Marguerite Duras Biography

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(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 publisher Gallimard and began to write novels. At Gallimard, writer and editor Raymond Queneau was supportive of her first writing efforts, and subsequently most of her works appeared under the firm’s imprint. With the publication of her first novel in 1943, she adopted her nom de plume Duras (the name of a village in Gascony).

On the request of actor-director Claude Martin, Duras adapted her novel Le Square (1955; The Square, 1959) for the stage and continued writing plays or adapting foreign plays for the French stage. Four of her early novels were made into motion pictures by René Clément, Peter Brook, Jules Dassin, and Tony Richardson, respectively. In 1960, Duras won international fame with her script for Alain Resnais’s film Hiroshima mon amour. The critical and popular success of her novel The Lover and of its controversial film adaptation (1991) by Jean-Jacques Annaul once again catapulted Duras into the limelight. Ironically, her dissatisfaction with Annaud’s treatment led to her rewriting her own versions of the screenplay as the cinematic novel L’Amant de la Chine du Nord (1991; The North China Lover, 1992). Until late in her life, she remained actively engaged in writing for the theater and motion pictures, often closely following the rehearsals or shooting and sometimes directing them herself.

In her work as a journalist, Duras contributed both to newspapers and to television. She was a crime reporter for a time and maintained a fascination with crime, which she saw as a desperate way of making a statement. Her unique blend of politics and aesthetics marked her as one of the most original, visible, and controversial literary figures of twentieth century France.


(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...

(The entire section is 2,299 words.)