French woman portrait: Marguerite Yourcenar, or the entry of poetry in the French Academy

Marguerite Youcenar, born as Marguerite Cleenwerk de Crayencour, is the very first woman to have entered, not without difficulty, the French Academy. Learn more about this talented and yet unknown poetess!

School at home

Marguerite Yourcenar, whose real name is Marguerite Cleenewerck de Crayencour, was born in Brussels in 1903 but spent her childhood in the Lille region where her father was born. Her mother died shortly after her birth and her education was solely at home, without attending school.
As a child and teenager, Marguerite cultivated herself by her own means and learned English, Greek and Italian. After obtaining a Latin-Greek baccalaureate in 1919, Marguerite Yourcenar travels in Europe first with her father, then alone after his death, and begins to write.
She then created the pseudonym of Yourcenar, an anagram of her real name, Crayencourt.
In 1929, she published her first novel, Alexis ou le Traité du vain combat, then ten years later Le Coup de grâce.


Travels and achievements

In 1939, she left for the United States and settled on the island of Monts-Déserts in Maine with the academic Grace Frick from 1950. In 1951, she published Memoirs of Hadrian, a novel begun more than twenty-five years earlier, awarded by the French Academy and a huge success. In 1968, she published her great novel L'œuvre au Noir which received the Prix Fémina. She is also the author of essays and translations (works of Constantin Cavafis, Mishima, texts of the Negro Spirituals...) 

In 1970, she became a member of the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature of Belgium.

The 6th of March 1980, Marguerite Yourcenar was the first woman to be elected to the French Academy.
Her entry into the famous institution was not the easiest! The Academy is implicitly a man's business. Her candidacy supported by Jean d'Ormesson poses a real problem to academicians reluctant to open their ranks to women. The literary reputation of the novelist makes her a legitimate candidate, much to the dismay of some who cry scandal.

Marguerite Yourcenar died in 1987 in Mount Desert, her works are now studies in French institutions.

The Memoirs of Hadrian: "The portrait of a voice" 

Hadrian is a Roman emperor who is about to die. He suffers from heart failure and retires to one of his villas for his last days. The whole story is placed under the sign of death from the prologue. It is therefore a retrospective look at the life of the emperor, with its moments of apogee and decline.

In the Notebooks of Memoirs of Hadrian, M. Yourcenar explains that she adopts a writing in the first person to bring a truthful and historical perspective to her story, although fictional:
"If I chose to write these Memoirs of Hadrian in the first person, it is to dispense with any intermediary as much as possible, even myself. Hadrian could speak of his life more firmly and more subtly than I could."

This work is the fruit of thirty years of research. The author began it in 1924 during a visit to Rome, then abandoned it in 1929 to resume it in 1948. The story also placed under the atypical literary genre: that of the new novel, tinged with a biting realism and an infinite questioning of the meaning of human existence.

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