BAR HARBOR, MAINE -- Marguerite Yourcenar, 84, one of the 20th century's great writers in the French language and the first woman admitted to the Academie Francaise, died Dec. 17 at Mount Desert Island Hospital of complications after a stroke.

Miss Yourcenar was an erudite author of historical novels set in a wide variety of countries and cultures.

Best-known for the 1951 novel "The Memoirs of Hadrian," about the Roman emperor, and "L'Oeuvre Noir" (The Abyss), about Europe in the 16th century, Miss Yourcenar was applauded by critics for her independent judgment and her ability to stand back from her subject.

"French letters has just lost an exceptional woman," Premier Jacques Chirac said in Paris. "On the strength of a classical and rigorous style, Marguerite Yourcenar used a very personal tone to find, thanks to history, the occasion for a strong reflection on morality and power."

In 1980, Miss Yourcenar made history by becoming the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Academie Francaise, the 350-year-old guardian of the French language and one of France's last fortresses of male supremacy.

Miss Yourcenar was equally at ease in verse and prose. During a career that spanned more than five decades, she wrote novels and literary criticism, short stories and plays, all infused with her lifelong commitment to finding the secret to a better life.

To that end, she investigated art, mythology, philosophy and genealogy.

Marguerite Yourcenar was born Marguerite de Crayencour on June 8, 1903, in Brussels. Her mother died in childbirth, and she was brought up by her father Michel. She spent summers in northern France and winters in Paris and on the Riviera.

Miss Yourcenar was educated privately and was a precocious child, reading classics by the age of 8, Latin at 10 and Greek at 12.

Her first novel, "Alexis," was published in 1929.

She first visited the United States in 1937 to do research at the Yale University library and decided to stay. Later she taught French at Sarah Lawrence College and translated the works of Henry James and Virginia Woolf into French.

She moved to Mount Desert Island in 1951, the same year that "The Memoirs of Hadrian" was published. The book, which became an instant best-seller, was a fictional account of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his love for a youth who drowned himself in the Nile.

Many of Miss Yourcenar's characters were men, such as the Prussian officer who murdered the woman who loved him in "Coup de Grace." She even modeled a character after her father -- the gentle, cultured mercenary soldier in "L'Oeuvre Noir."

Despite her enormous reputation in France, Miss Yourcenar's work was not well known in America until her admission to the Academie Francaise.

There are no immediate survivors.