Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar
Born Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour
(1903-06-08)8 June 1903
Brussels, Belgium
Died 17 December 1987(1987-12-17) (aged 84)
Northeast Harbor, Maine, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, essayist, poet
Nationality France
Notable works Mémoires d'Hadrien
Notable awards Erasmus Prize (1983)
Partner Grace Frick (1937–1979; Frick's death)

Marguerite Yourcenar (French pronunciation: [maʁɡəʁit juʁsənaʁ]; 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 bourgeois 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. The surname Yourcenar was a pen name she later took as a legal surname.

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, her intimate companion at the time, the literary scholar and Kansas City native Grace Frick, invited Yourcenar to the United States to escape the outbreak of World War II in Europe. She lectured in comparative literature in New York City and Sarah Lawrence College.[1]

Yourcenar was bisexual; she and Frick became lovers in 1937 and remained together until Frick's death in 1979. After ten years spent in Hartford, Connecticut, they bought a house in Northeast Harbor, Maine on Mount Desert Island, where they lived for decades.[2][3]

In 1951, she published, in France, the novel Memoirs of Hadrian, 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. The novel has become a modern classic.

In 1980, Yourcenar was the first female member elected to the Académie française. An anecdote tells of how the bathroom labels were then changed in this male-dominated institution: "Messieurs|Marguerite Yourcenar" (Gents/Marguerite Yourcenar). 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 cœur 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


  • Le jardin des chimères (1921)
  • Les dieux ne sont pas morts (1922)
  • Alexis ou le traité du vain combat (1929) - translated as Alexis by Walter Kaiser; ISBN 0-374-51906-4
  • La nouvelle Eurydice (1931)
  • Pindare (1932)
  • Denier du rêve (1934, revised 1958–59) - translated as A Coin in Nine Hands by Dori Katz; ISBN 0-552-99120-1
  • La mort conduit l'attelage (1934)
  • Feux (prose poem, 1936) - translated as Fires by Dori Katz; ISBN 0-374-51748-7
  • Nouvelles orientales (short stories, 1938) – translated as 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) - translated as Dreams and Destinies by Donald Flanell Friedman
  • Le coup de grâce (1939) - translated as Coup de Grace by Grace Frick; ISBN 0-374-51631-6
  • Mémoires d'Hadrien (1951) - translated as 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 as The Abyss, or Zeno of Bruges by Grace Frick (1976)
  • Théâtre, 1971
  • Souvenirs pieux (1974) - translated as Dear Departed: A Memoir by Maria Louise Ascher; ISBN 0-374-52367-3
  • Archives du Nord (1977) - translated as How Many Years: A Memoir by Maria Louise Ascher
  • Le labyrinthe du monde (1974–84)
  • Mishima ou la vision du vide (essay, 1980) - translated as Mishima: A Vision of the Void; ISBN 0-226-96532-5
  • Anna, soror... (1981)
  • Comme l'eau qui coule (1982) translated as Two Lives and a Dream. Includes "Anna, Soror...", "An Obscure Man", and "A Lovely Morning".
  • Le temps, ce grand sculpteur (1984) - translated as That Mighty Sculptor, Time by Walter Kaiser, essays: ISBN 0-85628-159-X
  • The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays (1984) - translated by Richard Howard; ISBN 0-856-28140-9
  • "La Couronne et la Lyre." Χατζηνικολής editions (1986)
  • Quoi? L'Éternité (1988)

Other works available in English translation


  1. Shusha Guppy (Spring 1988). "Marguerite Yourcenar, The Art of Fiction No. 103". The Paris Review., accessed 17 February 2011
  2. Joan Acocella (14 February 2005). "Becoming the Emperor". The New Yorker. Retrieved 8 January 2009.
  3. "Marguerite Yourcenar". 21 February 2002. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  4. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter Y" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  5. "Literatuur op postzegels België 2003" (in Dutch). Retrieved 17 June 2014.


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