Listening to the Silences of Kay Sage


  • Echo Callaghan Trinity College Dublin


Kay Sage, Women of Surrealism, Silence in Theatre, Avant-Garde Theatre, Surrealism and Gender


Through close analysis of two of her Surrealist one-act plays, this essay aims to introduce readers to the under-researched written work of Kay Sage and highlight the originality of her approach to gender, theatre and silence. In two of her plays, Chateau de Chemillieu and Failure to Discover, silence is depicted as a visceral and alien presence that intrudes on the ordinary experiences of Sage’s characters. These presences are recognisable, conforming to the mythology around ghosts and spiritualism, but also unnerving in their refusal to melt away into the background. These depictions of silence as a powerful and emotive presence illustrate her belief in communicative possibilities beyond the conventional constraints of the verbal world. Furthermore, her work explores the ways in which her female characters are silenced, engaging with the complex gendered politics of the Surrealist movement.



• Baker, David, and Ludy Benjamin, From Séance to Science: A History of the Profession of Psychology in America, (n.p.: University of Akron Press, 2014)
• Belton, Robert, The Beribboned Bomb: The Image of Woman in Male Surrealist Art, (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995)
• Blanco, María del Pilar, 'The Spectral Turn/Introduction', Spectralities Reader: Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory, edited by Esther Peeren, (New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2013) pg. 31-36
• Breton, André, 'First Surrealist Manifesto'. Theatre of the Avant-Garde, 1890-1950: A Critical Anthology, edited by Robert Knopf and Bert Cardullo. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001). 365-372.
• Carlson, Martin, The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine, (n.p: University of Michigan Press, 2003)
• Chadwick, Whitney. ‘An Infinite Play of Empty Mirrors’, Mirror Images : Women Surrealism and Self-Representation’, edited by Whitney Chadwick, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998).
• Chesney, Duncan McColl, “Silence Nowhen: Late Modernism, Minimalism and Silence in the Work of Samuel Beckett”,Currents in Comparative Romance Languages and Literatures, edited by Tamara Alvarez-Detrell and Michael G. Paulson, (New York and Washington: Peter Lang AG International Academic Publishers, 2013).
• Jaworski, Adam. The Power of Silence: Social and Pragmatic Perspectives, ( Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc, 1993)
• Lust, Natalya, 'Surrealism’s Banging Door'. Textual Practice, 17:2, 2003: pp. 335-356.
• Oxford English Dictionary Online. (Oxford University Press, 2000). accessed Jul 22, 2021,
• Robeson Miller, Stephen, 'In the Interim: The Constructivist Surrealism of Kay Sage', Surrealism and Women, ed Mary Ann Caws, Rudolph Kuenzli, Gloria Raaberg, (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1991)
• ––––, Kay Sage: The Biographical Chronology and Four Surrealist One-Act Plays, (New York: Gallery of Surrealism, 2011)
• Sage, Kay, quoted in Judith Suther , A House of Her Own: Kay Sage Solitary Surrealist, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997)
• Four Surrealist One Act Plays, Trans Stephen Robeson Miller, (New York: Gallery of Surrealism, 2011)
• Sontag, Susan, Styles of Radical Will, (London: Penguin Classics, 2009)
• Suther, Judith, 'The Poetry of Kay Sage and French Surrealism.' Comparative Literature Studies 23, no. 3 (1986): 234-49.
• ——A House of Her Own: Kay Sage Solitary Surrealist, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997)
• Sword, Helen, Ghostwriting Modernism, (New York and London: Cornell University Press, 2002)