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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. 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, where she studied law and political science at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1935. Duras took her penname from the name of a village in France near 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), which 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.

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. 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. 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. Andréa, who was 38 years younger than Duras, became obsessed with her books, and met her in 1980. Andréa 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 Andréa, 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 Andréa 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); 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) - - 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)

Selected works:

  • Les Impudents, 1942
  • La Vie tranquille: roman, 1944
  • Un barrage contre le Pacifique: roman, 1950
    - The Sea Wall (translated by Herma Briffault, 1967) / A Sea of Troubles (translated by Antonia White, 1969)
    - film 2008, dir. by Rithy Panh, starring Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Grass, Isabelle Huppert, Lucy Harrison
  • Le Marin de Gibraltar: roman, 1952
    - The Sailor from Gibraltar (translated by Barbara Bray, 1967)
    - film 1966, dir. by Tony Richardson; script by Christopher Isherwood, Don Magner, Tony Richardson
  • Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia: roman, 1953
    - Little Horses of Tarquinia (translated by Peter DuBerg, 1985)
  • Des journées entières dans les arbres, 1954 (stage adaptation: Days in the Trees)
  • Le Square: roman, 1955
    - The Square (translated by Sonia Pitt-Rivers and Irina Morduch, 1959)
  • Le Square, 1957 (produced; with Claude Martin)
  • Moderato cantabile, 1958
    - Moderato Cantabile (translated by Richard Seaver, 1960)
    - Moderato Cantabile. Sonaatti rakkaudelle (suom. Marita Hietala, 1967)
    - film 1960, dir. by Peter Brook, screenplay with Gérard Jarlot and Peter Brook, starring Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Pascale de Boysson 
  • Hiroshima mon amour: scénario et dialogues, 1959 (filmscript)
    - film prod. Argos Films, Como Films, Daiei Studios, dir. by Alain Resnais, starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud   
    - Hiroshima Mon Amour (translated by Richard Seaver, 1961)
    - Hiroshima, rakastettuni (suom. Kristina Haataja, 1990)
  • Les Viaducs de la Seine-et-Oise, 1960 (stage adaptation: The Viaducts)
  • Dix heures et demie du soir en été, 1960
    - Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night (translated by Anne Borchardt, 1962)
    - Puoli yksitoista kesäiltana (suom. Marketta Ruoppila-Martinsen, 1963)
    - film 10:30 P.M. Summer, 1963, dir. by Jules Dassin, starring Melina Mercouri, Romy Schneider, Peter Finch
  • Une aussi longue absence: scénario et dialogues, 1961 (screenplay, with Gérard Jarlot)
    - film 1962, dir. by Henri Colpi, starring Alida Valli, Georges Wilson, Charles Blavette
  • Les Papiers d'Aspern, 1961 (with Robert Antelme, adaptation of the play The Aspern Papers by Michael Redgrave, based on the story by Henry James)
  • Miracle en Alabama, 1961 (with Gérard Jarlot, adaptation of The Miracle Worker by William Gibson)
  • L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas, 1962
    - The Afternoon of Monsieur Andesmas (in Four Novels: The Square; Moderato Cantabile; Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night; The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas, introd. by Germaine Brée, 1965)  
    - film 2004, dir. by Michelle Porte, starring Michel Bouquet, Miou-Miou, Paloma Veinstein
  • La bête dans la jungle, 1962 (with James Lord, from The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James)
  • Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein, 1964
    - The Rapture of Lol V. Stein (translated by Eileen Ellenbogen, 1967) / The Ravishing of Lol Stein (translated by Richard Seaver, 1967)
    - Lol V. Steinin elämä (suom. Annikki Suni, 1986)
  • Sans merveille de Michel Mitrani, 1964 (television play, with Gérard Jarlot)
  • Four Novels: The Square. Moderato Cantabile. Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night. The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas, 1965 (translated by Sonia Pitt-Rivers, et al.)
