Authors: Alfred de Musset

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet and playwright

Author Works

Poetry:

Contes d’Espagne et d’Italie, 1829 (Tales of Spain and Italy, 1905)

Un Spectacle dans un fauteuil, 1833 (first series, 2 volumes; A Performance in an Armchair, 1905)

Rolla, 1833 (English translation, 1905)

Poésies complètes, 1840 (Complete Poetry, 1905)

Poésies nouvelles, 1852 (definitive edition in The Complete Writings; New Poetic Works)

Premières Poésies, 1854 (definitive edition in The Complete Writings; First Poetic Works)

Long Fiction:

La Confession d’un enfant du siècle, 1836 (The Confession of a Child of the Century, 1892)

Short Fiction:

Les Deux Maîtresses, 1837 (Two Mistresses, 1905)

Emmeline, 1837 (English translation, 1905)

Le Fils du Titien, 1838 (Titian’s Son, 1892)

Frédéric et Bernerette, 1838 (Frederic and Bernerette, 1892)

Margot, 1838 (English translation, 1905)

Histoire d’un merle blanc, 1842 (Adventures of a White Blackbird, 1892)

Pierre et Camille, 1843 (Pierre and Camille, 1905)

Le Secret de Javotte, 1844 (The Secret of Javotte, 1905)

Les Frères Van Buck, 1844

Mimi Pinson, 1845

La Mouche, 1854 (The Beauty Spot, 1892)

Drama:

La Nuit vénitienne: Ou, Les Noces de Laurette, pr. 1830 (The Venetian Night: Or, Laurette’s Wedding, 1905)

La Coupe et les lèvres, pb. 1833 (The Cup and the Lips, 1905)

À quoi rêvent les jeunes filles, pb. 1833 (Of What Young Maidens Dream, 1905)

André del Sarto, pb. 1833 (English translation, 1905)

Les Caprices de Marianne, pb. 1833 (The Follies of Marianne, 1905)

Fantasio, pb. 1834 (English translation, 1853)

On ne badine pas avec l’amour, pb. 1834 (No Trifling with Love, 1890)

Lorenzaccio, pb. 1834 (English translation, 1905)

Un Spectacle dans un fauteuil, pb. 1834 (second series, 2 volumes)

La Quenouille de Barbarine, pb. 1835, revised wr. 1851, pr. 1882 (Barbarine, 1890)

Le Chandelier, pb. 1835 (The Chandelier, 1903)

Il ne faut jurer de rien, pb. 1836

Un Caprice, pb. 1837 (A Caprice, 1847)

Il faut qu’une porte soit ouverte ou fermée, pb. 1845 (A Door Must Be Either Open or Shut, 1890)

L’Habit vert, pr., pb. 1849 (with Émile Augier; The Green Coat, 1915)

Louison, pr., pb. 1849 (English translation, 1905)

On ne saurait penser à tout, pr. 1849 (One Can Not Think of Everything, 1905)

Carmosine, pb. 1850 (English translation, 1865)

Bettine, pr., pb. 1851 (English translation, 1905)

L’âne et le ruisseau, wr. 1855, pb. 1860 (Donkey and the Stream, 1905)

Comedies, pb. 1890

A Comedy and Two Proverbs, pb. 1955

Seven Plays, pb. 1962

Translation:

L’Anglais mangeur d’opium, 1828 (of Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, 1821)

Miscellaneous:

The Complete Writings, 1905 (10 volumes)

Biography

Louis Charles Alfred de Musset (moo-seh) was born in Paris on December 11, 1810, the second child of Victor-Donatien de Musset and Edmée-Claudine Guyot Desherbiers. The genealogy of the Musset family was aristocratic and could be traced back as far as the twelfth century. Victor-Donatien was a man of literary tastes and scholarly temperament; an ardent admirer of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he not only wrote a biography of the great eighteenth century philosopher and writer but also published an edition of Rousseau’s works. There had been a similar literary background in Alfred’s mother’s family. Consequently, Alfred and his biographer brother, Paul, were reared in an atmosphere of books and periodicals. The young Musset’s readings of The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment (fifteenth century), Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615), and Ludovico Ariosto’s Renaissance epic Orlando furioso (1516, 1521, 1532) established a precocious taste for the exotic, the fantastic, and the ironic, a taste that nourished his poetic and dramatic composition throughout his artistic career.{$I[AN]9810000423}{$I[A]Musset, Alfred de}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Musset, Alfred de}{$I[tim]1810;Musset, Alfred de}

