Authors: Zoé Oldenbourg

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian-born French novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Argile et cendres, 1946 (The World Is Not Enough, 1948)

La Pierre angulaire, 1953 (The Cornerstone, 1955)

Réveillés de la vie, 1956 (The Awakened, 1957)

Les Irreductibles, 1958 (The Chains of Love, 1959)

Les Brûles, 1960 (Destiny of Fire, 1961)

Les Cités charnelles, 1961 (Cities of the Flesh, 1963)

La Joie des pauvres, 1970 (The Heirs of the Kingdom, 1971)

La Joie-souffrance, 1980

Les Amours égarées, 1987

Short Fiction:

Deguisements, 1989


L’Évêque et la vielle dame: Ou, La Belle-mère de Peytavi Borsier, pb. 1983

Aliénor, pb. 1992


Les Croisades, 1956 (The Crusades, 1966)

Le Bûcher de Montségur, 1958 (Massacre at Montségur, 1961)

Cathèrine de Russie, 1965 (Catherine the Great, 1965)

Visages d’un autoportrait, 1977 (autobiography)

Le Procès du rêve, 1982 (autobiography)

Que nous est Hécube? Ou, Un Plaidoyer pour l’humain, 1984 (essays)


Zoé Oldenbourg-Idalovici, who wrote under her maiden name Zoé Oldenbourg, was born in what was then the city of Petrograd. Her paternal grandfather was Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Science, her father, Sergius Oldenbourg, was active as a journalist and historian, and her mother was a mathematician. The family emigrated to Paris in 1925, taking their four children with them: Oldenbourg, her sister, and her two brothers. She displayed an early interest in writing and was encouraged by her father; as of the age of twelve she wrote steadily, and although she does not consider those early writings to be important in themselves, she believes that they were invaluable as exercises. Oldenbourg was also interested in the visual arts, and at one time intended to make painting her career. She received her baccalauréat from the Lycée Molière in Paris in 1934; after attending the Sorbonne, she studied painting at the Académie Ranson and in 1938 theology in England. During World War II, she decorated articles produced by a small Paris workshop. In 1948, she married Heinric Idalovici, a Parisian art-gallery owner.{$I[AN]9810000110}{$I[A]Oldenbourg, Zoé}{$S[A]Idalovici, Zoé Oldenbourg-;Oldenbourg, Zoé}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Oldenbourg, Zoé}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Oldenbourg, Zoé}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Oldenbourg, Zoé}{$I[tim]1916;Oldenbourg, Zoé}

Publication of her first novel, The World Is Not Enough, in 1946 and its very favorable reception, determined her vocation. The work, a historical novel of life in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, was praised for the vividness with which it re-created a medieval family and their world. A sequel, The Cornerstone, appeared in 1953 and was awarded the Prix Femina.

In her two contemporary novels The Awakened and its sequel, The Chains of Love, Oldenbourg tells the stories of young émigrés in Paris during the 1930’s; The Awakened contains some of her own vivid memories of a childhood spent in exile. Critical reaction to the two novels was sharply divided, to some extent because in Oldenbourg’s treatment the émigré artists of this time, who have traditionally been seen in a romantic light, are presented as the truly displaced persons of the twentieth century–homeless, weary, corroded by loneliness and divided loyalties, and more tragic than colorful.

Her next two novels, Destiny of Fire and Cities of the Flesh, are both concerned with the Albigensian Crusade of the thirteenth century and its violent suppression by the Church. In a history entitled Massacre at Montségur, she deals with the same subject. The Crusades, a history of the first three crusades and of the kingdom of Jerusalem up to the time of its conquest by Saladin, appeared in 1956. It was followed by a biography, Catherine the Great, in 1965. Both were well received. Oldenbourg also painted as an avocation, and she was a longtime member of the Prix Femina jury. She died in 2002 at the age of eighty-six.

BibliographyJaneway, Elizabeth. “Courage and Faith in a Distracted Age.” The New York Times Book Review, January 9, 1955, 4. States that Oldenbourg’s theme in The Cornerstone is the triumph of “courage and faith” in a period of conflict, violence, and rapid change.“Medieval Tapestry.” Time 65 (January 10, 1955): 88. States that The Cornerstone is “artfully written.” The accounts of vicious behavior and brutality are justified by Oldenbourg’s intention to present a “huge and intricate tapestry” showing clearly what life was like in the thirteenth century.Pick, Robert. “Eros in a Wimple.” Saturday Review 38 (January 8, 1955): 10. The Cornerstone is the first modern novel to re-create the world of chivalric love in all its subtlety and its innocent blasphemy. Additionally, the characters symbolize historical change: Herbert is a man of the Middle Ages, and the son who kills him is a Renaissance humanist. Interesting comments.Raymond, John. Review of The Cornerstone, by Zoé Oldenbourg. New Statesman and Nation 48 (December 4, 1954): 762. Blending historical events with her characters’ very human reactions to them, the author has produced a “great historical novel.”Wilson Library Bulletin 34 (March, 1960). Includes a brief discussion of Oldenbourg.
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