Baroque Fictions: Revisioning the Classical in Marguerite Yourcenar

Baroque Fictions: Revisioning the Classical in Marguerite Yourcenar

Baroque Fictions: Revisioning the Classical in Marguerite Yourcenar

Baroque Fictions: Revisioning the Classical in Marguerite Yourcenar


This volume is the first in-depth study of the French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar's fiction to contend that the author's texts exhibit in unexpected ways numerous characteristics of the neobaroque. This subversive, postmodern aesthetic privileges extravagant artistic play, flux, and heterogeneity. In demonstrating the affinity of Yourcenar's texts with the neobaroque, the author of this study casts doubt on their presumed transparency and stability, qualities associated with the French neoclassical tradition of the past century, where the Yourcenarian ouvre is most often placed.


L’être fuit, le moi est poreux; s’en faire une image
globale relève de la pure illusion

Marguerite Yourcenar’s literary production spans the modern and postmodern periods; this chronological bridge is symbolic. Yourcenar is undeniably a modernist in some respects: for example, in certain earlier works’ use of avant-garde expressionism, of myth, and of a “classical” style imitating the récit gidien. Yet, all of her fictional works—from the 1930s to the 1980s—reveal a sense of aesthetic play and display, of provocation and refusal of authority, of loss of referent and ambiguity, which raises questions about the validity of her assigned position (generally accepted by the public and literati alike) as a solid representative of the twentieth-century French canon. Nevertheless, we must reckon with the reality that in the decades after World War II, Yourcenar did indeed establish herself as one of French canonical literature’s new shining stars and as a practitioner if not an advocate of supposedly traditional, classical themes and style.

“Individual life is short, the self is porous; to conjure up an image of the whole from such things smacks of pure illusion.” “Préface,” Marguerite Yourcenar, Les Yeux ouverts. Entretiens avec Matthieu Galey (Paris: Le Centurion, 1980) 7; and With Open Eyes. Conversations with Matthieu Galey, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984) xiii.

This is quite literally the case. As much as Marguerite Yourcenar enjoyed going against the grain, she also imposed upon the public consciousness a certain image of literary grandeur and aloofness. Josyane Savigneau also notes in the Monde article already cited in the Frontispiece the difficulty, even in a centennial year when efforts could and should be made to shatter idées reçues about Yourcenar, to obtain anything but “des analyses en vogue dès les années 1970 que l’élection à l’Académie aggrava encore, éteignant le regard mobile et ironique d’une statue que la dame avait ellemême sculptée” (“analyses in vogue beginning in the 1970s, which her election to the [French] Academy aggravated still more, extinguishing the mobile, ironic gaze of a statue that the lady herself had sculpted”). My emphasis and translation. Savigneau, “Marguerite Yourcenar pour mémoire,” Le Monde, 6 June 2003: Littératures iii. Translation mine.

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