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||Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) - pseudonym of Marguerite Donnadieu|
French novelist, representative of the nouveau roman, scenarist, playwright, and film director, internationally known for her screenplays of Hiroshima Mon Amour , directed by Alain Resnais, and India Song (play 1973, screenplay 1975). After relatively traditional novels and stories, Duras published in 1958 the novel Moderato Cantabile, which first summarized her themes of sexual desire, love, death, and memory. However, Duras did not publish a manifesto of her ideas like so many representatives of the noveau roman did, but her final work, Ecrite (1995, Writing), gave a brief account of her life and theory of writing.
"The solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing could not be produced, or would crumble, drained bloodless by the search for something else to write. When it loses its blood, its author stops recognizing it. And first and foremost it must be never be dictated to a secretary, however capable she may be, nor ever given to a publisher to read at that stage." (from Writing, transl. by Mark Polizzotti, 1998)
Marguerite Duras was born in Gia Dinh, Indochina (now Vietnam). Her father died on sick leave in France when she was four, and her mother, a teacher, struggled hard to bring up her three children. Duras spent most of her childhood in Indochina, where she learned Vietnamese. While still a teenager, she had an affair with a wealthy Chinese man, whom she called Monsieur Jo and also Léo. Later Duras returned to this period in her books. At the age of 17, she moved to France. She studied law and political science at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1935. Duras took her penname from the name of a village in Lot-et-Garonne in the south-western part of France, where her father had owned property.
From 1935 to 1941 Duras worked as a secreraty at the ministry of colonies. During World War II, she was a member of French Resistance; she had also joined the Communist Party. After the war she condemned its policies and was expelled in 1950 for revisionism. Although Duras had helped writers opposing Nazis during the war, she was also accused of being a member of a literary committee controlled by the Germans.
Duras's husband Robert Antelme was a member of the resistance group Richelieu, led by François Mitterrand. Antelme was captured by the Gestapo, but he survived Buchenwald, Gandersheim, and Dachau. After returning to France, Antelme wrote his memoirs, L'espece humaine. Duras, who had planned to leave Antelme, nursed him. This period was the basis for Duras's collection of short stories, entitled La Douleur (1985). Her first book, Les Impudents, came out in 1942. Her early novels were influenced by Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and François Mauriac.
Duras worked as a journalist for the magazine Observateur.
Her reputation was made in the 1950s with such works as Un
barrage contre le Pacifique (1950), which depicted a poor French
family in Indochina, the psychological romantic novel Le marin de
Gibraltar (1952), and Le Square (1955),
associated her with the New Novel group. Unlike other avant-garde
writers, Duras was not so much interested in abstract literary theories
than examining the power of words, remembering, forgetting, and
feelings of alienation. Often her dialogue is elliptical and instead of
describing action she focuses on the inner life of her characters.
Duras found modern French writers boring. Her own favorite books were
Melville's Moby Dick, Musil's The Man Without Qualities, and the Bible. Nathalie Sarraute was her close friend. Duras liked her essays more than her fiction.
The theme of love between people of different races runs through many of Duras's works, among them Hiroshima, Mon Amour, about the brief love affair between a married French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). Riva tells Okada about her forbidden love affair with a German soldier during the occupation. After the Liberation her hair was shorn by the villagers and she had a mental breakdown. The film is famous for its innovative use of flashback and parallel montage. In Japan it did poor business under the title Twenty-four Hour Love Affair. Love, especially in Duras's earlier work, offers her characters a way to escape their aimlessness of life. Other ways are alcohol or "madness".
Hiroshima, Mon Amour received an Academy Award
nomination for Best Screenplay. All reviews were not enthusiastic.
"That a film so amateur should receive so much critical acclaim is a
sad commentary on the state of Western culture... the enthusiasms of
a-political critics for this picture reveals a mental confusion so
close to intellectual bankruptcy as to alarm everyone who believes the
West has a mission." (H.H., Films
in Review, June/July 1960) Duras was also accused of
ignoring Okada's story, and drawing parallels between the Hiroshima
holocaust and Riva's suffering.
Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein (1964)
was written when Duras underwent a detoxification program. This novel,
which reworked motifs from her earlier novels, notably Moderato cantabile and Dix heures et demie du soir en été (1960),
has been the subject of considerable attention in psychoanalysis.
Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst and philosopher, has said that
Duras seemed to know all about his ideas without having been his student.
After the May 1968 students' revolt,
Duras's writing grew increasingly abstract. Although she rejected the aesthetic and stylistic techniques in her earlier work,
she returned to this material to turn it into new plays, novels and
films. Duras's sparse, yet suggestive style, and her use of language,
was much discussed by feminists as embodying feminine writing.