  • Les Eaux et Forêts, 1965 (produced)
  • Théâtre I, 1965
  • Des journées entières dans les arbres, 1965 (produced)
  • La Musica, 1965 (produced)
    - TV film, in Love Story, 1965, prod. Associated Television (ATV), dir. John Nelson-Burton, starring Rosalind Atkinson, Michael Craig and Edward Higgins
  • 10:30 P.M. Summer, 1966 (screenplay, with Jules Dassin)
    - film 1966, prod. Argos Films, Jorilie, dir. Jules Dassin, starring Melina Mercouri, Romy Schneider and Peter Finch
  • La Musica, 1966 (director, with Paul Seban; screenplay)
    - film 1967, prod. Les Films Raoul Ploquin, Les Productions Artistes Associés, starring Delphine Seyrig, Robert Hossein, Julie Dassin
  • Les Rideaux blancs de Georges Franju et Tadeusz Konwicki, 1966 (screenplay)
  • Le Vice-Consul, 1966
    - The Vice-Consul (translated by Eileen Ellenbogen, 1968)
    - Varakonsuli (suom. Mirja Bolgár, 1988)
  • Three Plays, 1967 (translated by Barbara Bray and Sonia Orwell)
  • L'Amante anglaise, 1967
    - Amante Anglaise (translated by Barbara Bray, 1968)
    - Pään salaisuus: kuunnelma (suom. Saara Palmgren, 1987)
  • Théâtre II, 1968
  • Le Shaga, 1968 (produced; dir.)
  • Yes, peut-être, 1968 (produced)
  •  Détruire, dit-elle, 1969 (director, screenplay)
    - Destroy, She Said (transl. by Barbara Bray, 1970)
    - film 1969, prod. Ancinex, Madeleine Films, starring Catherine Sellers, Michael Lonsdale, Henri Garcin
  • La Danse de mort, d'après August Strindberg, 1970 (prodeced)
  • Abahn Sabana David, 1970
  • L'Amour, 1971
  • Jaune le soleil, 1971 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1972, prod. Albina Productions S.a.r.l., starring Catherine Sellers, Sami Frey, Dionys Mascolo
  •  Ah! Ernesto, 1971 (with Bernard Bonhomme)
  • Nathalie Granger, 1972 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1973, starring Lucia Bosé, Jeanne Moreau, Gérard Depardieu, Luce Garcia-Ville
  • India Song, 1973 (play, screenplay in 1975)
    - India Song (transl. by Barbara Bray, 1976)
  • Home, 1973 (from the play by David Storey)
  • La ragazza di passaggio / La Femme du Gange / Woman of the Ganges, 1973 (director, screenplay)
    - film: La Femme du Gange, 1974, starring Catherine Sellers, Christian Baltauss, Gérard Depardieu, Dionys Mascolo
  • Nathalie Granger, suivi de La Femme du Gange, 1973
  • Le navire Night, 1974
    - LaivaNuit (suom. Kristina Haataja, 1994)
  • Les Parleuses, 1974 (interviews)
    - Woman to Woman (translated by Katharine A. Jensen, 2004)
  • Ce que savait Morgan, 1974 (screenplay, with others)
  • Suzanna Andler; La musica & L'amante anglaise, 1975
  • India Song, 1975 (director, screenplay)
    - India Song (suom. Kristina Haataja, 1999)
    - film 1975, starring Delphine Seyrig, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Carrière, Claude Mann
  • Étude sur l'oeuvre littéraire, théâtrale, et cinématographique, 1975 (with Jacques Lacan and Maurice Blanchot)
  • Des journées entières dans les arbres, 1976 (director, screenplay)
    - Whole Days in the Trees (translated by Anita Barrows, 1984)
    - film 1976, starring Madeleine Renaud, Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Yves Gasc
  • Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta désert, 1976 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1976, starring Nicole Hiss, Michael Lonsdale, Sylvie Nuytten, Delphine Seyrig
  • Territoires du féminin, 1977 (with Marcelle Marini)
  • L'Éden Cinéma, 1977 (produced)
  • Le Camion, suivi d’entretiens avec Michelle Porte, 1977 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1977, prod. Auditel, Cinéma 9, starring Marguerite Duras, Gérard Depardieu
  • Baxter, Vera Baxter, 1977 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1977, starring Delphine Seyrig, Noëlle Chatelet, Nathalie Nell, Claude Aufaure, Gérard Depardieu
  • Les Mains négatives, 1978 (director, screenplay)
  • Le Navire Night, 1978 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1979, prod. Les Films du Losange, starring Dominique Sanda, Bulle Ogier, Mathieu Carrière
