Four times Marguerite Duras



Commentary on the books "Whole days in the trees","Half past ten in the summer","the pain"and "Emily L."

Writer, screenwriter, poet, playwright and film director, Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) is considered one of the greatest novelists of the last century. Associated with the movement of new Roman, was consecrated as screenwriter of the film Hiroshima, my love (1959), directed by Alain Resnais.

She wrote almost five dozen books, becoming recognized worldwide with Or lover (1984), translated into dozens of countries and which sold more than two and a half million copies in France alone and earned him the coveted Goncourt Prize. Daughter of French parents who worked in the French colony of what was then Indochina (now Vietnam), Marguerite Donnadieu, her real name, was born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), where she spent her childhood and adolescence before moving to Paris. , aged 18, to study law at the Sorbonne.

I comment below on four of his books, noting the French chronology with regard to the original dates of publication.

Whole days in the trees

Published in 1953 and only translated into Portuguese in 1988, it is a set of four engaging narratives in which Duras recounts events that largely transform the daily lives of his characters.

The first, which gives the title to the volume, develops through a lively dialogue between mother and son (Jacques), with the participation of Marcelle, his girlfriend. After five years without seeing each other, the 75-year-old mother travels more than 900 kilometers and arrives in Paris to visit her son, who lives in a small apartment. She “became rich very late”, owns a factory in the countryside, eats and drinks a lot and carries 17 gold bracelets and bracelets on her arms. Jacques doesn't have a steady job. At that moment, he works with Marcelle in a nightclub in Montmartre – “we welcome people and invite them in, consume the most expensive things” –, he ate once a day and lost all his money gambling. The old mother repents and says that she is to blame for Jacques' fate, because of the six children she had, he was the only one who didn't get up to go to school. He spent “whole days up in the trees, as if there were only birds in the world…”.

The second narrative, “A Jibóia”, takes place “in a large city in a French colony, around 1928”, where a 13-year-old girl, “daughter of a governess of an indigenous school”, lived in the Pensionato de Mlle. Barbet. Every week the girl went with Mlle. Barbet, 75 years old, strolling through the Botanical Garden and watching the boa swallow his Sunday chicken. The young woman also watched, on Sunday afternoons, the partial nudity of the septuagenarian, who admired herself in the mirror and gave advice to the girl: “nice underwear is important. Learn it. I learned too late…”. “Os Canteiros de Obras”, another narrative, is perhaps the weakest in the book. On vacation, in a hotel on the shores of a large lake, love is born between a couple who are no longer so young. Apparently conventional, in the hands of Duras the story ends up acquiring a rhythm and dimension that is at least curious.

“Madame Dodin”, the fourth narrative, is the best. Caretaker for six years of a building on Rue Sainte-Eulalie, in Paris's VI district (then with 30 inhabitants), Madame Dodin, 60, has a real horror of fulfilling the tasks that her position imposes on her, especially that of dragging out the trash can. So every morning she takes the can out, making as much noise as possible, seeking revenge on the tenants by waking them up. “The great event in the life of Mme. Dodin, what makes her happiest are the strikes by the Urban Cleaning Services”.

His great friend is Gastón, a 30-year-old sweeper. Both are pioneers of their trades, which they loathe. They are also prisoners of an interdiction that prevents them, because of her age, from becoming lovers. She had two husbands, leaving them because they were alcoholics. For 15 years, she worked in a factory to support a couple of children and, at night, she washed clothes to reinforce the budget. She only met Gastón when she was 55 years old – he was 25. He reads a lot, he reads everything that Lucien, the man with the garbage truck, tells him.

How he was educated in a college of traditionalist priests, while sweeping sings in Latin, to the astonishment of passers-by. Every day, promptly, at 6:10 am, Gastón appears. Mrs. Dodin stops talking to Mlle. Mimi (manager of the Blue Bird family boarding house, which provides him with free food), fills a large pot with water and throws the contents in Gastón's face, without saying a word. Gastón is getting his belly, relaxed, and has been drinking his 3 glasses of white wine before noon (he hasn't had a drink in two years). The dependence between them is total. And they have in common, in addition to disdain for their respective jobs, a rare pleasure, synthesized in the following sentence, pronounced by Mme. Dodin: "As long as I live, I will piss people off."

