Marguerite Yourcenar

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Marguerite Yourcenar
Marguerite Yourcenar.jpg
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, USA
Occupation Author, essayist, poet
Nationality French
Citizenship United States
Notable works Mémoires d'Hadrien
Notable awards Erasmus Prize (1983)
Partner Grace Frick (1937–1979)

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.

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, the literary scholar and Kansas City native 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; 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 on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where they lived 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. 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). One of the most respected writers in the 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

  • 1952, Prix Femina Vacaresco for Mémoires d'Hadrien (Memoirs of Hadrian)
  • 1958, Prix Renée Vivien for Les charités d'Alcippe (The Alms of Alcippe)
  • 1963, Prix Combat for Sous bénéfice d'inventaire (The Dark Brain of Piranesi)
  • 1968, Prix Femina for L'Œuvre au noir (The Abyss)
  • 1972, Prix Prince Pierre de Monaco for her entire oeuvre
  • 1974, Grand Prix national de la culture for Souvenirs pieux (Dear Departed)
  • 1977, Grand Prix de l'Académie française for her entire oeuvre
  • 1980, elected to the Académie française, the first woman so honored
  • 1983, winner of the Dutch Erasmus Prize, for contributions to European literature and culture
  • 1987, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[4]
  • 2003, 12 November: Belgium issues a postage stamp[5] (Code 200320B) with the value of 0.59 Euro.


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


  1. Shusha Guppy (Spring 1988). "Marguerite Yourcenar, The Art of Fiction No. 103". The Paris Review.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, accessed 17 February 2011
  2. Joan Acocella (14 February 2005). "Becoming the Emperor". The New Yorker. Retrieved 8 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Marguerite Yourcenar". 21 February 2002. Retrieved 11 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter Y" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Literatuur op postzegels België 2003" (in Nederlands). 2003-11-12. Retrieved 2014-06-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Joan E. Howard, From Violence to Vision: Sacrifice in the Works of Marguerite Yourcenar (1992)
  • 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 March 2010 (Foggia: Edizioni il Castello, 2011) (Echo, 1), 99-108.
  • Les yeux ouverts, entretiens avec Mathieu Galey (éditions Le Centurion « Les interviews », 1980).
  • Bérengère Deprez, Marguerite Yourcenar et les États-Unis. Du nageur à la vague, Éditions Racine, 2012, 192 p.
  • Bérengère Deprez, Marguerite Yourcenar and the United States. From Prophecy to Protest, Peter Lang, coll. « Yourcenar », 2009, 180 p.
  • Deprez, Marguerite Yourcenar. Écriture, maternité, démiurgie, essai, Bruxelles, Archives et musée de la littérature/PIE-Peter Lang, coll. « Documents pour l’histoire des francophonies », 2003, 330 p.
  • Donata Spadaro, Marguerite Yourcenar et l'écriture autobiographique : Le Labyrinthe du monde, bull. SIEY, no 17, décembre 1996, p. 69 à 83
  • Donata Spadaro, Marguerite Yourcenar e l'autobiografia (ADP, 2014)

External links