Marguerite Duras was born on April 4, 1914 in the former French colony of Saigon. Her childhood was difficult, due to economic hardship and family violence. A sexual relationship with an older Chinese man while she was in her teens was revisited more than once in her writing. She returned to France at age 17. During World War II, she worked with the Vichy government in a position that basically involved censorship through distribution of scarce paper resources and simultaneously with the Resistance.
Her early novels were considered fairly conventional, but she became increasingly experimental over the course of a prolific career in which she produced almost fifty major works. L’Amant and Moderato Cantabile are considered to be among her finest novels. In fact, in 1984 she was awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, for L’Amant. She also directed almost twenty films, mostly adaptations of her written work.
Despite the enormous professional and economic successes she enjoyed, Duras always felt plagued by the poverty that had marked her childhood. Her personal curse was alcoholism and she had four unsuccessful attempts at rehabilitation. Alcohol robbed her of the great beauty that had set her apart as a young woman, but she was afraid to give it up because she believed that she needed it to keep from writing something “common.” She once said, “No other human being, no woman, no poem or music, book, or painting can replace alcohol in its power to give man the illusion of real creation.” It also robbed her of election to the prestigious pantheon of writers and thinkers known as the Académie Francaise who rejected her candidature in 1980 because alcoholism made her “unsuitable.” She died of esophageal cancer at the age of 81.
Today’s expression, on ne trouve pas la solitude, on la fait (ohn nuh troov pah lah solitood, ohn lah feh) is a Duras quotation. It means “one doesn’t find solitude, one creates it.” Having just come from a week of total peace on Sanibel Island after the prior week of leading 18 students around Paris, this quotation really resonates with me. The peace and solitude I was craving didn’t happen automatically; it had to be created and planned for. I’m thankful for my spouse who created the solitude I needed to recreate myself over Spring Break.