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Oriental Tales by Marguerite Yourcenar. New York. 1985. Farrar Straus Giroux. 147 pages. hardcover. 0374227284. Jacket painting by Tao-chi (1641-ca. 1710), from ‘Returning Home.’ Jacket design by Cynthia Krupat.

 

0374227284FROM THE PUBLISHER -

 

 

   Legends caught in flight, fables, allegories - these ten ORIENTAL TALES form a singular edifice in the work of Marguerite Yourcenar, as precious as a chapel in a vast palace. From China to Greece, from the Balkans to Japan, these TALES take us from a portrait of the painter Wang-Fo, ‘who loves the image of things and not to the things themselves’ and whose own work saves him from execution; to legends of a hero betrayed and then rescued by love; to the Indian goddess Kali, who in her unhappiness discovers ‘the emptiness of desire.’ There is violence, murder, betrayal in these tales of love and adventure, and yet an admirable economy in their telling; there are hints of the fantastic and the unexplained. Dream and myth speak here in a language rich in images which imply other, more secret meanings. Marguerite Yourcenar’s ORIENTAL TALES follow no established tradition; they have a lyricism and subtlety which are rare in contemporary literature. Their roots, their inspiration is in the East, but this is only the beginning: with the excuse of an Oriental tale, Marguerite Yourcenar has built a world of reflections upon art. ORIENTAL TALES was first published in France in 1938; this is its first appearance in English.

 

 

Yourcenar MargueriteMarguerite Yourcenar (8 June 1903 – 17 December 1987) was a French novelist and essayist born in Brussels, Belgium, who became a US citizen in 1947. Winner of the Prix Femina and the Erasmus Prize, she was the first woman elected to the Académie française, in 1980, and the seventeenth person to occupy seat 3. Yourcenar was born Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour in Brussels, Belgium, to Michel Cleenewerck de Crayencour, of French bourgeois descent, originating from French Flanders, a very wealthy landowner, and a Belgian mother, Fernande de Cartier de Marchienne, of Belgian nobility, who died ten days after her birth. She grew up in the home of her paternal grandmother. She adopted the surname Yourcenar – an almost anagram of Crayencour, having one fewer c – as a pen name; in 1947 she also took it as her legal surname. Yourcenar's first novel, Alexis, was published in 1929. She translated Virginia Woolf's The Waves over a 10-month period in 1937. In 1939, her partner at the time, the literary scholar and Kansas City native Grace Frick, invited Yourcenar to the United States to escape the outbreak of World War II in Europe. She lectured in comparative literature in New York City and Sarah Lawrence College. Yourcenar was bisexual; she and Frick became lovers in 1937 and remained together until Frick's death in 1979 and a tormented relationship with Jerry Wilson. After ten years spent in Hartford, Connecticut, they bought a house in Northeast Harbor, Maine, on Mount Desert Island, where they lived for decades. They are buried alongside each other at Brookside Cemetery, Mount Desert, Maine. In 1951, she published, in France, the novel Memoirs of Hadrian, which she had been writing on-and-off for a decade. The novel was an immediate success and met with great critical acclaim. In this novel, Yourcenar recreated the life and death of one of the great rulers of the ancient world, the Roman emperor Hadrian, who writes a long letter to Marcus Aurelius, the son and heir of Antoninus Pius, his successor and adoptive son. The Emperor meditates on his past, describing both his triumphs and his failures, his love for Antinous, and his philosophy. The novel has become a modern classic.

 

 

 

 

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