Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

First Advisor

David Wills


This dissertation proposes a close reading of the biographical and autobiographical works of Marguerite Yourcenar: Le Labyrinthe du Monde and Memoires d'Hadrien. The purpose of this reading is to explore the process through which Yourcenar attempts to establish the legitimacy of the individual (be it her own self or one of her characters). Since Yourcenar rejects the "cult of the self", the elaboration of her identity is never explicitly at work in the text. In Le Labyrinthe du Monde, the author-narrator explores her "unicity" by reconstructing her genealogy with the result that she never becomes the narrated "object" of the text which nevertheless starts as a conventional autobiography. The quest for her origin in her genealogical past is a way of situating herself in History as well as a means of discovering what makes her unique. In Memoires d'Hadrien, the fictional autobiography of the second-century Roman emperor, Yourcenar explores the universality of the individual through a historical and biographical reconstruction of the (fictional) narrator's life. These two books by Yourcenar differ since one can be read as an autobiography and the other as a biography. The dissertation analyses these texts, not so much through their difference, but through the common poetic "intention" which makes them both "autographies". The autobiographical "I" (je) founds its own legitimacy by being at the origin of its own narrative origin. Whether this legitimacy of the individual is effective outside the text is also a question examined in this dissertation.