For the first time in its 345-year history, the prestigious Academie Francaise decided Thursday to admit a woman, novelist Marguerite Yourcenar to the ranks of the 40 "immortals."
It also was only the second time an American has been admitted to the Academie, whose purpose is to act as a watchdog over the "purity" of the French language. Miss Yourcenar, who lives in Maine, was born of French parents and regained her French nationality in December. She was elected by a 20-to-12 margin on the first ballot -- an extremely rare and speedy result. The prize-winning author's works include the best sellers "Memoirs of Hadrian," which has been published in 16 languages, and "The Abyss."