Love, Sex and Desire
in French Literature and Cinema
Instructor: Marie-Anne Visoi
University of Toronto
Self-discovery through the process of writing
events of the plot, characters and emotions are
presented through alternate perspectives
“voluntary memory” plays an important part
in the story: time and space are manipulated
throughout the novel according to the
changing, unstable aspect of memory
the reader is gradually drawn into the story by
the truthfulness of the mature writer who talks
about “the hidden stretches” of her youth
(Page 8)
the writer attempts to defy the time by making
an effort to revive a significant event from her
adolescence in Indochina
by remembering her past, Duras understands
the significance of the “crossing of the river”
“The photograph could only have been taken if
someone could have known in advance how
important it was to be in my life, that event,
that crossing of the river.” (Page 10)
the haunting image of the fifteen year old
becomes the focus of narration
the mature writer retells her own story,
analyzes and reflects on the nature of her
“memorized desire” and her sexuality in the
form of an “interior monologue”
Aristophanes’ myth in “Symposium” presents a
view of “love” as intense desire and erotic
pleasure felt at the restoration of the lost unity
between the “reunited halves”. There are
several passages in “The Lover” where Duras
uses sensorial imagery in order to evoke the
feelings of the two lovers.
events from her past: the symbolic meeting on
the ferry, her feelings of an “outsider” during
“repressed” love (“the lover”, Helene
Lagonelle) will be recreated in her story
the exploration of the young woman’s desire
for the Chinese Lover becomes a source of
creativity for the adult writer
“ The skin is sumptuously soft. The body.”
“ And, weeping, he makes love. At first pain. And
then the pain is possessed in its turn, changed,
slowly drawn away, borne toward pleasure,
clasped to it.
The sea, formless, simply beyond compare.”
(Page 38)
“The lover from Cholon is so accustomed to the
adolescence of the white girl, he’s lost. The
pleasure he takes in her every evening has
absorbed all his time, all his life.” (Page 99)
the sexual act is described through the narrator’s
straightforward, simple language and beautiful
the vivid descriptions pull the reader into the story
due to the heightened emotional level created by the
narrative voice:
“And she, slow, patient, draws him to her and starts to
undress him. With her eyes shut. Slowly.” (Page 38)
“Whiffs of burnt sugar drift into the room, the smell of
roasted peanuts, Chinese soups, roast meat, herbs,
jasmine, dust, incense, charcoal fires, they carry fire
about in baskets here, it’s sold in the street, the smell of
the city is the smell of the villages upcountry, of the
forest.” (Page 41)
a fragmented story told alternately from a first and
third person point-of-view (the young, white girl on
the ferry and the mature writer)
portrayal of characters is inconsistent as it relies on
fragments of memories recalled by the adult writer
elliptic, short, repetitive sentences characterize the
language of the novel
metaphorical, sensorial descriptions (Mekong, Cholon)
Why is the crossing of the ferry a “rite of
Where is the novel set? What is the importance
of this type of setting for the plot?
How is the “sexual initiation” described in this
context? Are “race” and “culture” important?
Read the following excerpt:
“Dusk fell at the same time all the year round. It was
very brief, almost like a blow. In the rainy season, for
weeks on end, you couldn’t see the sky, it was full of
an unvarying mist which even the light of the moon
couldn’t pierce. In the dry season though, the sky was
bare, completely free of cloud, naked. Even moonless
nights were light. And the shadows were as clear-cut
as ever on the ground, and on the water, roads and
walls.” (p. 81)
What kind of mood does this setting evoke?
How is the lover described in the novel?
Describe two major characters in “The Lover”. Use
examples from the text to show how
Marguerite Duras’s characterization
techniques differ from those of a “traditional”
Is there any similarity between Proust’s and
Duras’s description of characters? Justify your
Analyze your favourite passage. Discuss significant
elements of style, structure and language such as:
Sensorial detail
Explain how the above elements contribute to the
understanding of the novel.

Duras, The Lover -