Marguerite Yourcenar


Biography of Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar (8 June 1903 – 17 December 1987) was a Belgian-born French novelist and essayist. Winner of the Prix Femina and the Erasmus Prize, she was the first woman elected to the Académie française, in 1980, and the seventeenth person to occupy Seat 3.

Yourcenar was born Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour in Brussels, Belgium to Michel Cleenewerck de Crayencour, of French bourgeoisie descent, and a Belgian mother, Fernande de Cartier de Marchienne, of Belgian nobility, who died ten days after her birth. She grew up in the home of her paternal grandmother.

Yourcenar's first novel, Alexis, was published in 1929. She translated Virginia Woolf's The Waves over a 10-month period in 1937.

In 1939 Yourcenar's intimate companion at the time, a translator named Grace Frick, invited the writer to the United States to escape the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Yourcenar lectured in comparative literature in New York City and Sarah Lawrence College. Yourcenar was bisexual and she and Frick became lovers in 1937, and would remain so until Frick's death in 1979. They bought a house together in Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine and lived there for decades.

In 1951 she published, in France, the novel Mémoires d'Hadrien, which she had been writing with pauses for a decade. The novel was an immediate success and met with great critical acclaim. In this novel Yourcenar recreated the life and death of one of the great rulers of the ancient world, the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who writes a long letter to Marcus Aurelius, the son and heir of Antoninus Pius, his successor and adoptive son. The Emperor meditates on his past, describing both his triumphs and his failures, his love for Antinous, and his philosophy. This novel has become a modern classic, a standard against which fictional recreations of antiquity are measured.

Yourcenar was elected as the first female member of the Académie française, in 1980. An anecdote tells of how the bathroom labels were then changed in this male-dominated institution: (Messieurs (Men) and Yourcenar). "One of the respected writers in French language, she published many novels, essays, and poems, as well as three volumes of memoirs.

Yourcenar's house on Mount Desert Island, Petite Plaisance, is now a museum dedicated to her memory. She is buried across the sound in Somesville, Maine.

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