Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jersey Girls

A LRB piece by Terry Castle alerted me to Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (a.k.a. Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe). Lovers, leftists, Surrealist artists, collaborators (in the artistic sense, mon amis), the kind of weird sisters (step-sisters, actually) who were way before their time (cf. Claude’s shaved skull androgynous look from 1916, among other things), so much more appealing then Gertrude and Alice. Castle, in fact, compares and contrasts them to Stein and Toklas, since they all ran with the Paris avant posse in the 1920s and lived under occupation during WWII. Schwob and Malherbe lived on Jersey, the Channel Island.* For four years of occupation, the two women were bold if quirky resistantes; they produced and distributed leaflets urging German soldiers to rebel. They also smuggled food to the local slave labor camp where East Europeans were condemned. In the end, they were arrested, and, failing two suicide attempts each, were tried and sentenced to death. They told all, but because they worked alone there was no one to betray, except each other (but the Nazis thought they were sisters till the end). The German judges called them “spiritual franc-tireurs,” or partisans, which must have pleased the Surrealist-inclined duo. They managed to survive in jail for nine months until the island’s liberation. A May 1945 picture shows the white-haired Schwob, who looks like someone you’d really like to know, a French Auntie Mame, posing with a Nazi eagle insignia badge in her mouth, swastika between her teeth like a cat who has swallowed everything but the rat’s tail.

You can't see it in the resolution above, but Cahun's 1927 shirt says “I AM IN TRAINING DONT KISS ME.”

*I've got some of the other Channel Island, Guernsey, in me: great great great grandmother Lucy Tracy's father was born on that bailiwick about 1782. He also ended up on St. Helena, where his daughter was born. I was born on an island; I live on island; and I consider an island to be the family home; just saying.


Traci said...
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Traci said...

I saw a show at NYU's Grey Gallery with Claude Cahoun, Maya Deren, and Cindy Sherman. Quite a trio, let me tell you.