FIRES by Marguerite Yourcenar


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Overheated. This collection of rhapsodic prose poems projects the tortured passions of a failed love affair onto nine giant mythic figures--Phaedra, Achilles, Patroclus, Antigone, Lena (mistress of Aristogiton), Mary Magdalene, Phaedo, Clytemnestra, and Sappho. Intercalated with evocations of these erotic heroes and heroines, whom Yourcenar views not as specific characters from ancient literature but as timeless or transhistorical archetypes, are brief pensÉes (""One reaches all great events of life a virgin"") and painful asides (""Alcohol sobers me. After a few swallows of brandy I no longer think of you""), apparently addressed to ""Hermes,"" the author's ex-lover. In the preface Yourcenar labels her style in these pieces ""baroque expressionism,"" which is accurate enough. She makes a constant quasi-baroque effort to startle the reader with extreme figures of speech, e.g., ""I understood that this outlawed God [Jesus] must have slipped out one morning through dawn's doors, leaving behind him the Trinity surprised at being only a twosome""; and her raiding the storehouse of (mostly Greek) mythology to get objective correlatives for her sexual agony is expressionist to the letter. But does it work? The writing has color, movement, and a personal voice--none of which, unfortunately quite redeems all the histrionic, heavy-breathing, late-adolescent ardeur. Mistakenly arrested as an accomplice of Aristogiton, Lena is put on the rack. ""She fears the pain that will wrench from her only the humiliating confession that she was just a servant. . . . As though heaved up by her lungs, a jet of blood spurts from her mouth. She has cut off her tongue to keep from revealing the secrets she doesn't have."" Small wonder Feux went untranslated for 45 years.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1981
ISBN: 0374517487
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux