cover image A Blue Tale and Other Stories

A Blue Tale and Other Stories

Marguerite Yourcenar. University of Chicago Press, $14.95 (114pp) ISBN 978-0-226-96530-7

Written between 1927 and 1930, when Yourcenar (1903-1987) was in her mid-20s, these three exquisite stories prefigure the Belgian-born French novelist's mature dramatic powers. In the title piece, Yourcenar describes the external world in myriad shades of blue. Unfolding like a folktale, this tonal experiment concerns a band of seafaring European merchants (Dutch, Irish, Greek, Castilian) who seek a cave full of sapphires, aided by a deaf-mute female slave with blue-black hair. She is kidnapped by the greedy Greek merchant (her tears turn to aquamarines), then stripped and lashed to the mast by the ship's crew, but this act of violation signals the mariners' undoing. Male arrogance and misogyny also underlie ``The First Evening,'' which was written by Yourcenar's father, Michel de Crayencour, then revised and completed by her in a curious collaboration. Honeymooning with his new wife, a man resents receiving the news that his ex-mistress has thrown herself under a bus. In ``The Evil Spell,'' set in a Mediterranean village, an Italian peasant woman dying of tuberculosis, seemingly inflicted by a jealous rival's magic curse, is aided by a male healer's spell-breaking rituals. In sensual yet precise prose, Yourcenar probes the workings of greed, faith, credulity and empathy in human relationships. (Oct.)