Moderato Cantabile Analysis
by Marguerite Duras

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Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Along with a dramatic beginning, Duras alternates poetic descriptions, usually of the sea. As in The Square, dialogue is her main tool in carrying the story. Yet the omnipresence of the sea in this nameless town thrusts the characters outward to another existence. The child is absorbed in the activities on the sea as he fails to satisfy the stern piano teacher. Anne is also conscious of the sea and the sky on the walk she takes in the direction of the cafe where she is to meet with Chauvin. The sea is very important in Duras's life and works, as she tells us in Les Lieux de Marguerite Duras. She notes that her books always take place by the sea, perhaps because she was linked to it very early in her life.

In addition to dialogue, Duras uses interior monologue very effectively. During the dinner scene, Anne says very little, not even offering an excuse for her late entrance. Yet her mental state is very obvious from the funereal descriptions of the food, the inane questions posed by the guests, the presence of the magnolia between her breasts, and the actions of Chauvin who is outside. Duras moves from one of these points to another without transition, much as the thoughts enter and leave Anne's mind.

In this short novel Duras exhibits a very controlled prose style. As usual, the vocabulary and syntax are deceptively simple. Repetition is frequent, creating the effect of a monotonous existence. Each time Anne enters the cafe she asks mechanically for a glass of wine, then another, then Chauvin arrives and orders for both of them, Duras uses poetic descriptions of the sea and sky and ironic descriptions of the food consumed by the self-satisfied guests at the dinner party. The salmon and the duck are personified and wrapped in a shroud for their funerals; the guests are reduced to the impersonal "on."

In addition to the literary influences mentioned before, there is a closer identification with the writers of the "new novel." The most obvious link is with Robbe-Grillet, whose screenplay for Last Year at Marienbad (1961) finds echoes in much of the dialogue. However, Duras has never given slavish allegiance to any school, and has found a style that is typically her own.


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Moderator Cantabile was made into a film by Peter Brook with a screenplay by Duras, Brook, and Gerard Jarlot. It was submitted to the Cannes International Film Festival in 1960; Jeanne Moreau was named Best Actress for her portrayal of Anne.