Gisèle Prassinos - I never knew how to write a realistic story. I never knew how to draw or to write life as it is. Each line, each word distracts me and pulls me towards the impossible
Gisèle Prassinos, The Arthritic Grasshopper: Collected Stories, 1934–1944, Trans. by Henry Vale and Bonnie Ruberg, with an intro. by Bonnie Ruberg, Wakefield Press, 2017.
First discovered, celebrated, and published at the age of fourteen by the Surrealists (who declared her to be the “new Alice”), Gisèle Prassinos quickly established herself in the literary world as a fount of automatic tales woven through with transgressive humor, coy menace, and a pervading sense of threatened feminine identity within a hostile world. “Gisèle Prassinos’s tone is unique,” claimed André Breton, “all the poets are jealous of it. Swift lowers his eyes, Sade shuts his candy box.” The Arthritic Grasshopper: Collected Stories, 1934–1944 gathers together an assortment of anxious dream tales drawn from literary journals and plaquettes, introduced and illustrated by such admirers as Paul Éluard, Man Ray, and Hans Bellmer. These 72 stories include such longer, novella-length narratives as “Sondue,” “The Executioner,” and “The Dream.”
“She offers all comers a pure moment in exchange for centuries of boredom.”—Paul Éluard
Selected Short Works of Gisèle Prassinos, Translated and Introduced by Sarah Kalikman Lippincott, Class of 2007 (pdf)
"Gisèle Prassinos (Born 1920) is a French writer associated with the surrealist movement. She was born in Istanbul, Turkey and emigrated to France with her family at the age of two, where they lived initially in Nanterre. Her brother Mario Prassinos is an artist and illustrator. Her writing was discovered by André Breton in 1934, when she was just fourteen, and published in the French surrealist magazine Minotaure and the Belgian periodical Documents 34. Her first book, La Sauterelle arthritique (The Arthritic Grasshopper) was published in 1935 with a preface by Paul Éluard and a photograph by Man Ray. Marianne van Hirtum observed that the surrealists of the time recognised these early writings as a "veritable illustration of automatic language par excellence".
“I never knew how to write a realistic story. I never knew how to draw or to write life as it is. Each line, each word distracts me and pulls me towards the impossible,” explains Gisèle Prassinos in her semi-autobiographical novel Time is Nothing (Le Temps n’est rien). Best known as the precocious child poet adopted by the Surrealists as the embodiment of the “femme-enfant,” Prassinos continued to produce stories, novels and poems long after her association with Surrealism had ended, proving her true importance as an independent artist. What the Surrealists took for a juvenile ease in exposing the unconscious was actually the first sign of a burgeoning literary talent.
Prassinos was born in Istanbul in 1920 to a Greek family that was obliged to flee Turkey during the Greco-Turkish War—during which many Greeks were forcibly expelled from the country—when Gisèle was only two years old...
The stories included here were selected from four of Prassinos’ collections, representing different periods in the author’s work. They range from examples of her first texts, written between 1934 and 1944, to those written as recently as 1990. They are presented in chronological order. What makes her writing fascinating is its
intense association with the worlds of dream and myth. The construction of many of her stories is remarkably similar to the aspects of the dream-work as described by Freud, and leave the reader with the feeling of just emerging from a nightmare.
Others incorporate the enduring themes and structures of myth, allowing her to create a personal Surrealist mythology.
Gisèle Prassinos, The Traveller, Trans. By David Pryce-Jones, Harvill Press, 1961
"I can think of a half-dozen well-bred, literate lady novelists who could have written The Traveller by Gisèle Prassinos, in between giving select little dinner parties. It has the sort of unmistakably cultivated sheen about it that augurs well for its selection at one time or another as the Woman’s Hour serial. Laura, a Jewish girl, is abandoned by her mother as she flees with her older children from occupied France. Brought up by a tough, cat-loving spinster, she treasures an idealized picture of her family right into her married life. Then, out of the blue, she hears from them again, inviting her to join them in America. This is the crisis that forces her ‘to come to terms with her past and her future or to remain a traveller’. A soft, sentimental story, I was fascinated by the skill with which a well-bred, literate lady novelist (as distinct from a well-bred, illiterate lady novelist who never faces such problems) can, with a low-throated earnestness, transmute the incredibly harsh realities of life into something sweetly sad." - Frank McGuinness
for the speech of early morning
and its muscular taste of rebirth
even if daylight arriving should choke it
I would open the flowers of poison unaided
and let the last day dawn
I function, fertile
cannot offer oblivion
its gone way beyond tears
where are the flowery phrases of yesteryear?
Chapter on Gisèle Prassinos in a book 'Surrealism and Woman'