Zoé Oldenbourg (Russian: Зоя Серге́евна Ольденбург) (March 31, 1916–November 8, 2002) was a Russian-born French historian and novelist who specialized in medieval French history, in particular the Crusades and Cathars.
She was born in Petrograd, Russia into a family of scholars and historians. Her father Sergei was a journalist and historian, her mother Ada Starynkevich was a mathematician, and her grandfather Sergei was the permanent secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg. Her early childhood was spent among the privations of the Russian revolutionary period and the first years of Communism. Her father fled the country and established himself as a journalist in Paris.
With her family, she emigrated to Paris in 1925 at the age of nine and graduated from the Lycée Molière in 1934 with her Baccalauréat diploma. She went on to study at the Sorbonne and then she studied painting at the Académie Ranson. In 1938 she spent a year in England and studied theology. During World War II she supported herself by hand-painting scarves.
She was encouraged by her father to write and she completed her first work, a novel, Argiles et cendres in 1946. Although she wrote her first works in Russian, as an adult she wrote almost exclusively in French.
She combined a genius for scholarship and a deep feeling for the Middle Ages in her historical novels. The World is Not Enough, a vast panorama of the twelfth century immediately put her in the ranks of the foremost historical novelists. Her second, The Cornerstone, won her the Prix Femina and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in America. Other works include The Awakened, The Chains of Love, Massacre at Montsegur, Destiny of Fire, Cities of the Flesh, and Catherine the Great, a Literary Guild selection. In The Crusades, Zoe Oldenbourg returned to the Middle Ages she knew and loved so well.
She won the Prix Femina for her 1953 novel La Pierre Angulaire.
List of works
- Argile et Cendres (1946), published in English as The World is Not Enough (translated by Willard A. Trask).
- La Pierre Angulaire (1953), published in English as The Cornerstone (translated by Edward Hyams).
- Réveillés de la vie (1956).
- Les irréductibles: roman (1958).
- Le Bûcher de Montségur (1959), non-fiction, published in English as Massacre at Montségur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade (translated by Peter Green).
- Les Brûlés (1960), published in English as Destiny of Fire (translated by Peter Green).
- Les Cités Charnelles: ou, l'Histoire de Roger de Montbrun: roman (1961), published in English as Cities of the flesh: or, The story of Roger de Montbrun (Translated by Anne Carter).
- Les Croisades (1965), non-fiction, published in English as The Crusades (translated by Anne Carter).
- Catherine de Russie (1966), published in English as Catherine the Great (translated by Anne Carter).
- La Joie des Pauvres (1970), published in English as The Heirs of the Kingdom (translated by Anne Carter).
- Saint Bernard. Textes de Saint Bernard, Abélard, Pierre le Vénérable, Geoffroi de Clairvaux, Bérenger de Poitiers, Bossuet (1970).
- Que vous a donc fait Israël? (1974).
- Visages d'un Autoportrait (1977).
- La joie-souffrance (1980).
- Le Procès du Rêve (1982).
- L'eveque et la vieille dame, ou, La belle-mere de Peytavi Borsier: Pièce en dix tableaux et un prologue (1983)
- Que nous est Hécube?, ou, Un plaidoyer pour l'humain : essai (1984)
- Les amours égarées: roman (1987).
- Déguisements: nouvelles (1989).
- Aliénor: pièce en quatre tableaux (1992)
- Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century: O to Z, Volume 3 (F. Ungar, 1971: ISBN 0-8044-3094-2), p. 11.
- Histoires littéraires: Revue trimestrielle consacrée à la littérature française des XIXème et XXème siècles 4/13-14 (2003): 124.
- Christiane P. Makward and Madeleine Cottenet-Hage, Dictionnaire littéraire des femmes de langue française (KARTHALA Editions, 1996: ISBN 2-86537-676-1), p. 448.
- Dictionnaire littéraire... October 2010
- Lucille Frackman Becker, Twentieth-Century French Women Novelists (Twayne Publishers, 1989: ISBN 0-8057-8251-6), p. 55.
- Cf. Wilson, p.936
- European Biographical Directory, vol. 2 (Editions Database, 1991), p. 1627.
- Steinberg, Theodore L., "The Use and Abuse of Medieval History: Four Contemporary Novelists and the First Crusade", Studies in Medievalism, II.1 (Fall 1982), pp. 77–93.
- Wilson, Katharina M., (editor), An Encyclopedia of continental women writers, New York : Garland Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-8240-8547-7. Cf. entry for Zoé Oldenbourg, Volume 1, pp.935-937.