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Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960
- born Marguerite Donnadieu in April 1914 in Gia-Dinh near Saigon (in the area that is now Southern Vietnam; but was formerly part of the French colony Cochinchina)
- in 1918, her father returned to France where he died of amoebic dysentery
- in 1929, her oldest brother Pierre was repatriated to France
- at age 18, Duras left Indochina for France where she began studying for a degree in Mathematics; she later studied Political Science and Law
- after her studies, she worked for seven years with the French Colonial Office as a researcher and archivist
- in 1939, she married Robert Antelme, also a writer
- in 1940, she published a collaborative work of didactic, nationalistic propaganda (written with Phillipe Roques) entitled LíEmpire français; this work was the only one to be published under her family name Donnadieu; the pseudonym "Duras" is the name of the town where her father died
- in 1942, the younger of her two older brothers, Paulo, died in Indochina; seven months earlier Duras had lost her first son who was stillborn
- in 1943, Duras became active in a resistance group led by François Mitterand
- in 1944, her husband was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the concentration camp in Dachau; through Mitterand's intervention, he was later released
- in 1946, Duras divorced Antelme; an affair with a mutual friend of the couple, Dionys Mascolo, produced her only child, Jean, in 1947
- after the end of WWII, Duras remained active in the French Communist Party (until around 1950)
- from 1957-8, she published journalistic pieces in the leftist France-Observateur
- by the early 1950s, Duras had established herself as a writer, devoting herself full-time to writing: eight novels published by the end of the decade
- in the 1960s, Duras continues writing novels, but also begins to write plays and film scripts -- 6 novels published; 4 plays published; 2 film scripts published (including the famous Hiroshima, mon amour in 1960); 4 unpublished film scripts also written; and 2 films produced (including the 1969 filmóDétruire, dit-elleóbased on the novel by the same title, also published in 1969, that documents the student revolts and labor strikes that occurred in France in May 1968).
- during the 1970s, Duras devoted her time almost exclusively to film; during this decade, she wrote only three film scripts that were not filmed, yet she produced 13 films in this decade, 5 in 1979 alone.
- during the 1980s, Duras continued publishing prolifically in all of her genresófiction, plays, film scripts and films: 11 novels; 6 plays; 1 film script; and 4 films. In 1984, at the age of 70, Duras published The Lover [LíAmant], and it was an instant success. The Lover, along with the film script Hiroshima, mon amour, are probably her best-known works outside of France.
- in the 1990s, Duras continued publishing fictionóthree novels in the final decade of her life, including The North China Lover in 1991; she published her last book in 1992 at the age of 78.
- in 1996, Duras died in Paris at the age of 82.
A common theme in Duras' work is the "translation" of texts from one artistic medium to another, reflected in films such as La Femme du Gange and India Song, which are partial rewrites of the novel Le Vice-consul. Also, the autobiographical story captured in The Lover is rewritten and altered (répétition et différence) in the 1991 novel LíAmant de la Chine du Nord [translated as The North China Lover], a terse -- although lengthy -- prosaic text written almost exclusively in third person and in a strikingly minimalist style.
Bibliography of Works by Duras in English Translation:
- The Little Horses of Tarquinia, translated by Peter DuBerg. London: John Calder, 1960.
- Hiroshima, mon amour and Une aussi longue absence, translated by Richard Seaver and Barbara Wright. London: Calder & Boyars, 1966.
- Moderato cantabile, translated by Richard Seaver. London: John Calder, 1966.
- The Ravishing of Lol Stein, translated by Richard Seaver. New York: Grove Press, 1966.
- The Sailor from Gibraltar, translated by Barbara Bray. London: Calder & Boyars, 1966.
- Three Novels (including: The Square, translated by Sonia Pitt-Rivers and Irina Morduch ; and Ten-Thirty on a Summer Night  and The Afternoon of Monsieur Andesmas , translated by Anne Borchardt). London: Calder & Boyars, 1967.
- The Vice-consul, translated by Eileen Ellenbogen. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968; Collins: Flamingo Paperback, 1990.
- LíAmante anglaise, translated by Barbara Bray. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.
- Destroy, She Said, translated by Barbara Bray. New York: Grove Press, 1970.
- Suzanna Andler, La Musica, LíAmante anglais, translated by Barbara Bray. London: John Calder, 1975.
- India Song, translated by Barbara Bray. New York: Grove Press, 1976.
- "The Seated Man in the Passage", translated by Mary Lydon. Contemporary Literature, 24, 1983, 268-75; also translated by Barbara Bray as The Man Sitting in the Corridor. New York: North Star Line, 1991.
- Whole Days in the Trees and Other Stories, translated by Anita Barrows. London: John Calder, 1984.
- The Lover, translated by Barbara Bray. London: Collins, Flamingo Paperback, 1985; Random House, 1985; First Perennial Library, 1986.
- The Malady of Death, translated by Barbara Bray. New York: Grove Press, 1986.
- The Sea-Wall, translated by Herma Briffault. London: Faber & Faber, 1986.
- La Douleur (also published as The War: A Memoir), translated by Barbara Bray. London: Collins, Flamingo Paperback, 1986.
- Woman to Woman, conversations with Xavière Gauthier, translated by Katherine A. Jensen. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
- Outside: Selected Writings, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. London: Collins, Flamingo Paperback, 1987.
- Blue Eyes, Black Hair, translated by Barbara Bray. London: Collins, Flamingo Paperback, 1988.
- The Eden Cinema, translated by Barbara Bray, in Eden Cinéma, version scénique. Paris: Actes Sud-Papiers, 1988.
