Obituary: Marguerite Duras

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The Independent Online
In his obituary on Marguerite Duras [4 March], John Calder says that Robert Antelme - Duras's husband - was a rich businessman, and that Antelme is portrayed in Moderato Cantabile, writes Anthony Rudolf. These are two serious errors of commission. Antelme was not a rich businessman and was not the model for the husband in that fictional work.

In fact Robert Antelme worked for years as an editor at Gallimard. Calder also fails to signal the fact that the husband of Duras can himself be described as a great writer, albeit on the strength of one book: this is L'espece humaine. As recounted in Duras's La Douleur and elsewhere, Antelme was an active member of the Resistance and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. He was rescued from Dachau by Francois Mitterrand.

Antelme's masterpiece, published in 1947 - the same year as Primo Levi's If this is a man, and echoing its title - finally appeared in American translation in 1992, entitled The Human Race. The book is mainly about his time in Gandersheim, a forced labour camp, and is the only non-fiction work on the camps to equal Levi's book.

Marguerite Duras, with a large body of work of great originality and distinction, may be the more important writer but no single text of hers matches Antelme's phenomenology of servitude transcended. It is one of the great neglected books of the century outside its native country.