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Old Ladies

D.A.N. Jones, 20 August 1992

Dear Departed: A Memoir 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Maria Louise Ascher.
Aidan Ellis, 346 pp., £18, April 1992, 0 85628 186 7
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Anna, Soror 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Harvill, 256 pp., £7.99, May 1992, 0 00 271222 9
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That Mighty Sculptor, Time 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 224 pp., £18, June 1992, 9780856281594
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Coming into the End Zone: A Memoir 
by Doris Grumbach.
Norton, 256 pp., £13.95, April 1992, 0 393 03009 1
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Anything Once 
by Joan Wyndham.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 178 pp., £15.95, March 1992, 9781856191296
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Within Tuscany 
by Matthew Spender.
Viking, 366 pp., £16.99, April 1992, 0 670 83836 5
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... Marguerite Yourcenar was a highly honoured French writer, the first woman to be elected to the Académie Française, but her mother came from the Low Countries. The mother died in 1903, eight days after the daughter’s birth: her married name was Fernande de Crayencour (from which the pen name ‘Yourcenar’ was constructed) and her maiden name was de Cartier de Marchienne ...

Grande Dame

D.A.N. Jones, 18 July 1985

With Open Eyes: Conversations with Matthieu Galey 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Beacon, 271 pp., £19.95, October 1984, 0 8070 6354 1
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The Dark Brain of Piranesi, and Other Essays 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Richard Howard.
Aidan Ellis, 232 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 85628 140 9
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Alexis 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 105 pp., £8.95, January 1984, 0 85628 138 7
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Coup de Grâce 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Grace Frick .
Black Swan, 112 pp., £2.50, October 1984, 9780552991216
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... Marguerite Yourcenar was born in Brussels in 1903. She became a US citizen in 1947 and has lived for more than thirty years on Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine. Thus when she was proposed for membership of the French Academy, it was natural that some Frenchmen would make an issue of her nationality, in order to prevent a woman joining their club ...

Unquiet Deaths

Patrick Parrinder, 3 September 1987

Two Lives and a Dream 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 245 pp., £9.95, July 1987, 0 85628 160 3
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The Wedding at Port-au-Prince 
by Hans Christoph Buch, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Faber, 259 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 571 14928 6
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Saints and Scholars 
by Terry Eagleton.
Verso, 145 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 86091 180 2
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Imperial Patient: The Memoirs of Nero’s Doctor 
by Alex Comfort.
Duckworth, 206 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 7156 2168 8
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... of the great masters death is always either heroic, deserved, or quiet and natural.’ Not so in Marguerite Yourcenar’s world. She is renowned for her timeless narrative gift and lucid style, and she regards her books as defining that unfashionable thing, an ‘ideal of humanity’. Yet death occurs in these fictions with what Ruskin would have seen ...

Whose Jerusalem?

Kanan Makiya: Jerusalem, 7 February 2002

... in one’s own way. But something has already been gained if we use only the original stones. Marguerite Yourcenar The problem that everyone faces in writing about the Dome of the Rock is that so few ‘stones’ remain from the first century of Islam. Why was it built then; what did it mean to the Muslims who built it? We know so little, and so much ...
The Sea of Fertility 
by Yukio Mishima.
Secker/Penguin, 821 pp., £18, July 1985, 0 436 28160 0
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Mishima on Hagakure 
by Yukio Mishima.
Penguin, 144 pp., £2.95, May 1985, 0 14 004923 1
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The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima 
by Henry Scott Stokes.
Penguin, 271 pp., £3.95, May 1985, 0 14 007248 9
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... Jean-Louis Barrault’s company performing Mishima’s Modern Noh Plays, beautifully translated by Marguerite Yourcenar and directed with iconoclastic verve by Maurice Béjart. I could not be better pleased. What fun for Mishima, watching all this fuss from somewhere in his reincarnation. The last time I saw him, eight months before his death, he ...

Beltz’s Beaux

D.A.N. Jones, 3 March 1983

Marienbad 
by Sholom Aleichem, translated by Aliza Shevrin.
Weidenfeld, 222 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 297 78200 2
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A Coin in Nine Hands 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Dori Katz.
Aidan Ellis, 192 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 0 85628 123 9
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Entry into Jerusalem 
by Stanley Middleton.
Hutchinson, 172 pp., £7.50, January 1983, 0 09 150950 5
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People Who Knock on the Door 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Heinemann, 306 pp., £7.95, January 1983, 0 434 33521 5
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A Visit from the Footbinder 
by Emily Prager.
Chatto, 174 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 7011 2675 2
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Dusklands 
by J.M. Coetzee.
Secker, 125 pp., £6.95, January 1983, 9780436102967
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... for the armchair traveller – more sinister, more rocky-horror. A Coin in Nine Hands is Marguerite Yourcenar’s expansion, written in the Fifties, of her Denier du Rêve, first published in 1934. She writes in her afterword: ‘One of the reasons that Denier du Rêve seemed worthy to be published again is that, in its day, it was one of the ...

