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Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar

The first woman to be elected to The French Academy, the multi talented personality of Marguerite Yourcenar was a novelist, essayist, playwright, short story writer, poet, translator and world traveler. She was an artist at reconstructing historical eras in the form of her novels. Her novels, dealing with modern issues set in historical eras won her immense fame as a writer.

Marguerite de Crayencour was born in Brussels, Belgium on June 8, 1903 to a French aristocratic descendant father, Michel Cleenewerck de Crayencour and a Belgian mother, Frenande de Cartier de Marchienne who died ten days after Marguerite’s birth. Up till 1912, Marguerite would shuffle living with an aunt in Belgium and family friends in northern France after which she settled with her father in Paris. Although mostly self taught by reading extensively, visiting museums and classical theatres, Marguerite did use the services of a professional teacher for her education. In 1914, she visited England where she learned English for one year while visiting famous historical sites and museums. Upon return to Paris, her father began teaching her Ancient Greek. She continued studying a variety of subjects from private tutors. Yourcenar’s formal education ended in 1919 after receiving a Baccalaureate degree.

a teenager, Marguerite began writing at an early age. Her first books to be published, Le Jardin des Chimères (1921) and Les Dieux ne sont pas morts (1922) were poetry collections. The sophisticatedly written poems followed Greek myths seeking relevance to the modern world. Her first novel, Alexis told the story of a dedicated artist who faced opposition from his family. It was published in 1929. Her extensive travelling, particularly a visit to Italy became inspiration for her next novel, A Coin in Nine Hands (1934), a novel based on the difference between reality and dreams. She adopted the name, Yourcenar as her penname and by 1947 it had become her legal name.

Escaping the outbreak of World War II, Yourcenar moved to the United States with her companion Grace Frick who also translated her major novels. Inclined towards bisexuality, Yourcenar became romantically involved with Frick and they remained a pair till Frick’s death in 1979. The couple lived for decades in a house they bought in Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

A visit to London in 1937 introduced Yourcenar to Virginia Woolf. Yourcenar translated Woolf’s novel, The Waves into French. She also translated into French, What Maisie Knew by Henry James. In 1951, Yourcenar published in France, her most famous work, Mémoires d’Hadrien, a fictional autobiographic account of a Roman emperor. She had been writing the novel on and off since 10 years. It immediately became successful and was met with highly appreciative critical acclaim. It was regarded as a modern classic.

In 1980, Marguerite Yourcenar was elected as the first female member of the Académie française. Writing mostly in French, Yourcenar was a prolific writer, contributing numerous novels, articles, essays, poems, plays, memoirs to modern literature. A heart stroke was followed by Marguerite’s death on December, 17, 1987 at Mount Desert Hospital, Maine. She is buried in Somesville, Maine.

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