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img462If a book was thirty years in the making, would it still be worth reading today?

The book Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar is worth reading, in my opinion.

The author historian, poet, novelist and French literary critic Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987) was the first woman to be elected in 1980 to the Academie Francaise (French Academy) since its founding in 1635.

Election to this body is more exclusive and carries more prestige than a Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize has slowly but surely been driven by a political agenda, in my opinion, with the exception of the prizes for science and medicine.

img464This edition is the 1983 seventeenth printing. The life of Marguerite Yourcenar or that of the Emperor Hadrian are beyond the scope of this post, and the book is certainly not an easy read for anyone not familiar with a historical Roman figure of 2000 years ago. At best, most have heard of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England, the farthest outpost of Roman civilization at the time, the borders of the greatest empire known to man, beyond which lies the wilderness ruled by “barbarian tribes.”(lol).

Of which figure in our time would a historian or novelist be able to write such an erudite book in 2000 years? Which mortal can lay claim to the earnest exaltation by his contemporaries today? Perhaps there will be a chip with a “selfie” on it like some leaders profess to do, who could not write a mere eulogy.

It will not be the profession of speechwriter that will save mankind from the future lies or those of the past. A stringent coherent interpretation in the form of a memoir not a diary (yes there is a difference) is best left to those who can weed the proverbial corn from the chaff.

For a writer today, perhaps the best part of the book is the epilog called Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian. It offers us a bit of insight into the author’s mindset which is written by herself with brutal honesty. In itself a rare quality today, and an excursion albeit brief into the author’s life.

In Marguerite Yourcenar’s own words from the Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs: “We lose track of everything, and of everyone even ourselves. The fact of my father’s life are less known to me than those of the life of Hadrian. My own  existence, if I had to write of it, would be reconstructed by me from externals, as if it were the life of someone else: I should have to turn to letters, and to the recollections of others, in order to clarify such uncertain memories. What is ever left but crumbled walls, or masses of shade? Here, where Hadrian’s life is concerned, try to manage so that the lacunae of our texts coincide with what he himself might have forgotten.”

To continue on : “In our time the novel devours all other forms: one is almost forced to use it as the medium of expression. This study of the destiny of a man called Hadrian would have been cast in the form of a tragedy in the Seventeenth Century, or of an essay, perhaps in the period of the Renaissance.”

And as a final statement of our post in Yourcenar’s own words:

“Do the best one can. Do it over again. Then still improve, even if ever so slightly, those retouches. – “It is myself that I re-make,” said the poet Yeats in speaking of his revisions.”

“Une des Imortels”, Madame Yourcenar, Merci beaucoup!