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DREAMS AND DESTINIES by Marguerite Yourcenar


by Marguerite Yourcenar & translated by Donald Flanell Friedman

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-21289-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

The great novelist tells us what she dreams about. Between 1930 and 1936 Marguerite Yourcenar conscientiously recorded her dreams when she woke up in the morning. In 1938 she published them in France. Why? Certain obvious reasons come to mind, but they are wrong: she is not a Freudian or Jungian dream interpreter, and she thinks little of the surrealists’ enthusiasm for dreams. Yourcenar, a supremely autonomous intellectual, was seeking to explore the dreamlife on her own, without help from orthodox schools of thought. What interested her was not the universal—common to all dreamers (therefore conventional sex dreams are excluded)—but the highly individual. Consequently, one could take this book as a skeleton key to the writer’s inner self, though it might be more appropriate simply to take the book at face value. It collects a person’s nocturnal adventures. But it does so in remarkably beautiful and acute prose: “I do not, however, draw near him; I consider his solitude as a form of nudity that I have no right to spy on in secret.” “He picks up the telephone receiver and gets ready to lie the way a virtuoso prepares to play.” The pleasure of reading her strange dreams is highly literary in a way that is simultaneously sensual and intellectual. And she proposes the idea that dreams are related more closely to the processes of memory than of the imagination. This new, first-ever English translation includes not only the 1938 publication in its entirety but also Yourcenar’s substantial set of notes, mostly from the 1970s, which she made toward a planned sequel that never came to be. These notes, fragmentary as they are, are also highly engaging. The translator’s preface is verbosely academic, but the high quality of his translation redeems him. This fine and unique book could help wrest our dreamlives from the Freudians and Jungians who have colonized them: “It is not the symbol that will instruct us about man’s secrets, but what we know about the man that determines the meaning of the symbols.”