Marguerite Duras Duras, Marguerite (Vol. 11) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Duras, Marguerite 1914–

Duras is a French novelist, screenwriter, and dramatist whose work is often linked with that of the New Novelists. Her fiction is strongly visual and experimental, employing cinematographic techniques to explore themes of time, love, and the difficulty of communication. Critics have praised her talent for dialogue and her poetic evocation of atmosphere. She has collaborated with Alain Resnais, and is perhaps best known in America for Hiroshima mon amour. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Alfred Cismaru

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As does all her fiction after 1953 (the date of Les Petits chevaux de Tarquinia, a transitional work), Madame Duras' first play [Les Viaducs de la Seine-et-Oise] falls within the general pattern established by such writers as Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, to mention only the most famous among contemporary anti-dramatists: generally plotless compositions from which motivation, that stock prop of the traditional theater, is patently absent; completely or partly anonymous characters; banalities expressed by disarming clichés; disregard for psychological verisimilitude; meticulous, precise, and detailed presentation of objects; and obsessive and contradictory fragments of thoughts and souvenirs. But in adopting this pattern … Marguerite Duras' stage always evokes a psychological atmosphere, suggests a most human situation, seizes and seals the authentic impasses of heroes and heroines dissatisfied with their condition. Hope, weak, evasive, awkward, emerges somehow, even though aspirations hardly materialize, even though reincarnation remains utopian when it does not die in embryo, and even though the essential mediocrity of life becomes ultimately entrenched in the body and soul of most personages. For in spite of everything, the struggle involved in the attempted metempsychosis gives meaning and reason to one's existence and reaffirms the dignity of one's humanity. The total despair of the corpsed universe observable in the plays of...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Erica M. Eisinger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The basic theme of Marguerite Duras' novels, plays, and films is the interplay between love and destruction, conflicting drives which are often resolved in the violence of a criminal act. The fascination with the crime passionnel or love murder leads Duras naturally to a reliance on the detective story, a genre where murder is central and where the dual structure of crime and investigation offers a model for parallel movements toward violence, then communion. Duras shares the affinity of the authors of the nouveau roman for the themes and techniques of the detective story. Like Robbe-Grillet, Claude Ollier, and others, Duras' work adopts the basic detective story format: a mysterious crime followed by an intense effort at understanding. But where the nouveau roman focuses on the puzzle element of the detective story, Duras emphasizes the human drama of moral involvement in the mystery of another's criminal act….

Duras turns to the detective story along with the new novelists because she accepts its definition of reality as potentially violent and not immediately knowable. (p. 503)

Violent death, murder or suicide, is a central aspiration of all of Duras' heroines. This unconscious drive toward annihilation becomes unleashed through the dramatic confrontation with the crime of another. Duras' novels recount the transformation of an aimless, self-destructive woman into a purposeful detective. (p. 504)

The fundamental preoccupation is never the murder itself but its repercussions…. Duras' concern is with the irrational obsession of her heroine with the crime of another. The forward-going action of the traditional novel, which relates the adventures of an active hero, is replaced in Duras, and in the nouveau roman as a whole, with the detective story's reverse chronology which presents the story through the optic of the passive observer, the investigator, quite literally a "private eye" for the reader. (pp. 504-05)

Duras' women readily slide into someone else's drama because their own lives are so empty and devoid of action…. Duras' heroines have no existence prior to the crime; like the pure detective, they gain their identity through the investigation.

In the very earliest of Duras' novels, Les Impudents (1943) and La Vie Tranquille (1944), the pattern is set: the crime which is committed by a male—the brother—provokes the woman to action…. The early novels … develop the formula: the transformation of the heroine from witness of the murder act, to investigator, to victim in the sexual act. Lovemaking is seen as a kind of investigation, an effort to understand the violence of the criminal act. (p. 505)

The method of detection in Le Marin de Gibraltar is the one which Duras' future investigators will employ. All rational explanation of the evidence is discounted…. Physical proof yields to intuition; what is sought is not the "airtight case" against a suspect but the spiritual communion between hunter and hunted. Doubt is never entirely dispelled, even at the end of the inquiry. Discovery is a leap of faith, not an assertion of fact. (p. 506)

In Duras' novels, the intense heat, persistent intoxication, excessive sleep, and hypnotic dialogue provide a … dampening of consciousness so necessary to the detective enterprise. (p. 507)

The maid [heroine of Le Square] exhibits the need of Duras' other women and, indeed, of all criminals in detective literature to share her murderous aspirations. It is not enough to commit a crime in perfect safety; it is necessary for someone (the detective) to know. The criminal can only really exist when he or she is identified as such by the detective: the detective creates the criminal. The detective, too, is dependent on the criminal for he only comes into existence at the inception of an investigation. Thus, the detective/criminal team, as the criminal/victim team, offers a model for the study of the interdependence of the couple, a theme which is explored in the tense relationship between Anne Desbaresdes and Chauvin in Moderato cantabile.

Anne Desbaresdes is the archetypical dispossessed Duras heroine…. The absence of first-person possessive adjectives reveals her alienation from her surroundings. (p. 508)

The initial scene of the music lesson reveals much of Anne's character and...

(The entire section is 1830 words.)

Francis S. Heck

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The purpose of this study is to reveal a] possible dimension to … Dix heures et demie du soir en été, namely that of symbolism in the relationship of the heroine, María, to the criminal, Rodrigo Paestra.

On one hand, the María-Rodrigo relationship might be interpreted as a possible "incarnation" of love in order to serve as a counterpoint to the awakened passionate love between María's husband (Pierre) and her friend (Claire). Another possibility exists, however: Rodrigo as the symbol of the creative inspiration, with María as the artist seeking to embody or "incarnate" the idea. The novel thus gains an added dimension as we follow the heroine's oscillation between these two possibilities, that is between the possibility of physical love or a deterrent to the passion of Pierre and Claire, and the more spiritual possibility of an artistic creation. (pp. 249-50)

Hence, a new dimension—the heroine as artist or creator—might be viewed as being superimposed on the usual Durasian formula of human love which fails, that is, utopian incarnation. The end result for María the artist, however, is failure, just as it is for María and Rodrigo as possible lovers. The end result, though, is not what counts. What counts, and what is paramount both for María the artist and for María in love, is that there exists a brief moment of hope and high aspiration which excites and pleases the perceptive reader. (p. 253)

Francis S. Heck, "'Dix heures et demie du soir en été': The Heroine as Artist, A New Dimension," in Romance Notes, Winter, 1975, pp. 249-53.

Roland A. Champagne

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Diabelli's sonata provides the mood for many encounters in Marguerite Duras' Moderato Cantabile. The enchantment of this sonata performs much like the Sirens who provided Ulysses with a magnetic attraction and a need for self-discipline. In Moderato Cantabile, the sonata creates a "controlled" (moderato) and "lyrical" (cantabile) atmosphere for Mlle Giraud and the young Desbaresdes, Anne and her son, as well as Chauvin and Anne. Each of these couples participates in the alternation between the binary themes of reason-madness, possession-dispossession, the explainable-inexplicable, and construction-destruction. The setting of Moderato Cantabile is organized according to a perpetual...

(The entire section is 1262 words.)