The legacy of Marguerite Duras: Loony camp diva?

Edmund White’s NYRB essay on Marguerite Duras reveals that she worked as a censor under Nazi occupation, a period that saw the withdrawal of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and of titles by Freud, Zola, and Colette, while

Quantities of paper … were allotted to the publication of Goebbels’s memoirs, Paul Claudel’s Ode to Marshall Pétain, and the vilest anti-Semitic garbage of the period, The Ruins by Lucien Rebatet, who, as Jean Vallier writes, had “a sewer mouth that all by itself was able to dishonor an entire epoch.”

Later in life Duras reportedly drank excessively “because she knew God did not exist.” Each day, while drunk, she dictated a single crystalline sentence that she would not remember by the next morning. She also made wild pronouncements concerning crimes and scandals she knew nothing about.

White labels Duras or her work “preposterous” no less than three times. I’m not saying she and her writing are above criticism, or that she wasn’t capable of being self-absorbed and ridiculous and maybe even — judging by her censor work — amoral, but I don’t believe the author of the magnificent The Lover can be so smoothly consigned to the role of camp diva.


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