Inventing a Life
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 The thesis of this meticulous and admiring biography is that Yourcenar (b. Crayencour, 1903-87) was both inventor and invention, creating her life along with her fiction. Savigneau (literary editor for Le Monde) struggles to establish the facts in a life of artful illusion. Inventing a pseudonym (an anagram of her given name) was for Yourcenar one more gesture of freedom from a childhood of losses that began with the death of her mother (while giving birth to Yourcenar) and that went on to include the loss of both a beloved nursemaid and of her country and home during WW I: a childhood spent with a wealthy and devoted but profligate and aging father. Yourcenar began and ended her life with love affairs with men who were much younger than herself--men who preferred other men--but she spent 40 years with a woman, Grace Frick, in a relationship so consuming that Yourcenar gave up her beloved France to live in America, among people she considered ``without civilization.'' With no formal education, Yourcenar taught beginning French at Sarah Lawrence and found acclaim in the publication of her novel The Memoirs of Hadrian (1952). Much of Savigneau's study consists of the mundane: domestic arrangements (including shopping lists) at the Maine summer house that Yourcenar shared with Frick; Yourcenar's travels, lectures, and habits of composition. The most interesting passages detail the objections of AcadÇmie Franáaise members to the nomination (and eventual election) of Yourcenar as its first woman member: ``What would she wear?'' one asked. Yourcenar mingled with no notable writers, it seems, and participated in none of the artistic ferment of her period in either Paris or New York. To control her own history, to avoid being the ``prey'' of biographers, Yourcenar left masses of well-organized papers--but she concealed those that may have answered the question that Savigneau raises without--despite her diligence--answering: What made Yourcenar a ``star,'' a ``myth,'' a ``legend''? (Fifty halftones)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-226-73544-3
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993