Segments in this Video

Introduction to Marguerite Yourcenar (02:22)


A 1980 French news clip announces Yourcenar’s election to the Académie Française. She reflects on joining the intellectual institution and being identified as a French writer. (Credits)

Historical Novelist (00:45)

Yourcenar traces how the past has shaped society through characters witnessing crisis points.

Yourcenar's Early Years (02:54)

Visit the author on Mount Desert Island in Maine. She discusses why her memoirs are impersonal and describes detached family relationships.

Yourcenar's Education (01:21)

The self-taught writer shares her views on teaching and formal education.

"Memoirs of Hadrian" (03:02)

Yourcenar's early European travels inspired her literary career. Hear an excerpt from her first historical novel where Hadrian ponders heroism.

A Cultured Roman Emperor (02:16)

Yourcenar recalls seeing Hadrian's statue in the British Museum and discusses his artistic appeal. Hear an excerpt from "Memoirs of Hadrian" describing his aesthetic sense.

Hadrian and Antinous (03:04)

Yourcenar discusses the emperor's relationship to the young Greek man, symbolizing his character vulnerability. Hear an excerpt describing his loyalty and beauty.

Hadrian in Sculpture (02:29)

Yourcenar found creative inspiration for her historical novel at in European museums.

Piranesi's Roman Ruins (01:57)

Yourcenar discusses the 19th century artist's depiction of classical architecture returning to nature, including Hadrian's villa.

Stepping Back in Time (01:47)

Yourcenar talks about how her decision to settle on an undeveloped island in Maine inspired her historical writing.

"The Abyss" (02:34)

Learn the themes of Yourcenar's novel, set in Renaissance Europe. She compares Zeno's world view to that of Hadrian.

Enlightenment Character (02:23)

Hear an excerpt from Yourcenar's "The Abyss" where Zeno mistakes the reflection of his eye for a strange insect.

Search for Scientific Truth (03:02)

Yourcenar discusses Zeno's Enlightenment perspective and the concept of "L'Œuvre au noir." Hear an excerpt from "The Abyss" describing his laboratory.

Bringing Zeno to Life (02:02)

After publishing "The Abyss," Yourcenar found portraits of Renaissance doctors resembling her protagonist, whom she conjured in her garden.

"An Obscure Man" (02:56)

Learn about Yourcenar's modern character Nathanial. She compares him to Zeno and Hadrian; an excerpt describes his experience at a concert.

Universal Literature (02:50)

Hadrian, Zeno and Nathanial comprise a trilogy of human perspectives. Yourcenar argues against the concept of literary modernism and discusses her attraction to male characters.

"Blues and Gospels" (03:02)

Yourcenar discusses her interest in African-American history, translating spirituals into French, and admiration for Bessie Smith.

"Le Blues de la Prohibition" (02:14)

Yourcenar reads a selection from "Blues and Gospels" and discusses folk poetry, including Bob Dylan's work

Religious Education (01:29)

Yourcenar explains that Zeno adheres to a Buddhist philosophy, and describes her early interest in Eastern culture.

Intellectual Creativity (01:35)

Moving to the U.S. influenced Yourcenar's writing and freed her from the European literary establishment. She is indifferent towards recent honors.

"Mishima: A Vision of the Void" (Disturbing) (03:20)

Learn about Yourcenar's study of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. She discusses why she wrote about him; hear an excerpt describing two decapitated heads after his ritual suicide.

Mortality as an Artistic Ambition (04:38)

Yourcenar explains why she wrote about Mishima's suicide, and shares her thoughts on death. Hear an excerpt from "The Abyss" where Zeno rests near the sea.

Literary Career Reflection (01:51)

Yourcenar feels she has more work to do. Hear an excerpt from "Memoirs of Hadrian" where the protagonist retires to his villa.

Credits: Marguerite Yourcenar: A Reluctant Celebrity (00:47)

Credits: Marguerite Yourcenar: A Reluctant Celebrity

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Marguerite Yourcenar: A Reluctant Celebrity

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The first woman to be elected to the Académie Française and a close contender for a Nobel Prize, Marguerite Yourcenar remained characteristically indifferent to public life and professional honors. This program—shot on location at her hermitage on Mount Desert Island a year before her death in 1987—profiles the life and literature of a renowned novelist, poet, and essayist who viewed the world and even herself with a curious detachment. Best known for her historical novels such as Memoirs of Hadrian, excerpts of which are read by actress Janet Suzman, Yourcenar displays her remarkable range by reading lyrics from her offbeat Blues et Gospels. (58 minutes)

Length: 58 minutes

Item#: BVL10057

Copyright date: ©1986

Closed Captioned

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