Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A prolific author of more than twenty novels, many plays and films, and several important essays, Marguerite Duras maintains an important position in twentieth century French and international literary and intellectual life. The Sea Wall, Duras’ third novel, was the first of her works to be translated into English, and it won for her wide international attention. It was made into a film by Rene Clement in 1967.

Unlike some of her later works, which defy standard generic classification, The Sea Wall is recognizably a novel, although its narrative structure, which lacks conventional characterization, plot development, and closure, is an important moment for surveying Duras’ developing technique. The themes of absence, memory, and longing for a past love, occurring in a politically and historically significant context, are continually present and under revision in her work. Frequently, Duras’ works make specific reference to one another (L’Eden Cinema, a 1977 theater production, contains specific plot and character elements also present in The Sea Wall). Transgressing generic lines, or reinscribing characters and plot, the core of Duras’ creative production is a fascination with the subject in process, which enables her works to be read as a reflexive continuum.

Duras allows personal psychic material to permeate and shape her work. Her childhood memories significantly inform the plot of The Sea Wall (like Ma, Duras’ mother was a failed colonial planter in French Indochina). Duras’ third-person use of autobiographical material in The Sea Wall suggests but does not yet achieve, the ambiguity of voice and blurred distinctions between self and other apparent in later works, most notably L’Amant (1984; The Lover, 1985).