Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar
Marguerite Yourcenar
Born Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour
8 June 1903(1903-06-08)
Brussels, Belgium
Died 17 December 1987(1987-12-17) (aged 84)
Northeast Harbor, Maine, USA
Occupation Author, essayist, poet
Nationality French
Citizenship United States
Notable work(s) Mémoires d'Hadrien
Notable award(s) Erasmus Prize (1983)
Partner(s) Grace Frick (1903-1979)

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 aristocratic descent, and a Belgian mother, Fernande de Cartier de Marchienne, 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.[1] 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.[2][3]

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. 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.

Marguerite Yourcenar funeral plate.
Marguerite Yourcenar's funeral plate. The epitaph, written in French, is from The Abyss: «Plaise à Celui qui Est peut-être de dilater le coeur de l'homme à la mesure de toute la vie.», which can be translated to "May it please the One who perchance is to expand the human heart to life's full measure."

Legacy and honors

  • 1968, Prix Femina for L'Œuvre au noir (The Abyss)
  • 1980, elected to the Académie française
  • 1983, winner of the Dutch Erasmus Prize, for contributions to European literature and culture


  • Le jardin des chimères (1921)
  • Alexis ou le traité du vain combat (1929) - translated Alexis (by Walter Kaiser), ISBN 0-374-51906-4
  • La nouvelle Eurydice (1931)
  • Pindare (1932)
  • Denier du rêve (1934, revised 1958–59) - translated A Coin in Nine Hands (by Dori Katz), ISBN 0-552-99120-1
  • La mort conduit l'attelage (1934)
  • Feux (prose poem, 1936) - translated Fires (by Dori Katz), ISBN 0-374-51748-7
  • Nouvelles orientales (short stories, 1938) – translated Oriental Tales, ISBN 1-85290-018-0 (includes "Comment Wang-Fô fut sauvé", first published 1936, filmed by René Laloux)
  • Les songes et les sorts (1938)
  • Le coup de grâce (1939) - translated Coup de Grace (by Grace Frick), ISBN 0-374-51631-6
  • Mémoires d'Hadrien (1951) - translated Memoirs of Hadrian (by Grace Frick), ISBN 0-14-018194-6
  • Électre ou la chute des masques (1954)
  • Les charités d'Alcippe (1956)
  • Constantin Cavafy (1958)
  • Sous bénéfice d'inventaire (1962)
  • Fleuve profond, sombre rivière: les negros spirituals (1964)
  • L'Œuvre au noir (novel, 1968, Prix Femina 1968) – translated The Abyss, aka Zeno of Bruges (by Grace Frick - 1976)
  • Yes, Peut-être, Shaga (1969)
  • Théâtre, 1971
  • Souvenirs pieux (1974) - translated Dear Departed: A Memoir (by Maria Louise Ascher), ISBN 0-374-52367-3
  • Archives du Nord (1977) - translated How Many Years: A Memoir (by Maria Louise Ascher)
  • Le labyrinthe du monde (1974–84)
  • Mishima ou la vision du vide (essay, 1980) - translated Mishima: A Vision of the Void, ISBN 0-226-96532-5
  • Anna, soror… (1981)
  • Comme l'eau qui coule (1982) translated "Dreams and destinies" and "Two lives and a dream". Includes "Anna, Soror...", "An Obscure Man" and "A lovely morning"
  • Le temps, ce grand sculpteur (1984) - translated That Mighty Sculptor, Time (by Walter Kaiser), essays, ISBN 0-85628-159-X
  • Dark Brain of Piranesi: and Other Essays (1984)
  • "La Couronne et la Lyre" (The Crown and the Lyre), by Χατζηνικολής editions (1986)
  • Quoi? L'Éternité (1988)

Other works available in English translation

  • A Blue Tale and Other Stories, ISBN 0-226-96530-9. Three stories written between 1927 and 1930, translated and published 1995.
  • With Open Eyes: Conversations with Matthieu Galey



  • Josyane Savigneau, Marguerite Yourcenar: Inventing a Life (1993).
  • George Rousseau, Marguerite Yourcenar: A Biography (London: Haus Publishing, 2004).
  • Judith Holland Sarnecki, Subversive Subjects: Reading Marguerite Yourcenar (2004)
  • Giorgetto Giorgi, "Il Grand Tour e la scoperta dell’antico nel Labyrinthe du monde di Marguerite Yourcenar," in Sergio Audano, Giovanni Cipriani (ed.), Aspetti della Fortuna dell'Antico nella Cultura Europea: atti della settima giornata di studi, Sestri Levante, 19 marzo 2010 (Foggia: Edizioni il Castello, 2011) (Echo, 1), 99-108.

External links

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