A Month of French Authors/Un Mois d’Auteurs Français

Late winter, when I jotted down my initial list of French authors I already knew that Marguerite Yourcenar would be my author for the letter Y.

On the French front, my partner was also doing her French-authors-list. Yourcenar was also her pick.

For obvious reasons : quickly we had realized that there weren’t that many last names starting with Y. In fact, back then we knew that Marguerite Yourcenar had a chance to go solo.

Then I started to draft my posts. My friend had sent me tons of links, tons of personal notes, tons of everything about these authors that we would follow from A to Z.  I read most of her material ahead of time. But it’s not until I prepared my post about Marguerite Yourcenar that I realized that we had written an almost exact sentence. Hers in French. Mine in English.

“C’est [Yourcenar]une maîtresse de la littérature, une somme de savoirs, je l’ai lue dans mes années lycée, durant lesquelles j’ai fait le plein de classiques avec beaucoup de plaisir.”

“She [Yourcenar] conquered my heart with Les Mémoires d’Hadrien, a novel I read in high school when I was in my phase “I need to read every book.” I remember thinking, “How can someone write like this? How can someone know so much?”

That’s the power of only a few books, I think, to leave the same impact on two women who grew up in two different parts of France and have never met.

 

Memoirs of Hadrian is an historical and philosophical novel, one of the few I never forgot. I will aways remember that the book took my breath away, left me quiet when the last page was turned. In awe. Told from the perspective of the dying Roman Emperor Hadrian to his cousin and successor the young Marcus Aurelius, the book explores the life of Hadrian but also the universal questions around humanity. Yourcenar must have read everything about Hadrian and the period of time to become the Emperor so seamlessly but also been an extraordinary observer of her fellow humans to write this tour de force of a book.

Memoirs of Hadrian, the third book from Yourcenar, gave her international visibility and recognition. In 1980, only seven years before she died she was elected to the prestigious Académie française, the first woman to break the glass ceiling.

One fact I didn’t know before I started this A to Z Challenge: Yourcenar died in Mont Desert Island, Maine where she and her lifelong partner Grace Frick had bought a house. In fact, Frick had urged Yourcenar to leave France in 1939, just before the turmoils of WWII. Yourcenar became an American Citizen in 1947. The two women stayed together until Frick’s death in 1979. Marguerite Yourcenar’s house in Maine is now a museum. The author is buried across the sound in Somesville.

Well, I just planned a summer field trip.

 

To honor Marguerite Yourcenar, all the photos for this blog post have been taken in Acadia National Park.

Marguerite Yourcenar c’est mon adolescence studieuse. Ces années de ma vie  les livres remplaçaient aisément les humains. J’étais dans mon trip “je veux lire tous les livres jamais écrits.”

Lorsque du front français ma compagne pour ce challenge m’envoyait ses suggestions d’auteurs et auteures, ses liens sur des sites français et sur son blog, je ne savais pas que ses mots à propos de Marguerite Yourcenar rencontreraient les miens. Exprimée dans deux langues différentes notre expérience, de si nombreuses années après avoir lu Yourcenar, était semblable.

“C’est [Yourcenar] une maîtresse de la littérature, une somme de savoirs, je l’ai lue dans mes années lycée, durant lesquelles j’ai fait le plein de classiques avec beaucoup de plaisir.”

“She [Yourcenar] conquered my heart with Les Mémoires d’Hadrien, a novel I read in high school when I was in my phase “I need to read every book.” I remember thinking, “How can someone write like this? How can someone know so much?”

Les Mémoires D’Hadrien, si vous n’avez pas lu le livre, sont racontées par l’empereur romain Hadrien qui de son lit de mort adresse une lettre au jeune Marc Aurèle, son cousin et éventuellement son successeur. Mon mari qui a aussi lu le livre m’a avoué s’être ennuyé (il a été un peu plus explicite en fait) alors que je me souviens avoir dévoré ce livre. Et pourtant mon mari adore l’histoire et a même un diplôme d’historien. Je me suis demandée si le style de Marguerite Yourcenar remuait plus les tripes des filles, même si elle s’est glissée sans effort apparent dans la peau d’un homme, pendant la réalisation de ce livre. Qu’en pensez-vous si vous l’avez lu?

Comme on apprend toujours quelque chose de neuf, j’ai découvert que Yourcenar avait quitté la France pour les Etats Unis en 1939, juste avant la seconde guerre mondiale répondant à l’invitation de son amie Grace Frick. Marguerite Yourcenar prendra d’ailleurs la nationalité américaine en 1947. Les deux femmes achetèrent ensemble une maison à Mount Desert Island, à deux pas du magnifique parc national d’Acadia dans le Maine et restèrent ensemble jusqu’à la mort de Grace Frick en 1979.

