Coup De Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar (1939)

Coup de grace - yourcenar (1939)

Coup De Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar is this noted French author’s 1939 novella, her second such work following Alexis (1929). In a 1988 interview in Paris Review, Yourcenar reveals that the novella’s lead female, Sophie, is very close to herself at twenty.

The brief but emotionally devastating story is of the love triangle between three young people affected by the civil war between the White Russians and the Bolsheviks: Erick and Conrad, best friends from childhood; and Sophie, who is burdened with an unrequited love for Conrad.

From the 1957 Farrar, Straus and Cudahy edition: Coup de Grâce is the second of Mme. Yourcenar’s novels to be translated from the French by Grace Frick in collaboration with the author, Memoirs of Hadrian being the first.

Flanking Russia’s outlet to the Baltic Sea lie the countries known before the First World War as the Baltic Provinces, once made up chiefly of vast landed estates controlled by a feudal aristocracy. In the mixture of luxury and primitive living typical of such domains, Erick von L’homond passed the happiest part of his boyhood in the home of Baltic relatives, the family of the Count of Reval.

Called back to Germany for officer’s training before the fall of the Imperial Régime, Erick is too young to fight in the German army before its enforced de-mobilization, but promptly seeks service German generals who volunteer the cause of White Russia against Bolshevism.

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Marguerite Yourcenar
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Thus he makes his way to the Reval estate, now ravaged by civil war. Here he rejoins Conrad, the friend of his youth, and Conrad’s sister Sophie, grown beautiful and bitter in the few years of wartime experience.The return of Erick arouses true passion in her, to which he does not respond, but a strange, anguished intimacy grows up between them in the barracks-like existence which the war has forced upon the whole household.

Stunned by the belated revelation of Erick’s feeling for Conrad, Sophie flees to the opposite camp in a desperate attempt at renunciation. Captured after some months by Erick’s troops, she faces death in a scene of brilliant power.

Readers of Memoirs of Hadrian will not be surprised by the quality of Mme. Yourcenar’s prose; they may, however, be unprepared for the swiftness of this narrative in contrast to the meditative pace of those Memoirs.

In both cases a man is speaking, and looking back upon his past, but this time it is a modern

man, outwardly hard and cynical but inwardly tormented by a confusion of emotions. This portrait of a bitter, intelligent young man and an ardent, indomitable girl reflects much of the drama of youth in time of chaos.

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Coup de grace by Marguerite Yourcenar. . . . . . . . .

Quotes from Coup de Grâce

“Friendship affords total certitude above all and that is what distinguishes it from love. It means respect as well and total acceptance of another being.”

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“I do not regret having yielded to Sophie as much as it lay in my nature to do; at the first glance I had caught sight of something in her incorruptible, with which one could make a compact as sure, and as dangerous, as with an element itself.”

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“Fire may be trusted, provided one knows that its law is to burn, or die.”

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Memoirs of Hadrian

See also: Memoirs of Hadrian
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