Sunday, April 08, 2018

On Friendship (Elena Poniatowska)

Elena Poniatowska's Leonora is a biographical novel that closely follows the eventful life of her longtime friend, the artist and writer Leonora Carrington, who, like Poniatowska, was European-born but Mexican by choice or accident. (Carrington died in 2011, aged 94, and Poniatowska, one of Mexico's most distinguished writers, is now in her mid-80s.) In the early 1940s, following the fall of France and a traumatic stay in a mental institution in Spain, Carrington migrated to New York City alongside a host of artistic luminaries, including her former lover Max Ernst, who by that time was romantically involved with the wealthy arts patron Peggy Guggenheim. Poniatowska's chapters covering this period are peppered with the familiar names of her fellow emigrés Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Luis Buñuel, and Marc Chagall, but the appearance of one name in particular caught my eye. Carrington and Ernst remain close, and often spend the day together exploring Manhattan. Poniatowska writes:
They wandered the shores of the Hudson, along which steamed long freighters that Bell Chevigny saw pass by from her window on Riverside Drive.
Chevigny is not otherwise identified, and in fact never mentioned again, but I recognized her name, because many years ago I took a college course taught by one Bell Chevigny, a literary scholar and the author of a biography of Margaret Fuller. She would have been a young girl in the 1940s, and as far as I know had no direct connection to Carrington and the surrealist exiles in New York. So what is she doing in the pages of Leonora? One of her other areas of interest is modern Latin American literature (as it happens, I translated a few pages for a book on the subject that she co-edited) and she and Poniatowska have apparently known each other for years. Perhaps Poniatowska remembered Chevigny telling her how the ships would pass by her family's window when she was a child, and slipped her name into the text by way of a friendly wink.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

Small world!