When he began his writing career in 1956 with the publication of “L’Amour Est un Plaisir” (“Love Is a Pleasure”), his eminence as a literary figure seemed in doubt. None of his first novels did well, and in 1966, his seemingly likely departure from fiction inspired him to write a valedictory novel called “Goodbye and Thank You.”
It was only in 1971 that “La Gloire de l’Empire” — translated into English as “A Novel. A History” — secured a lasting place for him in 20th-century French literature.
The book, a fictional compendium of imagined history, won the academy’s coveted Grand Prix.
“This has to be one of the most engrossing histories ever written — yet not a word of it is true,” William Beauchamp, a French literature scholar, wrote in The New York Times Book Review when the book was published in English in the United States in 1975.
He added: “Jean d’Ormesson’s empire is pure invention; his book, fictional history. If numerous details suggest the real empires of Rome, Persia, Byzantium, of Alexander or Charlemagne, they are devices designed to achieve verisimilitude — the illusion of reality.”
When Mr. d’Ormesson entered the academy in 1973, at the age of 48, he was the youngest of its 40 members, all of them committed to maintaining the purity of the French language and to promoting French literary merit.
All were also men; the body had barred women since its founding in 1635. But that changed in 1981, when Mr. d’Ormesson sponsored Marguerite Yourcenar, a writer and classical scholar, to join the academy. Though he incurred much criticism and not a few misogynistic jibes for his championing her, she was accepted.
Ms. Yourcenar remarked at the time, “One cannot say that in French society, so impregnated with feminine influences, the academy has been a notable misogynist: It simply conformed to the custom that willingly placed a woman on a pedestal but did not permit itself to officially offer her a chair.”
Jean Bruno Wladimir François de Paule Le Fèvre d’Ormesson was born in Paris on June 16, 1925, the son of André d’Ormesson, a French diplomat, and Marie Henriette Isabelle Anisson du Perron, whose…