glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Yourcenar, Marguerite (1903-1987)  
page: 1  2  3  

Hadrian's life is recounted in the first person, Zeno's in the third person; Hadrian's tale takes place in sunny Mediterranean climes, whereas Zeno's unfolds in the pre-Renaissance darkness of the Low Countries; Hadrian recounts the subjective world of ruling other men, whereas Zeno's story concerns a misanthropic scholar who seeks objective, scientific truth.

If Memoirs of Hadrian coincided with its historical setting, The Abyss, as a novel of protest, seemed perfectly timed to the student rebellions of 1968 and the countercultural movement of the late 1960s. Its terrain, meant to embody the artist Dürer, is a border zone between the ancient Ptolemaic world view and the new scientific outlook pioneered by modern astronomy.

Alchemy becomes a metaphor for the transformations of people and civilizations, and the persecuted Zeno, born in 1510, is seen as an intellectual bridge from the world before the Scientific Revolution to the revolutionary empiricism of Copernicus and Galileo. Zeno is also a sexual dissenter whose homosexual episodes epitomize his moral heresy.

Yourcenar's Plays and The Labyrinth of the World

In 1971, two volumes of Yourcenar's collected plays were published. Closet dramas like Electra, or The Fall of Masks and Dialogue in the Swamp remain more valuable for their poetry than their stagecraft. Still, her plays helped Yourcenar win the Prix Monaco in 1973.

In 1974, Dear Departed (Souvenirs pieux), the first volume of The Labyrinth of the World--a large-scale genealogical biography written much like a historical romance--was published, and brought Yourcenar the Grand Prix des Lettres of the French Ministry of Culture in 1975. The second volume, Archives of the North (Archives du nord), appeared in 1977.

Induction into the French Academy and her Last Work

In 1980, her French citizenship was restored, and Yourcenar agreed to be nominated for the French Academy after winning the Academy's Grand Prix de la Littérature. Though accused of being antisemitic by some opponents, she was finally received into the French Academy on January 22, 1981--only months after Frick had died.

The following year saw Yourcenar's last major work of fiction, Two Lives and a Dream (Comme l'eau qui coule or Like Water That Flows), which included three novellas.

"An Obscure Man," the longest story, is an emotionally subdued and Rembrandt-like portrait of Nathaniel, a lower class, uneducated Renaissance Dutch Everyman who wanders from Europe to an a island off the coast of Canada and back again. "A Lovely Morning" continues the first tale by tracking Nathaniel's son in a Jacobean acting troupe.

Unrelated to the first two, "Anna Soror" is a tale of adult, consensual brother-sister incest in a court of baroque Naples done in a "nervous and agitated" style meant to mimic that of the painter El Greco.


Yourcenar died on December 17, 1987, at Petite Plaisance. The next year, the concluding volume of the "Labyrinth" triptych, What? Eternity (Quoi? L'Éternité), appeared posthumously.

Except for documenting a taste for travel and different cultures, biographical information on Yourcenar is of limited use. What emerges from a close reading of Yourcenar's life is really her determination to keep her life separate from her art and to root her work in her imagination.

In the way she fused fact and fiction, Western and non-Western culture, history and contemporary life, Yourcenar could be characterized as post-modern, even though many critics continue to see her as pre-modern, as an anomaly set apart from her time.

Yet it is also possible to see Yourcenar's work as a different expression of the same existentialism that preoccupied other famous writers of her generation, such as Sartre, Camus, and Beauvoir. Much of her work, like theirs, stresses the issues of choice, commitment, ethics, and historical circumstances.

Her vast historical re-creations have much in common, for example, with the existentialist psychological studies that Sartre undertook of the writers Jean Genet, Gustave Flaubert, and Charles Baudelaire.

And her frequent use of transgressive eroticism, expressed through "in extremis" characters and situations, underscores certain similarities to Colette, Marguerite Duras, and Violette Leduc. Marguerite Yourcenar dwelled in history, to be sure, but she also resided in her own age.

As her many prefaces and postscripts attest, Yourcenar remained one of her best critics. "Every literary work," she wrote in an afterword to "An Obscure Man," "is fashioned thus out of a mixture of vision, memory and act, of ideas and information received in the course of a lifetime from conversations or books, and the sharing of our own existence."

Jacob Stockinger

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature

   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Twentieth Century

The contributions of gay men and lesbians to twentieth-century French literature have been closely intertwined with the course of mainstream literature.

literature >> Overview:  Historical Fiction

Glbtq historical fictions creatively interweave fiction with facts in ways that have not only won them a large readership but also have offered that readership insightful illuminations of glbtq histories.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Gay Male

Since World War II, the gay male novel has progressively flourished in England and especially in America.

literature >> Overview:  Reading Across Orientations

Until the recent emergence of openly gay and lesbian texts, gay and lesbian readers have "homosexualized" heterosexual literature to make it relevant to their lives.

literature >> Overview:  Roman Literature

Roman writers on homosexual or bisexual themes generally followed Greek models; but unlike the Greeks, Romans condoned sex with slaves.

literature >> Baudelaire, Charles

Baudelaire was among the first French poets to include lesbians as subjects.

literature >> Beauvoir, Simone de

Best known for her revolutionary study of women's condition, The Second Sex (1949) and as the companion of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir had a number of same-sex relationships during her life.

literature >> Colette

One of France's most beloved authors, Colette wrote novels with strong lesbian subtexts.

literature >> Fernandez, Dominique

A member of the Académie française, novelist and academic Dominique Fernandez pioneered the "psychobiography" and explores the complex question of the outlaw nature of homosexuality.

literature >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

arts >> Greco, El (Domenicos Theotocopoulos)

Although academic scholars continue to insist on El Greco's heterosexuality, evidence exists that the great Renaissance artist had a male life partner; and many artists and writers have noted the homoeroticism of his work, especially the intense sensual energy of his male nudes.

social sciences >> Hadrian

The love of the second-century Roman emperor Hadrian for the beautiful youth Antinous was exceptional not because the lovers were male, but because of its intensity.

literature >> Leduc, Violette

The bisexual novelist and memoirist Violette Leduc is an astute psychological observer and a dramatic chronicler of women's issues.

literature >> Mishima, Yukio

In his quest for masculinity, Yukio Mishima mythologized himself both in his life and his writings, culminating in his ritual suicide.

literature >> Sappho

Admired through the ages as one of the greatest lyric poets, the ancient Greek writer Sappho is today esteemed by lesbians around the world as the archetypal lesbian and their symbolic mother.


Auchincloss, Louis. "On Power and History: What Marguerite Yourcenar Knew." New York Times Book Review (Jan. 10, 1988): 9.

Bree, Germaine. Women Writers in France. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1973.

DeRosbo, Patrick. Entretiens radiophoniques avec Marguerite Yourcenar. Paris: Mercure de France, 1972.

Farrell, C. Frederic, and Edith R. Farrell. "Marguerite Yourcenar." Gay and Lesbian Literature. Sharon Malinowski, ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. 429-432.

Horn, Pierre L. Marguerite Yourcenar. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

Howard, Joan E. From Violence to Vision: Sacrifice in the Works of Marguerite Yourcenar. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Robinson, Christopher. Scandal in the Ink: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century French Literature. London: Cassell, 1995.

Savigneau, Josyane. Marguerite Yourcenar: Inventing a Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Shurr, Georgia Hooks. A Reader's Guide to Marguerite Yourcenar. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Stockinger, Jacob  
    Entry Title: Yourcenar, Marguerite  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 3, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.