Study Guide

Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111204715-Yourcenar.jpgMarguerite Yourcenar Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The first woman to be elected to the French Academy, Marguerite Yourcenar (yewr-suh-nahr) was one of the most original writers of post-World War II France. She was born in Brussels, Belgium, on June 8, 1903, the only daughter of aristocratic and wealthy parents, Michel and Fernande de Crayencour. Several days after her birth, her mother died of puerperal fever and peritonitis; Marguerite was raised then by a series of nurses and maids, as she and her father moved from Belgium to northern France to Paris. Her father, as she lovingly and admiringly portrays him in her autobiographical Archives du Nord (northern archives), was an adventurous and unconventional man who loved the cosmopolitan excitement of European casino and spa towns. Well-read in literature, he revealed to his daughter the beauty of French, English, Latin, and Greek masterpieces, while private tutors taught her the other school subjects. She was thus able to pass the baccalauréat examinations in 1919.{$S[A]Crayencour, Marguerite de;Yourcenar, Marguerite}

Two years later, at age eighteen, she published Le Jardin des chimères (the garden of chimeras) at her father’s expense, under the pen name Marguerite Yourcenar (an incomplete anagram of her surname), followed the next year by another work of poetry, Les Dieux ne sont pas morts (the gods are not dead). The publication in 1929 of her novel Alexis not only saw the first favorable reviews but also was followed in quick succession by other novels and short stories, mostly written in the confessional letter-monologue genre. These involve psychological...

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Marguerite Yourcenar Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Marguerite Yourcenar was born Marguerite de Crayencour in Brussels in 1903. Her mother died a few days after Marguerite was born, and she was reared by her father, who supervised her education at home. They would read aloud to each other in French, English, Latin, and Greek. As a child, she lived sometimes at Mont Noir, the family home near Lille in northern France, and sometimes in Paris or the south of France. Her father took her to England in 1914, in flight from the Germans. A year later, they returned to Paris and then fled to the south of France.

In With Open Eyes, Yourcenar says that she felt herself and her father to be contemporaries from the time she was about thirteen. He paid for the publication of her first book, Le Jardin des chimères, as a Christmas gift, and he helped her to invent the anagrammatic pseudonym that she later made her legal name. He died when she was in her mid-twenties. His portrait is given at length in the second volume of her family chronicle, How Many Years.

Yourcenar traveled extensively. She made her first visit to the United States during the winter and spring of 1937-1938. At the beginning of the war in 1939, she returned to the United States at the invitation of an American friend, Grace Frick, whom she had met in Paris two years earlier. Frick became Yourcenar’s lifelong companion and her English translator. What was planned as a visit of six months became a permanent change of residence for Yourcenar. For a while she taught French and comparative literature part time. She and Grace Frick (Yourcenar always referred to her by her full name) first visited Mount Desert Island in Maine in the early 1940’s, and they eventually bought a house there. Grace Frick died of breast cancer in 1979.

Yourcenar became an American citizen in 1947. Among her many interests were an active concern for the environment. She contributed to a variety of organizations for reducing overpopulation and pollution and for saving whales, seals, trees—whatever is threatened with extinction by avaricious exploiters.

Marguerite Yourcenar Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111204715-Yourcenar.jpgMarguerite Yourcenar Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Marguerite Yourcenar (yewr-suh-NAHR) was one of the most original writers of post-World War II France and the first woman ever elected to the French Academy, whose purpose is to maintain the purity of the French language and whose members are drawn from among the best minds in French letters and science. Born Marguerite de Crayencour in Brussels, Belgium, on June 8, 1903, she was the only child of aristocratic and wealthy parents, Michel and Fernande de Crayencour. Her mother died of fever and other complications shortly after giving birth. Marguerite was reared by a series of nurses and maids as she and her father moved from Belgium to northern France to Paris.

Her father was an adventurous and unconventional man, as she lovingly and admiringly portrayed him in her 1977 autobiographical Archives du Nord (How Many Years, 1995). He loved the cosmopolitan excitement of European casino and spa towns. Also a student of literature and well read in the classics, he revealed to his daughter the beauty of French, English, Latin, and Greek masterpieces while private tutors taught her the other school subjects. Yourcenar as a result passed the baccalauréat examinations in 1919 at the early age of sixteen. Only two years later, she published Le Jardin des chimères (1921; the garden of chimeras) at her father’s expense under the pen name Marguerite Yourcenar (an incomplete anagram of her last name, which later became her legal name). This work of poetry was followed the next year by another more ambitious collection of poems, Les Dieux ne sont pas morts (1922; the gods are not dead).

The publication in 1929 of the novel Alexis: Ou, Le Traité du vain combat (Alexis, 1984) not only brought the first favorable reviews but was also followed in quick succession by other works of fiction....

(The entire section is 762 words.)

Marguerite Yourcenar Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

During a 1968 interview with the noted French author Françoise Mallet-Joris, Marguerite Yourcenar declared, “I believe in the nobility of refusal.” Indeed, all her protagonists rebel against moral or cultural limits and engage in deviant behavior or radical ideas, but they often find themselves unable to resolve the conflicts between society’s demands and their passions as they seek either wisdom or truth. Marguerite Yourcenar is recognized for the loftiness of her thought, the breadth of her culture, and the humanity of her creations. Her works, while traditional in their style, are both elegant and contemporary.