Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pride Month Profile: Marguerite Yourcenar, born 113 years ago today

Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour, writing as Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987)

Novelist, essayist, poet, critic, playwright
Fellow of the French Academy, 1980
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 1987
Recipient, The Erasmus Prize, 1987

Born in Belgium, Yourcenar published her first novel in 1929, and a translation of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, in 1937. That year she began a relationship with the American literary scholar, Grace Frick, that lasted until Yourcenar’s death in 1987.

A prolific writer, Yourcenar established herself early on as a master of the French language, and published her work in France throughout her fifty year residency in the United States. She moved there ahead of World War II at Frick’s invitation; the couple lived in New York and Connecticut before settling on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Eric Pace described her works as ranging "from Memoirs of Hadrian - an imaginary autobiography of the Roman emperor written as a letter to his grandson Marcus Aurelius - to a volume of stories, Oriental Tales (first published in 1938 in French), that drew on the folklore of medieval Japan and other cultures. 
"She also wrote plays, poems and prose poems and translated into French the lyrics of American spirituals as well as works by such authors as James Baldwin, the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, Henry James, Thomas Mann, Yukio Mishima and Virginia Woolf."

She was the first woman elected to the French Academy; that venerable body adapted- 65 years before bathroom panics became a staple of public discourse- by changing the restroom door signs to “Messieurs/Marguerite Yourcenar.”

In the Academy, Yourcenar- a Belgian who lived in America- was a sort of reverse image of another of the “immortals”, Julien Green, an American who lived most of his 98 years in France.

The New York Times reported, at her death,
Commenting on her induction, Miss Yourcenar said: ''This uncertain, floating me, whose existence I myself dispute, here it is, surrounded, accompanied by an invisible troupe of women who perhaps should have received this honor long before, so that I am tempted to stand aside to let their shadows pass.'' 
She also said the academy was not to blame for not admitting women sooner. ''One cannot say,'' she said, ''that in French society, so impregnated with feminine influences, the academy has been a notable misogynist: it simply conformed to the custom that willingly placed a woman on a pedestal but did not permit itself to officially offer her a chair.''
As meticulous in planning her life as she was in her books, she left nothing to chance:
Miss Yourcenar was known to have prepared a tombstone for her eventual grave, complete up to the final two digits of the date of her death. In the interview with Normal, Miss Yourcenar said she had met a Frenchwoman who was horrified that she had even put the first two numbers of her death date on the marker. ''So she said 'but why should you not live to the year 2000?' I have absolutely no desire to live till the year 2000,'' Miss Yourcenar said. ''The year 2000 is not for me.''

No comments:

Post a Comment

We enjoy hearing from visitors! Please leave your questions, thoughts, wish lists, or whatever else is on your mind.