Born Marguerite Donnadieu, April 4, 1914, to French parents in Gia Dinh, near Saigon, in what was then French Indochina and is today southern Vietnam; died of an unreported cause, March 3, 1996, at her home in the Latin Quarter of Paris, France. Novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and filmmaker.
Marguerite Donnadieu changed her name to Marguerite Duras in the 1930s, and became one of France's most prolific and popular writers following World War II. A literary career spanning more than half a century was capped in 1984 with publication of the best-selling novel The Lover. It sold more than two million copies in France, was translated into 13 languages, won her country's most prestigious literary award, the Prix Concourt, and became a successful 1992 film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Duras's early life in Indochina was the basis for many of her works, including The Lover, the story of a 14-year-old French girl from a poor family who becomes the mistress of a rich, young Indochinese man. "The novel portrays the ugliness of colonialism," the Associated Press stated. "Despite their poverty and marginal status, the girl's family is contemptuous of her wealthy, refined lover because he's Asian."
Duras's first novel, Les Impudents, was published in 1943 and was immediately popular with the public. Her last book, published in late 1995, was the 54-page That's All, a collection of journal entries made as her death drew near. In all, Duras created more than 70 novels, plays, screenplays and adaptations--including the screenplay for the 1960 art-film classic Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Her 30-plus novels include Dam Against the Pacific, published in 1950; The Kidnapping of Lol V. Stein, 1964; and Savannah Bay, 1983. "Perhaps what most characterized her 53-year literary career was her simple, terse writing style, as if language itself were merely a vehicle for conveying passion and desire, pain and despair," Alan Riding remarked in the New York Times. "The mysteries of love and sex consumed her, but she had no room for sentimentality in her works, or indeed, in her life." Duras's plays continue to be performed regularly in France, but few of the nearly 20 movies she wrote and directed were successful--"not least because words often entirely replaced action," Riding wrote. "Ever provocative in her use of language, she always bowed to the supremacy of words." The belief that her words were sacrosanct caused Duras to clash with filmmakers who adapted her novels. "She considered herself to be the best writer of the French language and nothing irritated her more than to be told maybe she was the second," Duras's friend Francoise Giroud was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Duras's parents, Henri and Marie Donnadieu, were teachers in France's colonial service. Her father, a math professor, died when she was four and her early life was marked by financial hardship. Her mother invested 20 years of savings in a small rice farm in Cambodia, but lost everything in a single season's flood. Her mother died in the disaster, the Washington Post reported. Duras attended high school in Saigon and, at age 18, moved to France to study law and political science. After earning her law degree, she worked as a secretary in the French Ministry of Colonies from 1935 to 1941. By 1943 the Nazis occupied France, and Duras joined the French resistance movement, where she served alongside Francois Mitterand, who would go on to be the country's president in 1981. Duras and Mitterand were lifelong friends.
In the 1940s, Duras, a self-described Marxist, joined the French Communist Party. Her first husband, writer Robert Antelme, was arrested and deported to Germany, where he was imprisoned at the concentration camp at Dachau. By the time Antelme returned in 1945, Duras was involved with Dionys Mascolo. She divorced her first husband in 1946 and later married Mascolo, with whom she had a son, Jean. Antelme was the subject of Duras's 1985 book La Douleur or The Pain.
"For many years," the New York Times noted, Duras "struggled with alcoholism--a subject she frequently addressed in her writings--and her health was further shattered by emphysema. In the 1980s, long separated from Mr. Mascolo, she ... found love again in an unusual relationship with a young homosexual writer, Yann Andrea Steiner, with whom she shared her final years." In 2005, director Ivan Talijancic adapted Duras' novel Destroy, She Said into a play called She Said.