Born into an aristocratic Belgian family, Yourcenar was the only daughter to a curious father who adored travelling. However between her 20s and 30s, Yourcenar rejected her privileged background to live a bohemian lifestyle. Yourcenar was bisexual, and developed a desperate love for the homosexual French intellectual André Fraigneau. Later on she met Grace Frick in Paris in 1937, an American student. This would grow into a lifelong relationship which lasted until Frick’s death in 1979.
Yourcenar had the great honour of being elected to the Académie française in 1980, and the international success of her masterpiece Memoirs of Hadrian that she had spent writing for a decade. In addition she had exclusive and fascinating meetings with Virginia Woolf, for whom she translated The Waves for, and also with the French writer academic Jean d’Ormesson that introduced her to the most prestigious literary circles.
Before the Second World War, she moved to Mount Desert Island (Maine), the United States, until her death in 1987. She is considered to be ‘one of the respected writers in the French language’ publishing ‘many novels, essays, and poems, as well as three volumes of memoirs.’ Her legacy is in her books, a standard that novels of antiquity are measured against.
By Ilaria Mallozzi