Marguerite Yourcenar Dear Departed.
Translated from the French by Maria Louise Ascher.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 346 pages, $25
“When I was twenty,” Marguerite Yourcenar once told an interviewer, “I sketched out the plan of a vast historical novel, which would have incorporated all the generations of my family, albeit in a manner highly transformed by my imagination.” The novel was never written, but the preparatory study for one of its episodes led, decades later, to The Abyss (1968), that remarkable re-creation of the world of Renaissance Flanders which, together with the earlier Memoirs of Hadrian, proved the summit of Yourcenar’s achievement. Composition of The Abyss occupied most of the author’s middle age; upon its publication she found herself in a valedictory mood, ever more fascinated with the documents of her family history and again contemplating...