History and Hats

D.A.N. Jones, 23 January 1986

The Lover 
by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray.
Collins, 123 pp., £7.95, November 1985, 0 00 222946 3
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Stones of the Wall 
by Dai Houying, translated by Frances Wood.
Joseph, 310 pp., £9.95, August 1985, 0 7181 2588 6
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White Noise 
by Don DeLillo.
Picador, 326 pp., £9.95, January 1986, 0 330 29109 2
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... Marguerite Duras describes a crowd in French Indo-China (in 1930): ‘The clatter of wooden clogs is ear-splitting, the voices strident, Chinese is a language that’s shouted the way I always imagine desert languages are, it’s a language that’s incredibly foreign.’ This impression is familiar to me, from National Service days in Hong Kong and the British New Territories ...

Men’s Work

Adam Kuper: Lévi-Strauss, 24 June 2004

Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Formative Years 
by Christopher Johnson.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £40, February 2003, 0 521 01667 3
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... passed to a favourite student, Françoise Héritier, but in 1980 he voted against the election of Marguerite Yourcenar as the first woman member of the Académie on the grounds that an institution which had excluded women for three centuries should not precipitately alter its ways. A young anthropologist at the Ecole Normale Supérieure recently told me ...

Glimmerings

Peter Robb, 20 June 1985

Selected Letters of E.M. Forster: Vol. I: 1879-1920, Vol. II: 1921-1970 
edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank.
Collins, 344 pp., £15.95, October 1983, 0 00 216718 2
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... I most adore glimmering in them’. Nine days later, Forster, stimulated this time by a reading of Marguerite Yourcenar’s excellent Présentation Critique de Constantin Cavafy, writes to George Savidis, a Greek friend and editor of Cavafy: ‘and she does bring out, though without stating it, his triumph – a triumph that has nothing to do with ...

Unpranked Lyre

John Mullan: The Laziness of Thomas Gray, 13 December 2001

Thomas Gray: A Life 
by Robert Mack.
Yale, 718 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 300 08499 4
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... unexpected death of an aunt of whom he was fond, Mack wanders off through Philip Larkin, Hamlet, Marguerite Yourcenar and Robert Frost. Yet the best he can come up with is the thought that Gray wrote his poem ‘to bring some sense of meaning to recent events’. Much of Mack’s book is similarly padded with the inessential. A particularly bizarre and ...

Smilingly Excluded

Richard Lloyd Parry: An Outsider in Tokyo, 17 August 2006

The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 
by Donald Richie, edited by Leza Lowitz.
Stone Bridge, 494 pp., £13.99, October 2005, 1 880656 97 3
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... best things in the book. Among those who count as friends, rather than passing acquaintances, are Marguerite Yourcenar, Christopher Isherwood, Susan Sontag and Francis Ford Coppola (among several interesting photographs is one of Richie beside a gawky, 19-year-old Sofia Coppola, who looks thoroughly lost). He knew Ozu and Kurosawa, and wrote books about ...

Love-of-One’s-Life Department

Terry Castle: The lesbian scarcity economy, 21 October 2004

Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho and Art: The Lives and Loves of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks 
by Diana Souhami.
Weidenfeld, 224 pp., £18.99, July 2004, 9780297643869
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... haut monde. A friend of mine once had dinner with Elizabeth Bishop and her lover. Another met Marguerite Yourcenar. At Yale in the 1980s one of Blakey’s best friends slept with – well, perhaps you can guess. (True – the closet case actress!) Someone else I know went to a party in a Chicago highrise and both Martina Navratilova and k.d. lang ...

Jottings, Scraps and Doodles

Adam Shatz: Lévi-Strauss, 3 November 2011

Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory 
by Patrick Wilcken.
Bloomsbury, 375 pp., £30, November 2011, 978 0 7475 8362 2
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... Change unnerved him, whether it was the nomination of the first woman to the Académie française (Marguerite Yourcenar), or the emergence of more radical forms of anthropology that examined the discipline’s complicity with empire, or questioned the anthropologist’s authority. Faced with a future he found unappetising, he turned further ...

From Progress to Catastrophe

Perry Anderson: The Historical Novel, 28 July 2011

... novel was consigned as a respectable literary form. In 1951 it came as something of a shock when Marguerite Yourcenar won the Prix Fémina for Mémoires d’Hadrien, so completely out of season did historical fiction of any kind – even such a strange anomaly as this one – seem in the true republic of letters. Did people still write that sort of ...

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