La maison est maintenant un musée et Yourcenar est enterrée tout près à Somesville.

Je sais déjà  je passerai une journée dès que je serai dans le Maine…

En l’honneur de Marguerite Yourcenar, j’illustre ce billet avec des photos prises à Acadia National Park.

 

Extrait de “Les Mémoires d’Hadrien:”

“Rien n’est plus lent que la véritable naissance d’un homme.”

“Peu d’hommes aiment longtemps le voyage, ce bris perpétuel de toutes les habitudes, cette secousse sans cesse donnée à tous les préjugés. Mais je travaillais à n’avoir nul préjugé et peu d’habitudes. J’appréciais la profondeur délicieuse des lits, mais aussi le contact et l’odeur de la terre nue, les inégalités de chaque segment de la circonférence du monde. « Notre grande erreur est d’essayer d’obtenir de chacun en particulier les vertus qu’il n’a pas, et de négliger de cultiver celles qu’il possède.”

Extrait des “Nouvelles Orientales:”

“Nous sommes tous incomplets, dit le Sage. Nous sommes tous partagés, fragments, ombres, fantômes sans consistance. Nous avons tous cru pleurer et cru jouir depuis des séquelles de siècles.”

“Et Marie s’en alla par le sentier qui ne menait nulle part, en femme à qui il importe peu que les chemins finissent, puisqu’elle sait le moyen de marcher dans le ciel.”

Extrait de “L’œuvre au Noir:”

“Vous autres poètes vous avez fait de l’amour une immense imposture : ce qui nous échoit semble toujours moins beau que ces rimes accolées comme deux bouches l’une sur l’autre.”

“Il est étrange que pour nos chrétiens les prétendus désordres de la chair constituent le mal par excellence. Personne ne punit avec rage et dégoût la brutalité, la sauvagerie, la barbarie, l’injustice.”

 

See you on Monday with the letter Z, the last one for the A to Z Challenge!

A lundi pour la lettre Z, la dernière de ce Challenge de A à Z!

Thank you for reading!

Merci de nous lire!

Enjoy the last stretch of the road if you participate to the A to Z Challenge!

Bientôt la ligne finale si vous participez au Challenge de A à Z!

Comments

  1. Everyday I am presenting a restaurant (or two) Evelyne and I recently visited.

    O Ya (New York City): Quite expensive, but probably the best Japanese place in NYC. A different sushi experience for sure.
    Sample from the tasting menu:
    “Kumamoto oyster with ponzu watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette, hamachi belly with hokkaido sea urchin, garlic chive blossom omelette with wagyu schmaltz, sea scallop with coconut dressing and kaffir, tapioca pudding with blueberry and yuzu sherbet.”
    Again not too many Y places we visited (except the Yard House!)..still O Ya is spectacular.

    — Evelyne’s husband.

  2. Memoirs of Hadrian sounds like my kind of novel, Evelyne. I don’t know that much about Hadrian beyond his wall, but I have long been a fan of Marcus Aurelius. I can see where you might have been excited as a young person. There is a whole new world out there. I remember Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” having that kind of impact on me as a high school student. –Curt

    • If you like long, lyrical, philosophical novels this is a book you will enjoy. I really loved it when I read it. I was still in high school and I was a little obsessive back then 🙂
      When we are part of the nerdy teens these kind of books are made for us. I loved (still love) history and also books that take me places, so Hadrian was perfect for me.
      I haven’t read Durrell’s tetralogy but I’m sure that he left a huge impact on you too.
      Thank you again, Curt for your thoughful comments.

  3. It looks like you found a real gem for one of the tough letters. Almost done!
    My daughter has hiked and camped in Acadia several times in recent years. Some of the photos look familiar.

    • I was so excited to find out that Yourcenar had lived in Maine for so many years and that her house was now a museum in one of the most picture-like villages in the Acadia’s region. You’ll see more photos later on:)
      I remember you mentioning Faith’s camping trip to Acadia National Park. My favorite with Yosemite.

  4. This is wonderful. (Y for “wonderful”? 😉 ) I read and liked Memoirs of Hadrian a very long time ago. Time to read it again. And I didn’t know Yourcenar had lived so long and eventually died in Maine. Thank you!

    • Yes, it was a surprise to me a well when I discovered her long ties with Maine. I will definitely pay a visit to the museum and the area soon.
      Glad you read and enjoyed Memoirs of Hadrian. I also thought it would be great to read it again and compare my reaction with my feelings when I read the book the first time.

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