental health and the construction of female subjectivity in a society that stigmatises mental illness and oppresses women. The two main themes to have emerged out of this critical comparison are that there is a nexus between the transformation of the hellish space of the asylum into a sacred and liminal place, and the conversion of the authors’ ordeal into a journey of mystical ascent. I argue that the two memoirs can be read as examples of both ‘scriptotherapy’ and écriture féminine, in which Carrington and Merini are able to merge the therapeutic and political functions that characterise these forms of writing to create empowering narratives that are subversive in scope. Ultimately, I argue that the theories presented in this thesis could be conceived of as a more wide-raging framework within which other underexplored autobiographies of illness written by women might be examined.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: women's writing, illness narratives, memoir, autobiography, trauma, healing, feminist theory, medical humanities, liminality, comparative studies, Italian studies, surrealism, visual cultures, Latin American literature, 20th century.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages
P Language and Literature > PC Romance languages
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > Comparative Literature
Supervisor's Name: Morris, Dr. Penelope and Eamon, Dr. McCarthy
Date of Award: 2020
Embargo Date: 25 August 2024
Depositing User: Dr Alessia Zinnari
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81613
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2020 12:51
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2022 14:14

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