Today, probably not just by coincidence, I came across Becoming the Emperor, an excellent New Yorker piece from 2005 on Memoirs of Hadrian, Yourcenar’s other works, and her peculiar career and life trajectory. Having just read the Memoirs, I was glad to see several of my reading impressions confirmed. I found the New Yorker article to be spot-on on Yourcenar’s prose and theme:
Actually, some of Yourcenar’s prose is marmoreal, but not so that you can’t get through it. Also, it is beautiful. What made her remarkable, however, was not so much her style as the quality of her mind. Loftiness served her well as an artist: she was able to dispense love and justice, heat and cold in equal parts. Above all, her high sense of herself gave her the strength to take on a great topic: time.
I was caught off-guard by the idea, conceived by many critics, that her writing style resembles a man rather than a woman.
First, many of her narratives were set in the past. Second, they often involved towering passions compacted into tight, steel-band forms. […] She continued to embrace anti-sentimentality; indeed, she showed a fondness for brutality. And those traits, together with her highly controlled prose, encouraged reviewers to say—as they would say throughout her life—that she wrote like a man. As one critic put it, he could not find in her work “those often charming weaknesses… by which one identifies a feminine pen. The hand does not yield, it does not caress the paper; it is clasped by an iron gauntlet.” This opinion was fortified by the fact that most of her protagonists were men.
Intriguing and, now that I have been enlightened, shareable.