Marguerite Duras

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Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras 1993.jpg
Duras in 1993
BornMarguerite Donnadieu
(1914-04-04)4 April 1914
Gia Định, Cochinchina, French Indochina (present-day Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
Died3 March 1996(1996-03-03) (aged 81)
Paris, France
EducationLycée Chasseloup Laubat, Saigon
Alma materUniversity of Paris
  • Robert Antelme
  • Dionys Mascolo
  • Yann Andréa

Marguerite Germaine Marie Donnadieu (French pronunciation: [maʁɡ(ə)ʁitʒɛʁmɛnmaʁidɔnadjø] , 4 April 1914 – 3 March 1996), known as Marguerite Duras (French: [maʁɡ(ə)ʁitdyʁas] ), was a French novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Her script for the film Hiroshima mon amour (1959) earned her a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.


Early life and education

Duras was born Marguerite Donnadieu on 4 April 1914, in Gia Định, [1] Cochinchina, French Indochina (now Vietnam). Her parents, Marie (née Legrand, 1877–1956) and Henri Donnadieu (1872–1921), were teachers from France who likely had met at Gia Định High School. [2] [3] They both had previous marriages. Marguerite had two older brothers: Pierre, the elder, and Paul.

Duras' father fell ill and he returned to France, where he died in 1921. Between 1922 and 1924, the family lived in France while her mother was on administrative leave. They then moved back to French Indochina when she was posted to Phnom Penh followed by Vĩnh Long and Sa Đéc. The family struggled financially, and her mother made a bad investment in an isolated property and area of rice farmland in Prey Nob, [2] a story which was fictionalized in Un barrage contre le Pacifique (The Sea Wall).

In 1931, when she was 17, Duras and her family moved to France where she successfully passed the first part of the baccalaureate with the choice of Vietnamese as a foreign language, as she spoke it fluently. Duras returned to Saigon in late 1932 where her mother found a teaching post. There, Marguerite continued her education at the Lycée Chasseloup-Laubat and completed the second part of the baccalaureate, specializing in philosophy.

In autumn 1933, Duras moved to Paris, graduating with a degree in public law in 1936. At the same time, she took classes in mathematics. She continued her education, earning a diplôme d'études supérieures (DES) in public law and, later, in political economy. [4] After finishing her studies in 1937, she found employment with the French government at the Ministry of the Colonies. In 1939, she married the writer Robert Antelme, whom she had met during her studies. [2]

During World War II, from 1942 to 1944, Duras worked for the Vichy government in an office that allocated paper quotas to publishers and in the process operated a de facto book-censorship system. She also became an active member of the PCF (the French Communist Party) [2] and a member of the French Resistance as a part of a small group that also included François Mitterrand, who later became President of France and remained a lifelong friend of hers. [2] Duras' husband, Antelme, was deported to Buchenwald in 1944 [5] for his involvement in the Resistance, and barely survived the experience (weighing on his release, according to Duras, just 38 kg, or 84 pounds). She nursed him back to health, but they divorced once he recovered.

In 1943, when publishing her first novel, she began to use the surname Duras, after the town that her father came from, Duras, Lot-et-Garonne. [6]

In 1950, her mother returned to France from Indochina, wealthy from property investments and from the boarding school she had run. [3]


Duras was the author of many novels, plays, films, interviews, essays, and works of short fiction, including her best-selling, highly fictionalized autobiographical work L'Amant (1984), translated into English as The Lover, which describes her youthful affair with a Chinese-Vietnamese man. It won the Prix Goncourt in 1984. [7] The story of her adolescence also appears in three other books: The Sea Wall, Eden Cinema and The North China Lover. A film version of The Lover, produced by Claude Berri and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, was released in 1992. Duras's novel The Sea Wall was first adapted into the 1958 film This Angry Age by René Clément, and again in 2008 by Cambodian director Rithy Panh as The Sea Wall .[ citation needed ]

Other major works include Moderato Cantabile (1958), which was the basis of the 1960 film Seven Days... Seven Nights ; Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein (1964); and her play India Song, which Duras herself later directed as a film in 1975. She was also the screenwriter of the 1959 French film Hiroshima mon amour , which was directed by Alain Resnais. [8] Duras's early novels were fairly conventional in form, and were criticized for their "romanticism" by fellow writer Raymond Queneau; however, with Moderato Cantabile, she became more experimental, paring down her texts to give ever-increasing importance to what was not said. She was associated with the nouveau roman French literary movement, although she did not belong definitively to any one group. She was noted for her command of dialogue. [9]

In 1971, Duras signed the Manifesto of the 343, thereby publicly announcing that she had had an abortion. [10]

According to literature and film scholars Madeleine Cottenet-Hage and Robert P. Kolker, Duras' provocative cinema between 1973 and 1983 was concerned with a single "ideal" image, at the same time both "an absolute vacant image and an absolute meaningful image," while also focused on the verbal text. They said her films purposely lacked realistic representation, such as divorcing image from sound and using space symbolically. [11]

Many of her works, such as Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein and L'Homme assis dans le couloir (1980), deal with human sexuality. [12]

Towards the end of her life, Duras published a short, 54-page autobiographical book as a goodbye to her readers and family. The last entry was written on 1 August 1995 and read "I think it is all over. That my life is finished. I am no longer anything. I have become an appalling sight. I am falling apart. Come quickly. I no longer have a mouth, no longer a face". [13] Duras died at her home in Paris on 3 March 1996, aged 81. [14]

