Suzanne Lilar

ISBN (identifier) Françoise Mallet-Joris André Delvaux

Suzanne Lilar
Suzanne Lilar in the 1980s
Suzanne Lilar in the 1980s
Suzanne Verbist

(1901-05-21)21 May 1901
Died11 December 1992(1992-12-11) (aged 91)
Brussels, Belgium
Occupationessayist, novelist, playwright

Baroness Suzanne Lilar (née Suzanne Verbist; 21 May 1901 – 11 December 1992[1]) was a Flemish Belgian essayist, novelist, and playwright writing in French. She was the wife of the Belgian Minister of Justice Albert Lilar and mother of the writer Françoise Mallet-Joris and the art historian Marie Fredericq-Lilar.

She was a member of the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature from 1952 to 1992.


Lilar's mother was a middle school teacher, her father a railway station master. After having lived her youth in Ghent, and following a brief first marriage, she moved to Antwerp where she became the first woman lawyer, and where in 1929 she married the lawyer Albert Lilar who would later become a Minister of Justice and Minister of State (Liberal Party). She was the mother of the writer Françoise Mallet-Joris (b. 1930) and the 18th century art historian Marie Fredericq-Lilar (b. 1934). After the death of her husband in 1976, she left Antwerp and relocated to Brussels in 1977.


Suzanne Lilar by Charles Leirens, signed, 1950's

In 1919 Lilar attended the State University of Ghent where she studied philosophy and was the first woman to receive a Law degree in 1925. During her studies she attended a seminar on Hadewych. Her interest in the 13th century poet and mystic would play an important role in her later essays, plays and novels. Lilar's historico-cultural insight, her analysis of consciousness and emotion, her search for beauty and love are at the same time current and timeless.

Literary career

Applying a strong intellect to her work through precise language, she was a thoroughly modern writer and feminist who nonetheless remained highly versed in many areas of traditional western thought (Encyclopædia Britannica). In 1956 Lilar succeeds Gustave Van Zype as member of the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature. Her oeuvre has been translated in numerous languages.

Early work

Lilar began her literary career as a journalist, reporting on Republican Spain for the newspaper L'Indépendance belge in 1931. She later became a playwright with Le Burlador (1946), an original reinterpretation of the myth of Don Juan from the female perspective that revealed a profound capacity for psychological analysis. She wrote two more plays, Tous les chemins mènent au ciel (1947), a theological drama set in a 14th-century convent, and Le Roi lépreux (1951), a neo-Pirandellian play about the Crusades.

Critical essays

Her earliest essays are on the subject of the theatre. Soixante ans de théâtre belge (1952), originally published in New York City in 1950 as The Belgian Theater since 1890, emphasizes the importance of a Flemish tradition. She followed this with Journal de l'analogiste (1954), in which the origin of the experience of beauty and poetry was guided by a path of analogies. A short essay Théâtre et mythomanie was published in 1958. Transcendence and metamorphosis are central to her seminal work Le Couple (1963), translated in 1965 by Jonathan Griffin as Aspects of Love in Western Society. In writings on Rubens, the Androgyne or homosexuality in Ancient Greece, Lilar meditates on the role of the woman in conjugal love throughout the ages. Translated into Dutch in 1976, it includes an afterword by Marnix Gijsen. In the same vein she later wrote critical essays on Jean-Paul Sartre (À propos de Sartre et de l'amour, 1967) and Simone de Beauvoir (Le Malentendu du Deuxième Sexe, 1969).

Autobiographical works, novels

Lilar wrote two autobiographical books, Une Enfance gantoise (1976) and À la recherche d'une enfance (1979), and two novels, both of which date from 1960, Le Divertissement portugais and La Confession anonyme, a neoplatonic idealization of love filtered through personal experience. The Belgian director André Delvaux recreated this novel on film as Benvenuta in 1983, transposed as an intense examination of a tortured but exalted relationship between a young Belgian woman and her Italian lover. Les Moments merveilleux and Journal en partie double, I & II were published as part of Cahiers Suzanne Lilar (1986).

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Literary awards

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