- Emily L., translated by Barbara Bray. London: Collins, Flamingo Paperback, 1989.
- Green Eyes, translated by Carol Barko. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.
- Practicalities, translated by Barbara Bray. London: Collins, Flamingo Paperback, 1990.
- Summer Rain, translated by Barbara Bray. London: HarperCollins, 1992.
- Secondary Sources on The Lover:
- Janice Morgan. "Fiction and Autobiography/Language and Silence: The Lover by Marguerite Duras," in Redefining Autobiography in Twentieth Century Womenís Fiction: An Essay Collection, edited by Morgan, Colette Hall, and Carol Snyder. New York: Garland, 1991.
- Leah Hewitt, "Rewriting Her Story, from Passive to Active: Substitution in Marguerite Duras," in Autobiographical Tightropes. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
- Maryse Fauvel, "Photographie et autobiographie: Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes et LíAmant de Marguerite Duras," Romance Notes, 1993 Winter, 34:2, 193-202.
- Nina S. Hellerstein, "'Image' and Absence in Marguerite Duras' L'Amant," Modern Language Studies, 1991 Spring, 21:2, 45-56.
- -----. "Family Reflections and the Absence of the Father in Duras' L'Amant," Essays in French Literature, 1989 Nov. 26, 98-109.
- Graham Dunstan Martin, "The Drive for Power in Marguerite Duras' L'Amant," Forum for Modern Language Studies, 1994 July, 30:3, 204-18.
- Anne Marie Cattan Medcalf, "Blurring the Boundaries? The Sense of Time and Place in Marguerite Duras' L'Amant," SPAN: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 1993 Oct, 36, 220-29.
- Carol J. Murphy, "Duras' L'Amant: Memoirs from an Absent Photo," in Remains to be Seen: Essays on Marguerite Duras, edited by Sanford Scribner Ames. New York: Peter Lang, 1988.
- Janet Thormann, "Feminine Masquerade in L'Amant: Duras with Lacan," Literature and Psychology, 1994, 40:4, 28-39.
Questions on Durasí The Lover
- What is the relationship between memory and forgetfulness in Duras'The Lover? What role does photography play in the remembrance of the past? What is the significance of the various imagesóboth photographic ones and ones indelibly etched in the mindóin Durasí autobiography?
- Consider the following quote by Carol Hoffman from Forgetting and Marguerite Duras (University of Colorado Press, 1991):
- "The repetition of situations, events, memories, and words abounds in Durasís texts. This repetition seems to emphasize the changing, unstable aspect of memory and language and move the reader to question his or her own memory and examine the dynamics of forgetting. . . . memory is seen as volatile and impossible. It is a movement toward the ever-elusive and often painful ëimpossible,í the ëvideí [ëvoidí/ëemptinessí], the ëmanqueí [ëlackí], what Jacques Lacan called ële réelí [the real]. It is a remembering that destroys memory and leads to a new memory, which can replace the last only fleetingly and without substance . . . a refusal of convention or disguise, as a unity of thought and will, life and appearance" (35-6).
- Analyze the significance of the "mother" and the maternal relationship in Duras' The Lover. How is the relationship with the mother paralyzing? freeing? How is the "mother tongue' also limiting and/or liberating? Compare to Khatibiís Love in Two Languages.
- What is the impact of the mother's madness on Duras? How is the mother delineated in The Lover? Which descriptions seem to under-score her madness? How is Duras connected with her motherís madnessóthrough her feelings on sadness? through her expressed desire for death (90, 103, 105)? What role does the ëbeggar womaní (84-7) play in the narrative? How does she affect Duras?
- Analyze the relationship of Duras with her two brothers: why do all of the characters fear the older brother? What is her relationship to the younger brother? How do these fraternal relationships enter into the passion of the amorous relationship with the Chinese lover? How are her familial relationships eroticized? Why?
- In the North China Lover (another version of this autobiographical storyóalthough deemed by scholars as less autobiographical, more fictional), the "child" [Duras] has an incestuous relationship with the younger brother? Compare to The Lover.
- What is the importance of Hélène Lagonelle? How is she similar to the younger brother? How do both Hélène and the younger brother seem to be mirror images of Duras herself ? Why does Duras desire Hélène? Why does she desire her lover to take Hélène? Is this desire a vicarious one? for whom? through whom?
- The sea (mer) is an important symbol in the novel, as is the Mekong river. What is the importance of images of water in the autobiographical text? What other images of water are important in the novelóconsider the house-cleaning episode where buckets of water are tossed onto the floor (60-2). Compare the images of fluidity to the converse images of aridity in the novel -- the mother as "desert" (45, cf. 57); her own face as "ravaged" at the end of her life?
- Why is the ferry significant? symbolic? The traversal across water, reiterated again at the end of the novel in the boat trip back to France, suggests a traversal across border, boundaries. What borders are crossed by Duras in the novel? Which borders are crossed only to be re-traversed again and again? Which borders are permanently crossed? How is the novel a rite of passage.
- How does Duras incorporate the body into her writing? Is the body the "site" of the written text? or is it the "space" or "site" from which the text arises? How is Durasí treatment of the body, particularly in relation to language, similar to Barthesí? to Cixousí? Khatibiís?
- Consider the following quote by Leslie Hill in Marguerite Duras: Apocalyptic Desires (London & New York: Routledge, 1993):
- "For Duras as for Barthes, the body is not a mode of self-identity: the body is a figure of madness, not self-possession. It is not an essence or nature, but a reverse of an essence or nature; it is a name for that which provokes crisis in the realm of representation by producing irreducible difference. And what it denotes most of all, in Duras as in Barthes, is desire" (30).
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