‘The Debutante’ by Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington was a lifelong lover of animals. I remember reading that as she child she was so fond of her horse that for a time she believed she was a horse too. Horses and hyenas often feature in her magnificent Surrealist paintings and short stories. In ‘The Debutante’the female narrator is a frequent visitor to her local zoo. There she befriends a hyena, who turns out to be very intelligent – “I taught her French and she, in turn, taught me her language.” Keen to avoid playing the debutante and going to a ball, she and the hyena plot to swap places. This involves killing her maid Mary, so that the hyena can nibble off her face and adopt it as a mask. The prose is clean and simple, and the merry tone of the story makes the sudden swerve towards violence even more blackly comic and disturbing. Whilst the hyena goes to the ball, the debutante is able to stay in and enjoy reading Gulliver’s Travels. The hilarious, satirical twist at the end explores how difficult it is to maintain masks, especially when young women are expected to play feminine and nice; the hyena certainly can’t keep up the pretence for long…

First published in 1940 in André Breton’s Anthology of Black Humour.Collected inThe Debutante and Other Stories, Silver Press 2017

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