Marguerite Yourcenar's real name was Marguerite de Crayencour. Born in 1907 to a well-off family in Belgium, she is famous as a writer of essays, short stories and novels.
At the beginning of World War II she emigrated to the United States; in 1980 she became a member of the exalted Academie Française. She had a remarkably long career, and she wrote until the time of her death, that came in 1987. She was the first woman inducted in the Académie Française.
Some of her work has a dream-like quality, particularly the Oriental Tales collection of short stories; others, and I am thinking here of L'oeuvre au noir and Mémoires d'Hadrien, are more solidly anchored to a specific historical reality.
Others again, like Alexis, examine the conflict between societal demands and man's desires.

French speakers tell me that Yourcenar's French is highly refined and quite difficult to read.

Selected Works

  • Alexis ou le traité du vain combat, 1929: in the form of a long letter written by a man that confesses, and in a sense gives in to, his own desires.
  • La nouvelle Euridyce, 1931
  • Le denier du réve, 1934: translated with the tile A Coin in Nine Hands, this book relates an attempt to assassinate Mussolini
  • La mort conduit l'attelage, 1934
  • Feux, 1936: translated as Fires.
  • Les songs et les sorts, 1938
  • Nouvelle orientales, 1938: translated as Oriental Tales, this collection of short stories retells some tales from China, India and the Balkans.
  • Le coupe de grâce, 1939
  • Mémoires d'Hadrien, 1951: Memoirs of Hadrian, a historical novel in which the Roman emperor Hadrian relates his life and his love for the wonderful boy Antinoo. The tone is stoic; Hadrian is at end of his life and he exhamines the interplay of will, chance and desire that shaped his human destiny.
  • Electre ou la chute des marques, 1954
  • Les charités d'Alcippe, 1956
  • Constantin Cafavy, 1958
  • Sous Bénéfice d'inventaire, 1962
  • Alexis, 1965
  • L'ouvre au noir, 1968: translated as The Abyss and Zeno of Brueges. The complex life history of an alchemist in Renaissance Europe, recounted with an impressive attention to detail and very solid storytelling.
    If you are going to read only one historical novel in your life, read this.
  • Archives du Nord, 1977: Northern Archives is a work centered on the history of Yourcenar's family.
  • Le labyrinthe , 1974-84
  • Mishima, ou la vision du vide, 1980: an essay on the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, it throws a lot of light on both writers.
  • Le temps, ce grand sculpteur, 1984: That Mighty Sculptor, Time.
  • A Blue Tale and Other Stories, 1995
  • Dreams and Destinies, 1999

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