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Mythical magnitude: Selected short fiction of Marguerite Yourcenar (France)
Frederick, Patricia E.
Doctor of Philosophy
During the decade of the 1930's Marguerite Yourcenar's metaphysical thinking expressed itself through myth, an, as the writer herself affirms, many of her characters thus represent "figures of mythical magnitude." With the object of revealing this "mythical magnitude" or universal aspect of her short fiction, our study, which relies upon the theories of Mircea Eliade, Gilbert Durand and C. G. Jung, offers a symbolic reading of three of Yourcenar's early works, all originally published in the 1930's: the Nouvelles orientales, Lew Coup de Grace and "Anna, Soror dots" (Comme l'Eau qui coule). Despite the worldwide recognition the author's novels have received, these examples of her early fiction have been largely overlooked by scholars. Included in the Nouvelles orientales (1938) are ten tales which share a great deal more than an Eastern orientation and whose particular positions in the collection are far from arbitrary. Linking all of the stories is the foundation of alchemical thought and mythical symbolism upon which they are all constructed, and their placement in the work is based upon a precise pattern of solar imagery. The concluding tale, revealing the disparity between Oriental and Occidental thought, leads to our examination of two longer narratives set in Europe, Le Coup de Grace (193) and "Anna Soror dots" (1934), both of which also rely upon Alchemy and Myth in their presentation of themes which parallel those found in the Nouvelles orientales. A central element in all three works is the contrast they present between a "diurnal" and a "nocturnal" conception of time, the former represented by Western or Christian thought and the latter, by Eastern philosophy, mysticism or the hermatic sciences. In addition to disproving comments regarding the anti-feminist aspects of Yourcenar's writing, our study of her short fiction ultimately signals the fundamental originality of these early narratives and firmly establishes them as masterpieces of French literature.