Francine du Plessix Gray, Searching Novelist and Journalist, Is Dead at 88 | Modern Society of USA

Francine du Plessix Gray, Searching Novelist and Journalist, Is Dead at 88

Francine du Plessix Gray, Searching Novelist and Journalist, Is Dead at 88

Francine du Plessix was born on Sept. 25, 1930, in Warsaw, where her father was the commercial attaché at the French Embassy. Domineering and contemptuous, he held his adoring daughter in thrall; she suffered from a bad stutter and desperately craved his approval.

Her mother was an equally forceful presence, with a basilisk gaze that “had the psychic impact of a can of Mace,” Mrs. Gray wrote in her memoir. Ms. Yakovleva was emotionally distant. After Francine’s father died, the mother left it to friends to tell her daughter, a year after the fact.

Before ascending to the top of Manhattan’s social pyramid, the family lived in genteel poverty. Francine won a scholarship to attend the Spence School. She enrolled at Bryn Mawr but after two years transferred to Barnard, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1952, writing her senior thesis on Kierkegaard’s view of the death of Christianity. For two summers she studied at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where her mentor was the poet Charles Olson.

After writing radio reports on the overnight shift at United Press for two years, Mrs. Gray moved to Paris to report on fashion for the French magazine Réalités, an experience that led to a nervous breakdown.

She returned to the United States and in 1957 married the painter Cleve Gray, with whom she lived in Warren, Conn., in Litchfield County. For several years she applied herself to the easel, painting landscapes and still lifes.

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Mrs. Gray established herself as a novelist in the mid-1970s with “Lovers and Tyrants,” the semi-autobiographical story of a young French-American woman trying to understand herself and create a meaningful life.

Mr. Gray died in 2004. In addition to her son Thaddeus, Mrs. Gray, who moved to Manhattan in 2014, is survived by another son, Luke, and five grandchildren.

She began writing art reviews for Art in America, where she was the book editor in the mid-1960s, and became a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times and other publications.

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