Critical Context

Yourcenar’s Coup de Grace is one of her early works. It was written in the deceptively peaceful atmosphere of Sorrento, Italy, just before the beginning of World War II and just a year before she established her home in Maine with her American companion and translator Grace Frick. Yourcenar takes pride in her Belgian origins and would deny the strong existentialist tone of this and her other works, a predisposition of many writing in French during and after World War II. Nevertheless, her works share the theme of protagonists unable to rise above the moral chaos of their lives, usually because they cannot see the origins of the problem as emanating from themselves. Yourcenar saw Coup de Grace as a commentary on the state of the world at the brink of what was then considered total war. It was based on an episode, supposedly true, which had been related to her, but it has the potential to be of any time or any place.