Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
Both an exploration of character and a reflection on the meaning of history, Memoirs of Hadrian has received international acclaim since its first publication in France in 1951. In it, Marguerite Yourcenar reimagines the Emperor Hadrian’s arduous boyhood, his triumphs and reversals, and finally, as emperor, his gradual reordering of a war-torn world, writing with the imaginative insight of a great writer of the twentieth century while crafting a prose style as elegant and precise as those of the Latin stylists of Hadrian’s own era.
Madeline at loudbookishtype picked this up a few months ago, and her description—about how this is a book not just about history, but how we look at and study history—made my mouth absolutely water. Bring me translated French literature about the life of Hadrian and meta-history!
Stefanie at So Many Books enjoyed it, but she also points out how slow it can be. John at John Vernon’s Reviews thinks it is one of the greatest books ever written. Joseph Epstein at The Wall Street Journal would definitely agree—his article covers the history of the book as well. Joan Acocella, writing for The New Yorker, similarly praises Yourcenar with a biography of her own for her fictional biography of Hadrian. How delightfully meta.
Memoirs of Hadrian was first published in France in 1951; an English translation first appeared in 1954.