Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras (Donnadieu)
French writer (1914-1996)
Source: paris, Author: paris
For many authors writing is a need like eating and drinking. One of those writers who devoted their whole existence to narrating and who lived through the parallel world of their fiction was Marguerite Duras. Much of her work is at least vaguely autobiographical to the point that she herself could find it difficult to keep her memories and fiction apart. So what could be more obvious than summarizing the known facts about the life of this grand figure of twentieth century literature? 

The French writer and film director Marguerite Duras was born as Marguerite Donnadieu in Gia-Dinh close to Saigon, Vietnam (then French Indochina), in April 1914. After her father had died in 1919, her mother had a hard time bringing up the children. They moved to Vinh Long in the Mekong delta where Marguerite and her two older brothers grew up freely. As a teenager Marguerite Duras had an affair with a Chinese businessman, an experience that later flew into her writing. Then she went to France for her university studies that she completed in 1936 earning a licence (master) in law. 

After her studies Marguerite Duras met her first husband, the poet Robert Antelme, and became an active member of the French Communist Party. As from 1936 she earned her living as a Government official dealing until World War II with matters concerning the colony of Indochina and during the war with the allocation of paper to publishers in the name of the Vichy government. Between 1942 and 1944 Marguerite Duras worked for the French Resistance as a spy and published a newspaper called Libres to communicate information about movements of prisoners to their family and friends. 

When she published her first novel Les Impudents (The Impudent) in 1943, she decided to use a pseudonym and chose the name of the French village where her father had settled shortly before his death and that he had intended to adopt as his family name. La Vie tranquille (The Quiet Life) that followed in 1944 was her last literary work until 1950 because writing fiction seemed too trivial an occupation to her while her husband (and millions of others) suffered in German concentration camps or fought in the war. When Robert Antelme returned home at last, he was half-dead. 

After Marguerite Duras had nursed her husband back to health from typhus and he had sufficiently recovered his strength, she asked him for a divorce. At the time this meant breaking with the role that wives were expected to fill. Marguerite Duras still cared a lot for her husband, but her feelings had changed and she didn’t wish to live with him as husband and wife anymore. Moreover she wanted to marry his best friend Dionys Mascolo which she did in 1947. Shortly after the marriage, which lasted about a decade, she got pregnant with their son Jean. 

In the late 1940s Marguerite Duras also resumed writing and published The Sea Wall (Un barrage contre le Pacifique: 1950) that made her fame. Many novels, essays, short stories, plays and screenplays followed over the following decades. Some of her most famous works are Hiroshima mon amour (1960), The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein (Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein: 1964), India Song (1976), Moderato Cantabile (1977), Savannah Bay (1982), The Lover (L’amant: 1984), The North China Lover (L'Amant de la Chine du Nord: 1991, and Writing (Écrire: 1993).

As from the late 1960s Marguerite Duras got into directing independent films. The first one to come out was La Musica (1966) which was to be followed by almost twenty others. The most noted among them are Nathalie Granger (1972), India Song (1975), Le Camion (The Truck: 1977) and her last one The Children (Les Enfants: 1984). However, the films of Marguerite Durashave have never been as popular as her books which is proved by the fact that her films are difficult to find these days. 

Marguerite Duras saw much success, but she was also a victim of her passions and vices. During most of her life she fought against alcoholism undergoing altogether four detoxification cures. In the end she died from throat cancer in Paris in March 1996. 

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  1. What a wonderful post. You know, I'm ashamed to say, that as a writer I don't think I've ever actually read her (maybe in college?) But this makes me want to go to the library and take out one of her novels. What an interesting life she lead, certainly full of writerly material.

    1. Thank you for the praise, Sandra! I'm happy to see that you liked my post and that it made you wish to read one of Marguerite Duras' books.


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