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, female friendship 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. Chadwick draws on personal correspondence between women, including the extraordinary letters between Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini during the months following the arrest and imprisonment of Carrington’s lover Max Ernst at the beginning of World War Two, and the letter Frida Kahlo shared with her friend and lover Jacqueline Lamba years after it was written in the late 1930s during a difficult stay in Paris, marred by her intense dislike of Breton.
Thoroughly engrossing, this history brings a new perspective to the political context of Surrealism, as well as fresh insights on the vital importance of female friendship to its artistic and intellectual flowering.