Mapping the Self: Leonora Carrington’s Journey through the Mad Mind in Down Below


This article examines the Map of Down Below as a central element for understanding Leonora Carrington’s Down Below (1944). Carrington’s Surrealist memoir about madness, first dictated in French and then translated into and published in English, recounts her experience of being interned in a mental asylum during the early Francoist dictatorship in Spain while trying to flee from the Nazis in France. The text has often been read as a Surrealist autobiography contesting André Breton’s Nadja (1928). However, and without disavowing this reading, I argue that the way in which Carrington narrates her experience of madness is a means to gather knowledge about the world and the Self beyond the literary and institutional conventions of the time, namely, autobiography and eugenic psychiatry as part of the authoritarian state. Thus, I explore how Down Below, as life writing, illuminates a form of truth that deviates from the autobiographical tradition of the unitarian Self. Carrington’s found truth sheds light on other possibilities of experiencing—or creating—the Self, while she also challenges both the normative Francoist psychiatry and traditional life writing.

Author Biography

Laura de la Parra Fernández, Universidad de Salamanca
Laura de la Parra Fernández is a full-time lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Salamanca. She holds a PhD in Literary Studies from the Complutense University of Madrid, where she completed a four-year research and teaching fellowship funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU-MECD). She has been a visiting scholar at Birkbeck College, University of London, and at Harvard University.


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