Marguerite Duras Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Marguerite Donnadieu was born on April 4, 1914, in Gia Dinh, in what was then Indochina and is now Vietnam. Her parents, who were teachers, had moved to Vietnam from the north of France. Widowed while her children (two sons and a daughter) were still young, Marguerite’s mother tried to support the family by farming on land granted by the government. Unfortunately, the land was frequently flooded, and Marguerite’s mother tried against all odds to reclaim it. This futile battle, Marguerite’s difficult relationship with her feisty mother, whom she perceived as domineering, and Marguerite’s attachment to her brother, are collectively the starting point of The Eden Cinema. Adding a definite sensual dimension to her work, the exotic landscape in which she grew up, with its steamy, hot climate and its luxuriant vegetation, is usually the setting for her plays. At the lycée in Saigon, Marguerite studied both Vietnamese and French and after receiving her baccalauréat (high school diploma), she continued her education in Paris, initially studying mathematics and finally getting her licence (undergraduate degree) in law in 1935.

Marguerite Donnadieu was married to Rober Antelme, a member of the Communist Party to which she herself belonged. She later was divorced from him and met another fellow Communist, Dionys Mascolo, with whom she had a son. After leaving the Ministère des Colonies in 1941, she went to work for the...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Marguerite Duras was born Marguerite Donnadieu on April 4, 1914, in Gia Dinh, Indochina (now Vietnam), where her parents came to teach from northern France. Her father died when she was young, and her mother undertook the rearing of two sons and a daughter by farming a government land grant. Duras’s attachment to her older brother and her ambivalent feelings toward her feisty and domineering mother are sketched in many of the novels but most particularly in The Sea Wall. The exotic landscape of Indochina, where Duras attended the lycée and took her baccalauréat in Vietnamese and French, colors her fiction. She excels at evoking a steamy, although often suffocating, atmosphere in settings that are rich in sensual vegetation.

In 1931, Duras went to Paris to continue her education, earning a licence in law and political science in 1935. A secretary for the Colonial Ministry from 1935 to 1941, she married Robert Antelme, an active member of the Communist Party and author of L’Espèce humaine (1947). Her own membership in the party and her participation in the Resistance movement during World War II bespoke a strong sense of political commitment, which she later rejected. It was during the war that she began to work at Gallimard and to write fiction. Although her first manuscript, “La Famille Taneran,” was never published, she was encouraged by Raymond Queneau to continue writing. Divorced from Antelme, Duras met Dionys Mascolo, a fellow Communist and author of a book about the Communist Party; they had a son, Jean. In 1950, Duras was one of a number of intellectuals excommunicated from the French Communist Party. As a result of this experience and, later, the revolution of May, 1968, she advocated a rejection of all ideology and a negation of bourgeois values and social conventions.

During the 1960’s, Duras was a journalist and conducted interviews on French television. In 1963, she achieved notoriety for her exposé of the Ben Barka affair during the Algerian revolt. She has also written articles for Vogue magazine and published short texts for feminist publications such as Sorcières. Duras lightheartedly satirized her own milieu, the intellectual Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, in a short story, “Madame Dodin.” Her country home in Neauphle-le-Château, outside Paris, served as the setting for some of her films. Duras died on March 3, 1996, after a long battle with alcoholism.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Marguerite Duras (dew-RAH) was born Marguerite Donnadieu on April 4, 1914, in Gia Dinh, near Saigon, French Indochina (now Vietnam), the youngest of three children. Her two brothers, Pierre and Paulo, shared much of the deprivation and adventure of her childhood. The family’s fortunes changed radically after the death of their father, Henri Donnadieu, a professor of mathematics, in 1918. After her father’s death, her mother, Marie LeGrand, kept the family in French Indochina, moving in 1924 to Sadeck and then to Vinhlong, where she taught at a school for Asian children. That same year she bought property on the Mekong River, hoping to run a profitable farm, but the land flooded after every planting season, wiping out all of the family’s work.

These childhood years in French Indochina contributed to themes and characters that recur in Duras’s works. The rain forests, for example, take on symbolic, terrifying, and seductive power in Détruire, dit-elle (1969; Destroy, She Said, 1970). As a child, Duras ran and played in the rain forests, hunting for birds and small game to bring back to her family to eat. Her freedom in the forest is consistently linked to the fear of the creatures in it as well as the necessity to return to the farm. The flooding of the farm apparently had a significant effect on Duras because floods and engulfings recur in her works.

Duras’s brothers also appear in her novels, most notably in L’Amant (1984; The Lover, 1985). Her novels recall how her brother Pierre, her mother’s favored child, tormented her and her other brother, Paolo. Duras’s close relationship with Paolo, the younger of the brothers, appears overtly in The Lover. Despite being the youngest child in the family, Duras tried to protect the slightly retarded Paolo from Pierre. Another experience reflected in her works is her mental breakdown at the age of twelve, which led to her fascination with insanity. The breakdown of the female protagonist in her screenplay Hiroshima mon amour (1959) reflects this integration of mental stability with the character’s development. Duras’s own assessment of life and work appears in a letter: “True writers have no life at...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Marguerite Duras, a highly acclaimed writer in various genres, put French Indochina on the map of modern world literature. Her understanding of the sensual, the corrupt, the futile, and the amoral is transmitted through her writings in a series of vivid images. These images raise the particular—a girl on a ferry or a flooded field, for example—toward the symbolic. Such images, often originating in Duras’s personal experience, may serve as metaphors for the larger historical and societal events that form the context and the backdrop to the lives of her characters.