A great lady of literature has just died, a great lady through her works and in her life woven with culture. I had read and loved her first books as soon as they were published, and I didn’t meet her until much later. In 1974, with her first work, when the commandments of the Nouveau Roman were still followed, she gave voice to a new tone and began, thanks to a singular writing, an inner adventure to which she would remain faithful.
The title of this first novel already outlined its territory, vast and diverse, from the novel to the essay and the translation, from the personal to the universal: In The Revealing Detail (1), it is a question of cruelty, of inexplicable presence of Evil. Sybil, the heroine, is fascinated by what happened to a friend who was victim of her husband and by the mystery of this couple united by strange bonds. Like Sybil, the heroines of her other fictions engage in an investigation into traces, fragments, clues that can reveal and resolve an enigma.
Diane de Margerie was born in Paris, but, due to the career of her diplomatic father, she lived abroad for a long time, in Germany, then around her tenth year in China. It was there that she discovered poverty, a frightening misery whose injustice she felt did not seem to move those around her. She also experienced this country under Japanese occupation and suffering the cruelty of the occupier. Why this cruelty, which she would one day define as “absolute evil”?
This questioning of evil would haunt his work. These were years of solitude, in a relative absence of his very busy parents, his father through his work, the worldliness linked to his office and a troubled private life, his brilliant mother, very worldly, quite indifferent. Diane once said that she only discovered her parents after their death, but she quickly understood that they led their lives separately and were not a close couple.
The diplomatic environment became for her a sort of metaphor for existence, for the comedy of life inevitably doomed to silence, to lies, to cruelty well hidden under a mask. The short stories in the Duplicités collection (2) are so much research from small everyday details to the discovery of a sometimes unbearable truth. And the figure that most resembles him is the little girl who, fascinated by a perverted old butler, declares that she will always be like all those who observe, listen at doors and remain silent.
Haughty in the face of trials
It was around the time of the publication of Duplicités that I met her. I was obviously very intimidated, then surprised and very happy by his friendship. She was born into a family linked, by filiation, alliance or secret ties, to the great names of culture, Rostand, Fabre-Luce, Rilke, Proust, etc. Very simple in life, haughty in the face of trials, she was above the baseness that she ignored with superb elegance. Her conversation was dazzling, but the worldly rituals that had been her family’s daily life did not fascinate her, she did not chase power or media success. I had told her — because I thought so — that her Proust (3) was the best of the recently published works on the writer, she replied: “No! the best is Maman by Michel Schneider! »
I never heard her speak ill of others or pass harsh judgments on them. The others, however, interested him. What she wanted to know was their childhood, what had made them the teenagers or adults they had become. A question haunted her: why are children often cruel? Where does the Evil in them come from? She asked herself this question: why did she love Japanese literature so much, imbued with sadism? It is this curiosity about others, this taste for investigation, which attracted her towards the translation of texts that she helped to discover or rediscover: Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton, John Cowper Powys, etc…
This is undoubtedly also what encouraged her to turn to biography, the two most beautiful in my opinion being Edith Wharton, Lectures d’une vie (4) and Aurore et George, which won the Prix Médicis de l essay in 2004. How did little Aurore Dupin, of both aristocratic and popular origins, suffering in her childhood from the disunity of her parents, manage to become “George” through writing? For her, the mark left by the works was the only remedy against death.
It was the discovery of human misery in China, what she called “the hypocrisy of the Church”, which made her lose her faith. We had some brief and fascinating conversations on this subject. Like her, I had known pre-conciliar Catholicism, reduced to rigid morality, but for me, it was about metaphysics and not morality. Like her, I admired the beauty of Chinese temples, but they were empty. She didn’t believe in an afterlife, and I definitely do. And then, one day, she told me about two moments in her life where she had received a clear sign, coming from elsewhere. “Yes,” she said to me, “these are things that could prove you right. »