Perhaps Whole days in the trees not be the best Duras book. But, surely, we are facing a work that captivates the reader by emotion, by the fine irony and by the good humor distilled by the author. Emotion is found in the story that gives title to the volume in “A jibóia”, while fine irony and good humor set the tone in “Madame Dodin”. In short, lovers of good literature will feel good about this old production by the French writer.

Half past ten in the summer

Twenty-five years after the French edition (1960) this novel arrived in Brazil, which apparently is easy to read. On the torrid plain of Castile, Spain, Pierre and Maria's marriage comes to an end. The couple, accompanied by their little daughter Judith and the beautiful Claire – the third vertex of a love triangle that doesn't get to form – still find themselves involved in the pursuit of a criminal. All this completed by the countless glasses of chamomile and brandy spilled by Maria. However, as Duras is not one to make concessions, the apparent simplicity of her novels disappears within the first few pages.

In this suffocating Spanish summer, Maria reaches the peak of her existential suffocation, where the impossibility of love and boredom with those close to her form the background of the plot. In several passages, the text recalls the final words of his the disease of death (1983), in which people practically do not experience affective sensations: “you could live this love in the only way that was possible for you, losing it before it happened”.

Filmmaker Luiz Rosemberg Filho (1943-2019) once said that everything Marguerite writes (or films) “has in itself the enchantment of transgressions”. Hidden in the shadows of the balcony of a hotel in a small village in Castile, Maria witnesses the initial rapprochement between Pierre and Claire: “one of Pierre's hands is everywhere on the other woman's body. The other hand holds her tight against her body. It's something to last forever. It's ten-thirty at night. It's summer” (p. 36-37).

She doesn't care, she lets both continue in this adventure... Suddenly, she feels attracted to Rodrigo Paestra (and begins to protect him), who hours before had murdered his young wife and her lover. She wants to take him to France, away from the walls that are looking for him, while she only observes, with indifference: “Claire, that beautiful fruit of the slow degradation of Maria's love for Pierre” (p. 59). Or again: “Claire, in her room, is getting ready for the nuptials the next night (…) Pierre (…) thinks about those nuptials saddened by the memory of Maria” (p. 136).

Maria realizes that it is too late to start over; she drinks and her heart calms down. Maria knows the universe where she moves and does not cry losses, because she knows that “when you cried, it was only for you and not for the admirable impossibility of reaching her (the loved one) through the differences that separate you” (the disease of death).

the pain

the success of Or lover (1984) promoted the translation into Portuguese of the pain (1985), the same year the novel was published in France. The book is an unpublished diary, dated 1945, which recovers moments of Duras' participation in the Second World War, as a Resistance militant and member of the French Communist Party.

Marguerite claims, right on the first page, that she found this diary in two notebooks, forgotten in the blue cupboards of Neauphle-le-Château. And, in an understandable reaction to the process of erasing memory that we always carry out (unconsciously) when we intend to deny unpleasant facts or events in which we are involved, he asks himself: “how could I write this, which I still don’t know how to name and which haunts me when I reread it? ? How could I abandon this text for years in that constantly flooded country house in winter?” She adds, still perplexed, not having the slightest memory of having written it. “I know I did it, that it was I who wrote it, I recognize my handwriting and the details of what I'm recounting: I review the place, the Orsay station, the routes, but I don't see myself writing the diary. When did I write it, what year, what time of day, in what house? I do not know nothing more".