"When a woman drinks it's as if an animal were drinking, or a child. Alcoholism is scandalous in woman, and a female alcoholic is rare, a serious matter. It's a slur on the divine in our nature. I realized the scandal I was causing around me. But in my day, in order to have the strength to confront it publicly – for example, to go into a bar on one's own at night – you needed to have had something to drink already." (from Practicalities, 1990)
From the 1970s Duras concentrated on making films and publishing screenplays. Nevertheless, her books in general were more popular than her films. With Gérald Depardieu she made the film Camion in 1977. In the 1980s she gained again critical acclaim with her semi-autobiographical novel L'Amant (1984, The Lover), about her youth in Indo-China. The book won her the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize, and sold in short time 1.5 million copies. Duras begins the novel by analyzing her own image, after an unknown man tells that he prefers her face, ravaged as it is, more now than when she was a young woman: "I grew old at eighteen . . . My ageing was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving creases in the forehead."
The Lover was made in 1992 into a film, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. "Destruction. A key word when it comes to Marguerite Duras, who uses her novels, her plays and her films to study herself in as many mirrors; she identifies herself with her work to the point that she no longer knows what is autobiographical fact and what is fiction." (Jean-Jacques Annaud, CNN, March 5, 1998) The film, in which a teenage girl is initiated into sex by an older Chinese dandy, was available in Europe in a sexier version. In L'Amant de la Chine du Nord (1990) she again returned to her Vietnamese experience.
Duras's life in the 1980s and 1990s was subject for Yann
Andréa Steiner's books M.D. (1983) and Cet Amour-lá
(1999). They give an account of Duras's later creative period, which
was shadowed by her drinking. With Yann, she watched films on video.
They rarely went to the movies. In the daytime, Duras always had the TV
Yann Andréa, who was 38 years younger than Duras, became obsessed with her books, and met her in 1980. He worked as her secretary, and also acted in her films. Their relationship was tumultuous: "I don't know who you are," she could say and drive him out of her apartment, but he always returned. In Practicalities (1987) Duras tells about her life with Yann, and confesses that she became an alcoholic immediately when she started to drink. Duras also mentions that she took aspirin every day for fifteen years. Yann Andréa encouraged her to go to hospital for treatment. Duras went in October 1982 to the American Hospital of Paris. After returning back home, she believed her apartment was full of strange people. Yann tried to confirm her that there was nobody else in the apartment. To please her he once opened and closed a door for one of Duras's hallucinatory guests. Duras lived with Yann until her death in Paris on November 3, 1996.
For further reading: Marguerite Duras by Alfred Cismaru (1971); Marguerite Duras by A. Vircondelet (1972); Marguarite Duras: Modersto Cantabile by David Coward (1981); Alienation and Absence in the Novels of Marguerite Duras by Carol J. Murphy (1982); M.D. By Yann Andréa Steiner (1983): Marguerite Duras: Writing on the Body by Sharon Willis (1987); The Other Woman: Feminism and Feminity in the Works of Marguerite Duras by Trista Selous (1988); Remains to Be Seen: Essays on Marguerite Duras, ed. by Sanford Scribner Ames (1988); Women and Discourse in the Fiction of Marguerite Duras by S.D. Cohen (1993); Marguerite Duras: Apocalyptic Desires by Leslie Hill (1993); Duras: A Biography by A. Vircondelet (1994); Marguerite Duras by Laure Adler (Gallimard, 1998); Cet Amour-lá by Yann Andréa (1999); Marguerite Duras: A Life by Laure Adler (2001); Lyotard, Beckett, Duras, and the Postmodern Sublime by Andrew Slade (2007); Rencontrer Marguerite Duras by Alain Vircondelet (2014) - - Suom.: Durasilta on myös suomennettu näytelmä Kaiken päivää puissa. Nouveau roman, see also Claude Simon, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute. "...De ce dialogue harassant, il se dégage bien quelques petites choses; le désarroi de cette femme, la tristesse de sa vie, un vague désir de communiquer, par-delà les mots, avec quelqu'un – et pourquoi pas, après tout, avec ce Chauvin qui s'est trouvé là? Mais pourquoi ces saouleries au vin rouge? Ce brusque désir de rompre avec la vie normale? Il y a une sorte d'outrance qui fait que le lecteur ne peut, derrière ce comportement qu'on nous dit, imaginer qu'un monde superficiel dans lequel vit un être superficiel. Cette coquille de noix que Marguerite Duras nous offre ne ressemble en rien à celle dont parlait Joyce lorsqu'il disait vouloir mettre all space in a nutshell, car elle est, au départ, aussi faussement bariolée qu'un œuf de Pâques." (Anne Villelaur about Moderato Cantabile in Les Lettres françaises, 6-3-1958)