Yourcenar, Marguerite (1903 - 1987)

Genre: General Fiction, Non-Fiction

Born in Bailleul, Belgium on June 8, 1903, of a Belgian mother (who died soon after childbirth) and a French father, Marguerite Yourcenar (nee de Crayencour) was a poet, historian, world traveller, translator, essayist, and critic. She studied at Yale University in the 1930s and came to Mount Desert Island's Northeast Harbor in the mid-1940s. She had been visiting the U.S. when the Nazis invaded France and she stayed in the U.S., becoming a citizen in 1947 (later, her French citizenship was restored). Her home on MDI was called Petite Plaisance, and she lived there with her friend, lover, and translator Grace Frick for 40 years. Yourcenar also taught for a decade at Sarah Lawrence College, as professor of comparative literature from 1940-50. She received a Litt.D. from Bowdoin in 1968.

Her first published work was financed when she was 16 by her non-conformist father, who was her tutor and confidant. Her pen name was chosen then, an anagram of her surname. Yourcenar's novels' central figures are often men torn between duty and passion, with a focus on key moments in history.

Yourcenar was the first woman to be elected to the Academie Francaise, in 1980.

After Frick's death of cancer Yourcenar, had a passionate relationship with a 30-year old American, Jerry Wilson, who died of AIDS. Yourcenar died on Dec. 17, 1987, in Northeast Harbor, some say of a broken heart.

Selected Bibliography

  • Les Memoires d'Hadrien(1951)
  • Jardin des chimeres, a poem in dialogue form based on the myth of Icarus.
  • Alexis ou le Traite du vain combat, (1929, in letter format; reissued in 1963 in France and for the first time in English translation in 1984, asAlexis)
  • Feux fires; 1936), a collection of poetic monologues based on classical Greek and Judeo-Christian stories
  • Nouvelles orientales (Oriental Tales, 1938);
  • Le Coup de Grace (1939), about a Prussian solider who murders a woman who loves him because he loves her brother
  • Electre, ou la Chute des Masques (1954)
  • Les Charites d'alcippe (Alms of Alcippe, 1956)
  • Sous Benefice d'inventaire (1962; published in U.S. as The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays, 1984))
  • Fleuve Profound, Sombre Riviere: Negro Spirituals (1964), with commentary and translation by Yourcenar)
  • L'Oeuvre au noir (1968; first English translation as The Abyss in 1976;
  • Yes, Peut-etre, Shage (1969)
  • Souvenirs Pieux (Dear Departed, 1974), part of La Labyrinthe du monde;
  • La Labyrinthe du monde (1974-1984), a 3-volume memoir which took her to the age of puberty
  • Comme L'eau qui Coule (1982; published in English as Two Lives and a Dream, 1987)
  • Le Temps, Ce Grand Sculpteur (That Mightly Sculptor, Time, 1984/1989), a collection of essays
  • Dreams and Destinies (1999)

Selected links