MARGUERITE YOURCENAR, French author was born (d. 1987); Marguerite Yourcenar is the pseudonym of Belgian novelist Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour. Her first novel, Alexis, was published in 1929. Her intimate companion at the time, a translator named Grace Frick, invited her to America, where she lectured in comparative literature in New York City. She and Frick became lovers in 1937, and would remain so until Frick’s death in 1979. In 1951 she published, in France, the French language novel Mémoires d’Hadrien (translated as Memoirs of Hadrian), 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, 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. This novel has become a modern classic, a standard against which fictional recreations of Antiquity are measured.
However, some Israeli critics objected to Yourcenar’s “underplaying” Hadrian’s harsh repression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea, for which this emperor is remembered as a villain in Jewish tradition. Yourcenar was elected as the first female member of the Académie Francaise, in 1980.
One of the most respected writers in French language, she published many novels, essays, and poems, as well as three volumes of memoirs. Yourcenar lived much of her life at Petite Plaisance in Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Petite Plaisance is now a museum dedicated to her memory.