  • Les Lieux de Marguerite Duras, 1978 (interview, with Michelle Porte)
  • Le Navire Night et autres textes, 1979
    - LaivaNuit (suom. Christina Haataja, 1994)
  • Les Yeux ouverts, 1980
  • L'Été 80, 1980
  • Vera Baxter, 1980 (screenplay)
  • L'Homme assis dans le couloir, 1980
  • Césarée, 1980 (screenplay)
  • Agatha et les lectures illimitées, 1981 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1981, prod. Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA), Productions Berthemont, starring Bulle Ogier, Yann Andréa
  • L'Homme atlantique, 1981 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1981, starring Yann Andréa, Marguerite Duras
  • Outside: Papiers d'un jour, 1981
    - Outside: Selected Writings (translated by Arthur Goldhammer, 1986)
  • Marguerite Duras à Montréal, Montreal, 1981 (edited by Suzanne Lamy and André Roy)
  • Agatha, 1981
    - Agatha; Savannah Bay. 2 Plays (translated by Howard Limoli, 1992)
    - Agatha (suom. Jussi Lehtonen, 2000)
  • Dialogue de Rome, 1982 (director, screenplay)
    - film 1982, prod. Lunga Gittata Cooperativa, Rai Tre Radiotelevisione Italiana, starring Paolo Graziosi, Anna Nogara
  • Savannah Bay, 1982
    - Agatha; Savannah Bay. 2 Plays (translated by Howard Limoli, 1992)
  • La Maladie de la mort, 1983
    - The Malady of Death (translated by Barbara Bray, 1986)
    - Kuolemantauti: näytelmä (suomentanut Jukka Mannerkorpi, 1994)
    - short film 2003, dir. by Asa Mader, starring Anna Mouglalis, Stephan Crasneanski and Yann Goven 
  • Théâtre III, 1984
  • Les Enfants, 1984 (screenplay, dir. with Jean Mascolo, Jean-Marc Turine)
    - film 1984, starring Axel Bogousslavsky, Daniel Gélin, Tatiana Moukhine, Martine Chevallier
  • L'Amant, 1984
    - The Lover (translated by Barbara Bray, 1985)
    - Rakastaja (suom. Jukka Mannerkorpi, 1985)
    - film 1992, dir. by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Jane March, Tony Leung Ka Fai and Frédérique Meininger 
  • La Douleur, 1985
    - Douleur (translated by Barbara Bray, 1986) / The War: A Memoir (translated by Barbara Bray, 1986)
    - Tuska (suom. Jukka Mannerkorpi, 1987)
  • La Musica deuxième: Théâtre, 1985 (produced)
  • Anton Chekhov. La mouette, 1985 (translator)
  • Les Enfants, 1985 (film, dir.)
  • La Pute de la côte normande, 1986
  • Les Yeux bleus, cheveux noirs, 1986
    - Blue Eyes, Black Hair (translated by Barbara Bray, 1989)
    - Siniset silmät, musta tukka (suom. Annikki Suni, 1991)
  • La Vie matérielle, 1987
    - Practicalities: Marguerite Duras Speaks to Jérôme Beaujour (translated by Barbara Bray, 1993)
    - Jokapäiväinen elämä (suom. Kristina Haataja, 2001)
  • Les Yeux verts, 1987
    - Green Eyes (translated by Carol Barko, 1990)
  • Emily L., 1987
    - Emily L. (translated by Barbara Bray, 1989)
    - Emily L. (suom. Annikki Suni, 1989)
  • Marguerite Duras, 1987 (interview)
  • La Pluie d'été, 1990
    - Summer Rain (translated by Barbara Bray, 1992)
    - Kesäsade (suom. Jussi Lehtonen, 2003)
  • L'Amant de la Chine du Nord, 1990
    - The North China Lover (translated by Leigh Hafrey, 1992)
    - Pohjoiskiinlainen rakastaja (suom. Jukka Mannerkorpi, 1993)
  • Yann Andréa Steiner, 1992
    - Yann Andrea Steiner: A Memoir (translated by Barbara Bray, 1993)
  • Outside, tome 2: Le Monde extérieur , 1993
  • Écrire, 1995
    - Writing (translated by Mark Polizzotti, 2011)
    - Kirjoitan (suom. Annika Idström, 2005)
  • C'est tout, 1995
    - No More (translated by Richard Howard, 1998)
    - Ei muuta (suom. Kristina Haataja, 1995)
  • Théâtre IV, 1999
  • Cahiers de la guerre et autres textes, 2006
    - Wartime Writings: 1943-1949 (translated by Linda Coverdale, 2008)
    - Sodan vihkot ja muita kirjoituksia (suomentanut Matti Brotherus, 2008)
  •  Œuvres complètes, 2011 (2 vols., edited by Gilles Philippe et al.)

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