Duras was one of France's most important and most prolific writers in the twentieth century. During her long writing career, she produced a large number of texts in a wide variety of genres. She is best known for her prize-winning autobiographical novel L'amant (1984) and the screenplay for Alan Resnais's 1959 film Hiroshima mon amour.
Duras was born Marguerite Donnadieu on April 4, 1914, in a small town near Saigon, French Indochina (now Vietnam). Her parents, Henri Donnadieu and Marie Legrand Donnadieu, were teachers, originally from the northern part of France. Although her father's death in 1918 and her mother's purchase of worthless land from the corrupt colonial government left the family in financial distress, Duras nonetheless was able to attend the Lycée de Saigon where she studied both French and Vietnamese. In 1931, she left Indochina to study at the Sorbonne, where she completed a degree in law and political science four years later. From 1935 to 1941 Duras worked as a secretary for the Colonial Ministry, where she met the author Robert Antelme. They married in 1939; both were active members of the Communist Party. During World War II, Antelme was imprisoned for a year in a German concentration camp while Duras worked with the French Resistance and began writing fiction. She published her first novel, Les impudents, in 1943. When Antelme was released after the war, Duras nursed him back to health although the couple had already agreed to divorce. She later married Dionys Mascolo, a philosopher and fellow Communist, with whom she had a son, Jean. In 1950, Duras and a number of other French intellectuals were expelled from the Communist Party. In 1984, while recovering from alcoholism in a treatment center, she produced L'amant, her most celebrated and most commercially successful effort. Her lifelong battle with alcoholism led to serious health problems which resulted in her death on March 3, 1996.
Duras's writing career spanned more than four decades during which she produced more than seventy novels, plays, screenplays, and adaptations. Her experiences in life often surfaced in her fiction: her novel Un Barrage contre le Pacifique (1950; The Sea Wall) contains one of many representations of her mother's struggle against the corrupt colonial government in Indochina; La Douleur (1985; The War) includes a narrator who nurses her husband back to health after his release from a prisoner-of-war camp; and both Hiroshima mon amour and Moderato Cantabile (1958), among others, feature characters plagued by the alcoholism that destroyed Duras's own health. Many of her early works are based on her experiences in French Indochina and reflect her fascination with colonial culture and her concern with issues of social justice. Her novels from the 1950s, such as Le marin de Gibraltar (1952; The Sailor from Gibraltar) and Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia (1953; The Little Horses of Tarquinia), are less linear and more ironic, and feature fewer, more individual, characters. The works she produced in the 1960s, including Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein (1964; The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein) and Le vice-consul (1966; The Vice-Consul), employ minimalist techniques and are often referred to as antinovels. The eclectic group of texts she wrote during the 1980s is characterized by isolation and the self-destruction associated with the inability to love. These works include La maladie de la mort (1982; The Malady of Death) and Emily L. (1987). Also during this period, Duras produced her most celebrated work at the age of seventy. L'Amant was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1984, and Barbara Bray's English translation of the work, The Lover, won the 1986 Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. The work recalls Duras's experiences as a child in Indochina and her relationships with her domineering mother, her lazy and philandering older brother, and her beloved younger brother.
In addition to her novels and short stories, Duras wrote a number of plays in...
(The entire section is 36,182 words.)