restricted access Mémoires d'Hadrien: A Manual for Princes
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JANET WHATLEY Memoires d'Hadrien: A Manual for Princes 'Avoir vecu dans un monde qui se detait m'enseignait l'importance du Prince." Thus Marguerite Yourcenar, in the Cornets which serve as epilogue to the Memoires d'Hadrien, identifies one of the central preoccupations of her best-known novel. The Prince mayor may not double as a 'sage.' In her use of this vocabulary, which can be found throughout her work, Yourcenar attaches herself to a line of inquiry as to the relationship oetween power and moral knowledge which stretches from Plato through Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Comeille, Racine, Fenelon, Diderot. B y the nineteenth century these particular terms have largely dis- 'ppeared; the post-revolutionary language of political analysis attributes .ess and less importance to the personality of the head of state and his :ounsellors. But even in a Western world of democratic political systems :hat seek to render the character of the individual leader as unimportant .s possible Yourcenar still wants to know what a good prince is like. '\mong her great gifts is the capacity to renew that ancient vocabulary, md to restore to the map of the Empire some of the metaphorical power :hat it had for the chief writers of the Renaissance. The Mediterranean "orld has long been used as the testing-ground of the apprentice prince, "hether he is called Telemachus, Octavius, or Nero; it is a map of )ossibilities and impossibilities, on which each prince must learn (or else :atastrophically fails to learn) to draw the boundaries for himself. Carlo Bronne, on the occasion ofYourcenar's reception into the Belgian ~oyal Academy, referred to the Memoires as the 'manuel du parfait ,mpereur qu'il serait utile d'inscrire au programme de recyclage des )ferniers ministres." This remark, which I assume to be only half in jest, loes touch on the generic problem of this work, where 'Ie roman s'appuie :ur I'histoire et deborde I'essai." It is a sort of 'manual,' and as such Ittaches itself to the 'mirror of princes' tradition; it is 'meditation on ustory';' it is a fiction. As a 'mirror of princes' it inquires, as did Fenelon's rtilemaque, into the peculiar equilibrium of contending components that nake up a prince (arriving, inCidentally, at quite different answers); as a neditation on history it deals with the principles of stability and change n great political entities; as a novel it is involved with the consciousness If a character who is something other than the discursive voice of an ssayist author. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 50, NUMBER 2, WINTER 198ol1 0042-0247181/0100-0221$01.5010 Q UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS 222 JANET WHATLEY My commentary on the Memoires involves to some extent all these aspects of the work. I would like to throw into relief Yourcenar's definition of Hadrian's particular balance; to explicate the ways in which' the Empire of the novel serves as an extension of Hadrian's powers; and to see what room there is for fluidity or shifting of perspective, both in the controlling consciousness of Hadrian and in our view of him. For Hadrian's sense of his power is charged with ambiguities, which one can consider at different levels: they include the range of acquiescence or resistance of the external world to Hadrian's organizing vision (the implications of which he largely - if not entirely - understands), and the potential range of acceptance of or resistance to Hadrian's vision on the part of the reader. At this point I must make some disclaimers. Since I am not a historian or philosopher of history, I do not attempt to use their theoretical instruments ; in questions relating to the historical sense I am dealing mainly with the internal coherence of the text of the Memoires, supplemented by the comments of the Carnets. I should also mention that my approach is more a treatment of the implications and reverberations among the themes than a detailed textual analysis. However, thematic and textual tools obviously do not exist in isolation from each other; Yourcenar's creation of Hadrian depends in part upon the vocabulary she gives him, and on the relationships that exist among the mots-eles...