Personal life

During the latter stages of World War II she experienced separation from her husband Robert Antelme owing to his imprisonment in Buchenwald. She wrote La Douleur during his captivity. While married to Antelme, Duras acted on her belief that fidelity was absurd. She created a ménage à trois when she started an affair with the writer Dionys Mascolo, who fathered her son Jean Mascolo. [15]

During the final two decades of Duras' life, she experienced health problems. Starting in 1980 she was hospitalized for the first time, from a combination of alcohol and tranquilizers. [15] She was also undergoing detoxification procedures to help her recover from her alcohol addiction. After being hospitalized in October 1988 she fell into a coma that lasted until June 1989. [16]

Paralleling her health problems in the 1980s, Duras began having a relationship with a homosexual actor, Yann Andréa. [15] Yann Andréa helped Duras through her health difficulties. Duras would detail these interactions and companionship in her final book, Yann Andréa Steiner. [17]

Duras' health continued to decline in the 1990s. She died on 3 March 1996. [18]

Reception and legacy

Samuel Beckett regarded first hearing the radio play "The Square" as a significant moment in his life. [6]

In 1992, after a dinner with friends where Marguerite Duras was dismissed as the most overrated author of the moment, the journalist Étienne de Montety copied L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas, a relatively minor work of Duras from 1962, by only changing the names of the characters in the text and replacing the title with "Margot et l'important". He sent the result under the alias "Guillaume P. Jacquet" to the three main publishers of Duras: Gallimard, POL and Éditions de Minuit. Éditions de Minuit replied to Guillaume P. Jacquet that "[his] manuscript unfortunately cannot be included in [their] publications"; Gallimard that "the verdict is not favourable"; and POL that "[the] book does not correspond to what [they] are looking for their collections". The facsimile of the refusal letters was published in the Figaro littéraire under the title "Marguerite Duras refusée par ses propres éditeurs" ("Marguerite Duras refused by her own publishers"). [19]

The 2021 French mini-series Une affaire française (aka A French Case) depicts Duras (played by a chain-smoking Dominique Blanc) in a damning light, as she insinuates herself into the investigation of a 1984 child murder case by accusing the mother of the crime. [20]

The account by Yann Andréa of his relationship with Duras was brought to the screen in a 2022 Claire Simon film entitled Vous ne désirez que moi (a phrase directed at Andréa by Duras) with Swann Arlaud as Andréa and Emmanuelle Devos as journalist Michèle Manceaux, [21] subsequently issued on DVD by Blaq Out.

Awards and honors


Novels and stories





Grave of Marguerite Duras, Montparnasse Cemetery, with pens, pencils, and feathers, in and around, potted plants, on her grave. Cimetiere du Montparnasse - septembre 2018 - 7.JPG
Grave of Marguerite Duras, Montparnasse Cemetery, with pens, pencils, and feathers, in and around, potted plants, on her grave.



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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Riding, Alan (4 March 1996). "Marguerite Duras, 81, Author Who Explored Love and Sex". The New York Times . Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  3. 1 2 Adler, Laure (15 December 2000). Marguerite Duras: A Life. University of Chicago Press. ISBN   978-0-226-00758-8.
  4. André, Labarrère (2005). Marguerite Duras. Editions de l'Herne. p. 364. ISBN   2851971492.
  5. "Transport parti de Compiègne le 17 août 1944 (I.265.)" (in French). Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  6. 1 2 Kushner, Rachel (10 November 2017). ""A Man and a Woman, Say What You Like, They're Different": On Marguerite Duras". The New Yorker . Retrieved 29 September 2020.
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  12. Alex Hughes, "Erotic Writing" in Hughes and Keith Reader, Encyclopedia of contemporary French culture, (pp. 187–88). London, Routledge, 1998, ISBN   0415131863
  13. Riding, Alan (4 March 1996). "Marguerite Duras, 81, Author Who Explored Love and Sex". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  14. Coward, David (4 March 1996). "Passion into Prose: Obituary: Marguerite Duras". The Guardian. p. 12.
  15. 1 2 3 Vircondelet, Alain (15 March 1996). "Overstepping Boundaries: A Life of Maguerite Duras". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved 15 April 2020.
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  19. "Marguerite Duras refusée par ses propres éditeurs", by Renaud Matignon, Le Figaro, 14 September 1992. See a detailed presentation in Daniela Veres, Duras et ses lecteurs (Étude de la réception de l’œuvre dans le paysage littéraire et journalistique français), Thèse à l'université Lumière- Lyon 2, 2008, online. See also Frédéric Rouvillois, Le collectionneur d'impostures, Paris, Flammarion, 2010, p. 206-208, which refers to Guillaume P. Jacquet, "Marguerite Andréas Duras", Réaction, n° 7, autumn 1992, and to Hélène Maurel-Indard, Du Plagiat, Paris, PUF, 1999.
  20. "A French Case, episode 5: Sublime, Forcément Sublime". Retrieved 3 February 2023.
  21. « Vous ne désirez que moi » : la dernière passion destructrice de Marguerite Duras ("You desire only me" : the final destructive passion of Marguerite Duras. Review by Mathieu Macheret. Le Monde, 9 February 2022 accessed 6 September 2023.
  22. No More at Seven Stories Press.
  23. 1 2 3 Duras, Marguerite (1967). Three plays. Internet Archive. London : Calder & Boyars.
  24. AlloCine, Le Camion , retrieved 17 June 2019

Further reading