Divided into two parts, the pain it is made up of six texts, four of which are based on true facts “down to the smallest detail”; nearly two-thirds of the book is narrated in the first person, while the rest is in the third, with Marguerite warning: “Thérèse is me. The one who tortures the informer is me. As I am also the one who wants to make love to Ter, the militiaman” (p. 130).

the pain talks about politics, and a lot; but not only. Perhaps it will disappoint those who read it looking for a well-written and detailed diary of the Nazi occupation from the perspective of the Resistance and/or the French CP. This occurs at many points throughout the two hundred pages. However, I understand that the main thing is to accompany – through Marguerite/Thérèse – the “effects of war” (the chaos that settles in individuals) on people, the anguish experienced when they see their children, friends, spouses or companions being taken prisoners to German concentration camps (virtually a one-way street). In situations like these, magnificently explored in the diary, thought is prevented from acting: “it does not participate in the chaos, but chaos supplants it, and it falls, impotent, in front of it” (p.43).

Emily L.

One year after being published in Paris, this book by Duras reached Brazilian readers in 1988. Strictly speaking, Emily L. repeats themes from previous novels, in a lean language, full of flash back and quick cuts, exploring the impossibility for lovers to experience passion in its fullness. As in several of his writings, the action begins in the summer. The location, this time, is Quillebeuf-sur-Seine, a small oil port in northern France. In the bar of the Hotel Marina, two couples talk about their lives, consuming excessive doses of bourbon and dark Pilsen. The whole plot takes place with the characters facing the sea, a privileged place for the escapes, real and imaginary, of conflicting lovers, surrounded by Korean tourists with their cameras.

The first couple is of French origin and the woman (Marguerite herself?) is a writer. The lover does not like his partner's craft, which bothers him. On one occasion, he comments that the situation they lived in Quillebeuf would provide him with material to write (“it is a place that he likes, this one, one day it will be in a book, the square, the heat, the river”, p. 81) . Then he tries to dissuade her: “You must not believe me. Stop writing (…) There is nothing to tell. Anything. There never was anything” (p. 16 and 19). She tries to defend herself, trying to overcome her perplexity: “I haven't decided anything (…) I can't stop writing. I can't. And this story, when I write it, it's like I'm finding you again... as if I'm finding those moments when I still don't know what happens, or what's going to happen... or who you are, or what we'll become..." (p 16).

The other couple (Emily L. and the Captain) are English and have lived together for many years. Emily L. wrote almost two dozen poems, which were collected by her father and published, without her knowing it, in the form of a book. She, who had never shown her writings to her lover (he read them furtively and provided a copy to Emily L.'s father), only became aware of the publication some time later. The poems caused the Captain suffering, as he did not understand them: he felt betrayed by his wife, “as if he were living with a stranger” (p. 58).

Emily L. also wrote a final poem, where she said that on certain winter afternoons “the rays of the sun that infiltrated the snow of the cathedrals oppressed as much as the sonorous thumping of the great organs (p. 59). This was too much for the Captain: he destroyed the poem and never mentioned it to anyone. “It must have been after the loss of the poem that she had found the sea voyage, that she had decided to lose her life at sea, to do nothing else with the poems and with love but lose them at sea” (p. 62) .

The couples' histories intertwine: the women write when they have to write, when they can't help but do so; men feel jealous, as they cannot operate within a “world” they do not know. Anguish takes over the affective relationship, wear and tear is inevitable, passion fades. The incommunicability between lovers becomes commonplace. This process is masterfully worked by Duras and, in this sense, Emily L., despite the similarities it has with his previous books, should not be missed. On the repetition of themes and concerns, one can remember the words of Jorge Luis Borges, in an interview given to Jorge Cruz: “I would say that all my books, and that can be said by, who knows, any writer, are drafts of a the only book I may never get to.”

* Afrânio Catani, retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF, he is the author, among other books, of The Revista de Cultura Anhembi (1960-62): an elitist project to raise the cultural level of Brazil(Publisher of the State University of Maringá).



Margaret Duras. the pain. Translation: Vera Adami. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 1985.

Margaret Duras. Ten-thirty at night in summer. Translation: Fernando Py. Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara, 1985.

Margaret Duras. Emily L. Translation: Vera Adami. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 1988.

Margaret Duras. Whole days in the trees. Translation: Tati de Moraes. Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara, 1988.


This article is a modified version of reviews published in the read books (February, 1986, p. 23; March, 1986, p. 21) and “Saturday Notebook”, Jornal da Tarde (04.06.1988, 23.07.1988).


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