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Marguerite Yourcenar

 Novelist (1903 - 1987)

Marguerite Yourcenar was the pen-name of Marguerite Cleenewerck de Crayencour (1903-1987). She was born in a house on Avenue Louise in Brussels and was brought up by her paternal grand-parents (her mother died ten days her birth) who lived in Lille in the winter and on the French Channel coast at Saint-Jans-Cappel in the summer. She never attended school, but passed her baccalauréat at her first attempt in 1921. Le Jardin des chimères, her first poem, was published in 1929 under the pen-name Yourcenar. She accompanied her father on his travels in France, Italy and Switzerland and spent the First World War with him in England. She acutely observed his serial love-affairs and wrote a lightly-fictionalised version of his affair with Jeanne de Vietinghoff in her first novel, Alexis ou Le traité du vain combat, also published in 1929. Her father died shortly afterwards, and she joined a bohemian crowd of artists, moving between Paris, Lausanne, Athens, Istanbul, Brussels and the Greek islands, which inspired her travel writing Nouvelles Orientales and Feux based on Greek mythology. She was among the first female writers to live an openly lesbian lifestyle, and she moved to the USA in 1939 to live with her partner Grace Frick. The couple were to remain together until Frick’s death in 1979. She became an American citizen in 1947, and moved to Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine, in 1950. She taught French History and History of Art, and continued to write: her novel Mémoires d’Hadrien was published in 1951 and enjoyed success with both the critics and the public worldwide. Her talent was recognised by her election to the Belgian Royal Academy for French-Language Literature in 1970 and to the Académie Française (as its first female member) in 1980, following a long campaign by the writer Jean d’Ormesson. She was an inveterate traveller and remained active right up to her death in 1987. She was a militant vegetarian and defender of the rights of animals and inspired Brigitte Bardot to set up her animal sanctuary. She leaves an oeuvre of 26 published works. A piece of installation art entitled A conversation with Marguerite Yourcenar, which includes seats and a small labyrinth, was unveiled on Avenue Louise close to her birthplace in 2003, the centenary of her birth.

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