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.)
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 Beckett and Ionesco is absent from the dramas of Marguerite Duras. But in order to achieve this delicate balance between the lack of a firmly established, friendly reality and Man's need of it, the author had to construct with the greatest care. The world, such as it is, is unlivable for her characters. But it is their world, and they will not abdicate until they have not made a number of gestures and have not pronounced a number of words for if they did not make those gestures and did not pronounce those words we would wonder what else they could do outside of seeking death by the most expeditious means. (pp. 145-46)
As in most of her recent novels, Marguerite Duras points … in her first play … to the absolute necessity of never quite giving up, of never capitulating entirely. Man's dignity requires the effort more than the result, as in the case when the action contradicts laws and causes the death of the one who acted. Attempting to give meaning to one's meaningless existence is viewed by her as an eminently worthy deed. And the popularity of Les Viaducs de la Seine-et-Oise … demonstrates that spectators share, albeit intuitively, the brilliant preoccupations of the author—as it proves, of course, that she is highly capable of capturing knotty, contemporary problems (the play is based, after all, on an actual case) and of reorchestrating them into lucid, literary compositions that shed light on the terrible impasses we are forced to face in our terrestrial existence. (pp. 149-50)
Alfred Cismaru, "'Les Viaducs de la Seine-et-Oise': Duras' Dramatic Debut," in Renascence (© copyright, 1971, Marquette University Press), Spring, 1971, pp. 145-50.
Erica M. Eisinger
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...
(The entire section is 3,929 words.)