From the ages of nine to seventeen, Musset studied at the Collège Henri IV in Paris, where he quickly established and maintained a reputation as a student of great talent and application. Upon leaving this school, Musset, at his father’s suggestion, made some trifling efforts to study first law and then medicine but was quickly bored and disgusted by both professions. His studies at home and school had established in him a strong preference for the arts, and he took up further studies in foreign languages, music, and drawing. With the composition of his first poems (written under the influence of his readings of the eighteenth century poet André Chenier), however, Musset set his sights unalterably upon a literary career.

While still at school, Musset was introduced to two figures of considerable importance in the Parisian literary scene: Charles Nodier and Victor Hugo. Both were poets and novelists and were the hosts of literary clubs which attracted the participation of most of the literary hopefuls of the day. Hugo hosted a club called the Cénacle, and it was there that Musset, at the urging of the literary critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, first read Hugo’s poems, which were received enthusiastically. At the same time, Musset’s noble descent, youthful charm, affability, and good looks guaranteed him an effortless entrée into Parisian high society. He was soon drawn into the circle of wealthy young dandies, among whom he developed what became a lifelong predilection for wine, gambling, and women.

In 1828, Musset’s translation of Thomas de Quincey’s 1821 novel, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (to which he had interpolated some original, personal material), was published anonymously. This literary exercise, together with the success of his poetry readings at the Cénacle, convinced him to find a publisher for his own original work, and, in 1829, Tales of Spain and Italy appeared. That same year, at the request of the manager of the Odéon Theater, Musset composed a play entitled The Venetian Night. It was hissed down at its first performance, and its failure provided a deep psychological blow for the twenty-year-old playwright, who resolved never again to write specifically for the stage. Significantly, the greater portion of his subsequent drama was of the closet variety, pieces created for reading only, not production.

Musset immediately returned to the hedonistic life that he had somewhat modified by this burst of literary activity, but, with the death of his father in 1832, he was impelled to provide for himself and his mother (with whom he continued to live for the greater part of his life) by further writing. He soon published the first volume of A Performance in an Armchair, a collection of poems and two verse plays. The volume was not a great success, but it did attract the attention of Musset’s friend from Cénacle days, Sainte-Beuve. The critic’s favorable review resulted in an invitation from François Buloz, editor of the fortnightly literary magazine Revue des Deux Mondes, to become a regular contributor of poetry, drama, and fiction. It was in this review that the first of Musset’s plays to reveal truly his particular dramatic genius, The Follies of Marianne, made its appearance; it was also at a dinner party given by Buloz in June, 1833, that Musset made the acquaintance of the talented writer of notorious reputation, George Sand. A mutual fascination was immediately aroused in the two authors, and approximately two months later they inaugurated their brief but tempestuous affair.

What began idyllically and peacefully was destined in a very short time to turn acrimonious and bitter. A trip with Sand to Italy, ending in Venice during the winter of 1833-1834, was marked not only by mutual financial embarrassments but also by sometimes violent and abusive quarrels. Sand became ill soon after their arrival in Venice, and Musset took the opportunity to drink heavily and sample the charms of Venetian women. Just as Sand began to recover, Musset became severely ill, suffering from fever and delirium for almost two weeks. While devotedly nursing her lover, Sand was drawn to the attractive, sensitive attending physician, Pietro Pagello, and became his lover within the month. When Musset finally recovered, he recognized the nature of the relationship which had developed between the two people who had practically saved his life. After a brief period of jealous recrimination and display, Musset left Sand and Pagello together with his blessing and returned alone to Paris. The characteristics Musset displayed in this “Venetian drama” would recur in his subsequent relationships; his temperament was a curious combination of the libertine, the ardent idealistic lover, and the paranoid.

