We met in Paris: Grace Frick and Her Life with Marguerite Yourcenar by Joan E. Howard
The latest publication of Joan E. Howard, who is currently a director of Marguerite Yourcenar's museum, Petite Plaisance in Northeast Harbor, is the result of her continued interest and research on Yourcenar's work and private life. However intensely present on the pages of this book, the French author is not the focus of the attention here; for the first time it is Grace Frick, Yourcenar's lifelong partner, who is in the spotlight. Frick's biography would not have been possible without featuring in some ways Yourcenar but Grace Frick has also appeared before in biographical texts on Yourcenar. Howard points out that Frick was often [End Page 224] portrayed in less than favorable light by Yourcenar's biographers; for example, Josyane Savigneau calls Grace a "controlling" and at the same time "peripheral figure" (XX) in Yourcenar's life. However, Howard's own research seems to prove otherwise. Her book is founded on the premise that Frick's earlier depictions were misconstrued and so she undertakes the difficult task of rectifying, or rather re-constructing, a more truthful and more exhaustive image of Yourcenar's partner.
There is relatively little known about Grace Frick's life before she met Yourcenar, but Howard's extensive research enables her to provide the reader with a rather complete (and complex) family history. Therefore, we get to know Grace Frick as a sensitive young girl, growing up in Kansas City under the care of her mother and her well-off relatives. Later on, Grace proves to be a very capable high school student with diverse interests and good sense of humour. She pursues higher education at Wellesley College, one of the most prestigious educational establishments for women at the time, where not only does she excel in all courses related to her areas of interest but also creates long-lasting friendships and connections. Before starting her PhD studies at Yale University, Grace Frick takes a break. She travels to Europe and works as an English instructor at Stephens College in Missouri where she develops her personal style of teaching. Howard observes that, by the time she meets Yourcenar, Grace Frick is already a mature, well-educated and independent woman, sensitive to issues regarding racial equality and women's rights.
After their initial encounter, Frick and Yourcenar's relationship grows fast, and in a little over a month, they leave for a memorable trip around southern Europe during which, as Howard suspects, they "make a pledge of love" (61) in Arezzo. In 1939, Yourcenar joins Frick in the United States. The first few years together are not easy. Grace accepts the position of a dean at Hartford Junior College where she proves to be a devoted educator, revolutionary in her approach to teaching and relentless in her efforts to serve and provide the best education possible to those who are in her care in spite of permanent lack of funds. Yourcenar assists Frick by teaching as a volunteer courses in French and Art History, while writing articles and taking on various other teaching obligations. Over the years their situation stabilizes, and the two companions live a socially rich, cultured and fulfilling life. They make plans for the future that also include the possibility of expanding their family by adopting a child, trusting each other with financial matters, travelling, supporting each other's interests and undertakings, and working together very closely on projects such as Yourcenar's novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951). As Howard notes: "Michèle Sarde has called Hadrian the couple's child, noting Frick's extraordinary role in the book's gestation" (162). Indeed, on this project, Grace serves as a first reader, editor, researcher and translator for which Yourcenar expresses later her wholehearted gratitude. [End Page 225]
Howard beautifully weaves the story of a quite symbiotic, intimate, and intellectual relationship full of devotion on both sides, as both women played crucial roles in each other's lives. As a result, Howard successfully achieves her goal of reinterpreting the image of Grace Frick as a broadly appreciated translator, an equal partner, and perhaps more importantly, as a loving and accomplished person. This meticulously researched, and extremely detailed biography is generously illustrated by photos from various archives and supported by a great number of quotes from authentic documents such as private correspondence and Frick and Yourcenar's daybooks. Written with wit and humor, this biography on Grace Frick is simply captivating.