04 April 2014

More Candles for Marguerite Duras

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of French writer-director Marguerite Duras.

Duras was born in French Indochina, near Saigon, in 1914, and spent virtually all of her adult life in France, where she died in 1996. Her complete works will span roughly 4000 pages in four volumes of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.

Until the publication of L'amant (The Lover) in 1984 - Duras' first bestseller and winner of the Prix Goncourt - she had for four decades almost the status of an underground writer. When I began reading her in the 1970s, only two of her books were available as rack-sized paperbacks in France: the novel Moderato cantabile (1958) and the screenplay for Hiroshima mon amour (published in 1960). Today she has acquired the status of a 'classic' (today's birthday feels to me like one of those watershed French events, like the funeral of Sartre). Duras is perhaps the most modern of classics, if either of those words is still meaningful - and some younger readers now approach her with an element of trepidation. (In interviews, Duras seemed to feel that 'the young' would ultimately understand her best, and I think they will, if they will only read her.)

Although I never met Duras, I 'followed' her (see my explanation of this use of the word 'follow', and an earlier discussion of Duras, here ) for the last 20 years of her life. She remains in some ways the most immediate of the authors I refer to collectively as 'the 26' - so that it's especially difficult for me to write about her without writing about myself. But I've resolved to let this be her day - and the best way I know to do that is to point to a few of her books as possible means of access to the rest.

Let's repeat three titles I've already mentioned - Moderato cantabile, Hiroshima mon amour, L'amant - and add a few more: Le ravissement de Lol. V. Stein, Le Vice-Consul, India Song, L'amante anglaise, L'été 80, La douleur (War) and Ecrire. But you can start, or restart, almost anywhere...

More to come.

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