The break with Sand, however, served directly as inspiration for some of Musset’s finest poetic achievements, notably the four nuit poems, works concerning the acceptance of lost love and the transformation of experience into art.

The final break with Sand in early 1835 had cured Musset, at least temporarily, of his self-destructive, hedonistic proclivities and provoked a four-year period of considerable literary activity. Four plays came out of this period as well as a number of poems, tales, and a semiautobiographical novel, The Confession of a Child of the Century. In 1839, however, at the age of twenty-eight, Musset returned to his former habits of heavy drinking, gambling, and womanizing. In the succeeding years he was to have a number of amorous relationships of varying seriousness and success. Perhaps the most enduring of these was his affair with a Madame Jaubert, a relationship which evolved into a devoted friendship. Like George Sand before her, Madame Jaubert recognized the young man’s need for a mother figure of similar intellectual tastes and sympathies to whom he could turn for conversation and compassion.

Since his father’s death, Musset had always suffered from financial anxieties, but these largely disappeared in 1838 with his appointment as librarian for the Ministry of the Interior. He retained this post until the 1848 revolution, when he was dismissed for suspected Royalist sympathies. By the time of his dismissal, however, Musset had begun to enjoy a revival of interest in his dramatic oeuvre, and the performance of his plays now assured him a fairly reliable income. With the success of A Caprice in Russia and at home at the Comédie-Française in 1847, Musset’s reputation as a playwright began to create a mounting demand for his work. He revised and expanded several earlier works and received commissions from leading actors and theater managers for new ones.

In 1852, after two attempts, Musset made a third and successful bid for election to the French Academy. After many years of remaining in the family home with his mother, he now lived there alone under the care of a housekeeper. He continued to write but composed no new poetic or dramatic works of particular importance. Since 1842 at the latest, he had been suffering from heart trouble, and, in the winter of 1856, his health began to deteriorate rapidly. He died at home on May 2, 1857.

BibliographyBishop, Lloyd. The Poetry of Alfred de Musset: Styles and Genres. New York: Peter Lang, 1987. Although this work focuses on Musset’s poetry, it provides valuable information on his life and literary output. Bibliography and index.Kelly, Linda. The Young Romantics: Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, Vigny, Dumas, Musset, and George Sand and Their Friendships, Feuds, and Loves in the French Romantic Revolution. New York: Random House, 1976. Kelly examines the French Romanticists, including Musset, Victor Hugo, Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Alfred de Vigny, and George Sand, and their intellectual world. Bibliography and index.Levin, Susan M. The Romantic Art of Confession: De Quincey, Musset, Sand, Lamb, Hogg, Frémy, Soulié. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1998. Levin’s work on the confession literature of Romanticists such as Musset, Thomas De Quincey, James Hogg, George Sand, and Charles Lamb sheds light on the life of Musset, as revealed in his semiautobiographical novel. Bibliography and index.Peyre, Henri. “Alfred de Musset and the ‘Mal du Siècle.’” In What Is Romanticism?, translated by Roda Roberts. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977. A summary of Musset’s role in the Romantic movement in France.Rees, Margaret A. Alfred de Musset. New York: Twayne, 1971. A basic biography of Musset, covering his life and works. Bibliography.Sices, David. Theatre of Solitude: The Drama of Musset. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1974. Musset translator and scholar Sices provides a close look at the dramatic works of the French writer. Contains bibliography and index.Sices, David, ed. Comedies and Proverbs, by Alfred de Musset. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Although this edition of seven of Musset’s comedies focuses on his drama, Sices’s commentary provides insight into the poet as well.Siegel, Patricia Joan. Alfred de Musset: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. A bibliography of studies of Musset, current up to the early 1980’s.
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