Marguerite Duras Long Fiction Analysis
All of Marguerite Duras’s novels revolve around the central theme of love, a necessary and impossible passion that is most often addressed in a climate of violence and left unsatisfied. Several studies of Duras’s fiction divide the novels into three groups or periods. The first includes the traditional, autobiographical novels, often referred to as an American-inspired type of fiction, emulating the Hemingwayesque novel of adventure. These early works set forth most of the themes that are elaborated in subsequent novels. Les Impudents, La Vie tranquille, and The Sea Wall are concerned with young heroines in search of a lover or husband to fill the emptiness of their existence. Passive, lethargic women, they seek incarnation in the other, and their inner void is indistinguishable from the ennui and stagnation of their environment. They must wrench themselves from the domination of a brother or a mother, and, at the novel’s conclusion, their success is ambiguous.
The second phase of Duras’s novelistic career begins with The Sailor from Gibraltar; in this novel and its kin, the protagonists are preoccupied with unhappy love affairs from the past, which they attempt to reenact in the present. Similarly, in the screenplay Hiroshima mon amour, the French actress confuses her adolescent affair during World War II with an illicit affair in the present in a city that is a constant reminder of a tragic past. In Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night, a married couple turns to infidelity in order to mediate their past desires for each other. The wife’s encounter with a criminal in a city besieged by violent storms is Duras’s indirect affirmation of the destructive aspect of their love. Anne, in Moderato Cantabile, reenacts with Chauvin a crime of passion that they have both witnessed at the beginning of the novel. Eros and Thanatos are clearly linked in these novels, where the re-creation of love provokes desires and fantasies associated with crime, disorder, death, and destruction. In this second group of novels, Duras’s style begins to conform to her subject matter. The verbosity of description and the careful delineation ofnarrative events that marked the earlier works are discarded for a more poetic, allusive style in which characters’ motives and incidents of plot are evoked in a gesture or setting and emphasized through repetition. The atmosphere of violence associated with destructive passion begins to affect textual structure and style.
The Ravishing of Lol Stein begins a third group of novels. Duras said of this text that, whereas Moderato Cantabile is a finished product, the story of Lol was continually in the process of being written. For the most part, Duras’s subsequent fiction embodies fragments both of The Ravishing of Lol Stein and of her earlier works. Text thus mirrors content (characters’ memory or re-creation of past events), and it becomes clear that protagonists’ desires are equated with memory and writing, equally fictitious. The incipient stylistic and structural violence of the second group of novels is accentuated in this third group. Sentences and paragraphs are reduced to lyric fragments of the story, decor is stylized, characters’ identities are blurred, chronological time yields to phenomenological duration, and narrative control is abandoned in favor of poetic evocation. What has come to be known as the India cycle, comprising The Ravishing of Lol Stein, The Vice-Consul, L’Amour, and India Song, is but a series of decanted versions of the same story, one that springs from Duras’s childhood and adolescent experiences in French Indochina. In a sense, the story of love and desire is progressively internalized and made to reverberate in its repetitions.
The Sea Wall
Because of its critical success, The Sea Wall marks a turning point in Duras’s career as a novelist. Published in 1950, the novel was translated into English in 1952 and was adapted for the screen by René Clément in 1967. Often compared with the fiction of...
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