Alfred de Musset
French Romantic poet and playwright, remembered for his poetry. A love affair with the novelist George Sand between the years 1833 and 1835 inspired some of Musset's finest lyrics. Much influenced by Shakespeare and Schiller, Alfred de Musset wrote the first modern dramas in the French language.
"How glorious it is, but how painful it is also, to be exceptional in this world!" (from La Merle Blanc, 1842)
Alfred de Musset was born in the middle of old Paris, in a house on the Rues des Noyers near the Hôtel de Cluny. Both of his parents were descended from distinguished families, and his father had written several historical and travel works. Musset entered the Collège Henry IV, where his schoolmater included the Duke or Orleans, and graduated with honors in 1827. After hesitating between many professions, Musset abandoned medicine because of his distaste of the dissecting room. Instead, he studied painting for six months in the Louvre.
Musset began his career as a poet and dramatist in 1828 with the publication of a ballad called 'A Dream'. His first collection of poems, CONTES D'ESPAGNE ET D'ITALIE (1829), won the approval of Victor Hugo, who accepted Musset in his Romantic literary circle Cénacle.
Musset's following works showed the influence of Lord Byron. In 1830, at the invitation of the director of the Théâtre de l'Odeon, Musset wrote LA NUIT VÉNETIENNE, the first of his plays to be produced. After the humiliating failure on the stage, Musset refused to allow his other plays than historical tragedies and comedies to be performed. This decision partly liberated him from the thoughts of "technique"-he did not care whether the plays made an effect or no. At that time theatre, on the other hand, was for writers a good means to reach their audience. A theatre ticked was not so expensive than a book. Musset's relatively well-made books, which cost only 3.50 francs, still did not reach a public of petits-bourgeois, craftsmen, or workers, who earned little more than 4 francs per day.
In 1833 Musset met George Sand, with whom he started an intense relationship. His autobiographical work, LA CONFESSION D'UN ENFANT DU SIÈCLE (1835), a fictionalized account of the affair, reflects the mal du siècle, the disillusioned moral atmosphere in the period of strife between liberals and monarchists. "Everything that was no longer exists; everything that is to be does not yet exists," Musset once said. In 1834 Musset visited Venice with Sand; their journey was a turning point in Musset's life. They both became dangerously ill, but Sand fell in love with her physician, and Musset returned to France alone and in despair.
The stormy year inspired his plays ON NE BADINE PAS AVEC L'AMOUR and LORENZACCIO, which is sometimes considered his finest drama; the 'Lettre a Lamartine' from this period is considered one of the most beautiful pages of French literature. Lorenzaccio, written in 1834 and produced in 1896, was based on the murder of the Florentine tyrant Alessandro de'Medici by his cousin Lorenzo, known as Lorenzaccio. Idealistic Lorenzo wins the confidence of Alessandro in order to assassinate the tyrant. In the process, he loses his believes that the rebellious faction led by the Strozzis is capable of declaring a republic. He proceeds with the original plan and Cosimo de'Medici is declared the new ruler of Florence. Defeated in his hopes for justice and freedom, Lorenzo is finally assassinated in turn.
Musset became engaged to Aimée d'Alton in 1837. The relationship faded within a year and was followed by brief affairs. Throughout his life, Musset also frequented prostitutes and used occasionally opium. His health began to fail and after 1840s Musset's literary production as a dramatist diminished. However, POÉSIES NOUVELLES (1836-52) included 'Les Nuits', the series of lyrics for which Musset is best-known.
Musset was appointed librarian of the Home Office by the Duke of Orleans. The pay was small, 3,000 francs, and it has been said that there was no library at all. In 1845 Musset was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1845. From the late 1840s his plays, which were recognized for their profound grasp of the psychology of love, started to enjoy success on the French stage. Musset's later works include the patriotic song 'Le Rhin Allemand', and the popular comedy IL FAUT QU'UNE PORTE SOIT OUVERTE OU FERMÉE (1845). In 1852 Musset was elected to the French Academy. In the same year he entered into a love affair with Louise Colet, the former mistress of Gustave Flaubert.
For the last two years of his life, Musset was confined to his apartment near the Comédie-Française. His heart ailment, an unusual vascular malfunction that became known to scientist as the Musset symptom, was aggravated by drinking. He died in Paris on May 2, 1857. Nowadays Musset's popularity is considered second only to Racine and Moliere. "My glass is not big, but I drink out of my own glass," he once stated self-consciously. His influence is probably best seen in the plays of Jean Anouilh. Many of the titles for his works were taken from proverbs popular at the time.
J'ai perdu ma force et ma vie,Et mes amis et ma gaîté;J'ai perdu jusqu'à la fiertéQui faisat croire à mon génie.
Quan j'ai connu la Vérité,J'ai cru que c'était une amie;quand je l'ai comprise et sentie,J'en étais féjà dégoûté.
Et pourtant elle est éternelle,Et ceux qui se sont passés d'elleIci-bas ont tout ignoré.
Dieu parle, il faut qu'on lui réponde.Le seul bien qui me reste au mondeEst d'avoir quelquefois pleuré.
For further reading: Documents littéraire by E. Zola (1881); Les amants de Venise by Ch. Maurras (1902); Life of Alfred de Musset by A. Barine (1906); Un grand amour romantique: George Sand et Alfred de Musset by A. Feugère (1927); Le romantisme de Musset by P. Gastinel (1933); La vie privée de Musset by A. Villiers (1939); Musset: L'homme et l'oeuvre by P. van Teighem (1945); Alfred: The Passionate Life of Alfred de Musset by C. Haldane (1961); Etude historique et critique du théâtre de Musset by M. Vantore (1962); Vues sur le théâtre de Musset by A. Lebois (1966); The Dramatic Art of Musset by H.S. Gochberg (1967); Vie de Musset ou l'amour de la mort by M. Toesca (1970), A Stage for Poets by C. Affron (1971); The Poetry of Alfred De Musset: Styles and Genres by Lloyd Bishop (1987); Musset Et Shakespeare: Etude Analystique De L'Influence De Shakespeare Sur Le Theatre D'Alfred De Musset by Rex A. Barrell (1988); Paradigm and Parody: Images of Creativity in French Romanticism--Vigny, Hugo, Balzac, Gautier, Musset by Henry F. Majewski (1989); L'Esprit. Stylistique du mot d'esprit dans le Theatre de Musset by Jean-Jacques Didier (1992); The Romantic Art of Confession: De Quincey, Musset, Sand, Lamb, Hogg, Fremy, Soulie, Janin by Susan M. Levin (1998) - Note: Diane Kurys's film Enfants du siècle (1999), starring Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel, depicted the love affair of Alfred de Musset and George Sand. - Suom.: Suomeksi Mussetilta on julkaistu Novelleja, Rakkauden tiet, komedioita sekä runoja teoksessa Tuhat laulujen vuotta, toim. Aale Tynni (1974), sekä elämäkerta V.A. Koskenniemen kirjoittamana.
L'ANGLAIS MANGEUR D'OPIUM, 1828
LES MARRONS DE FEU, 1929
LA NUIT VÉNITIENNE, 1830 - A Venetian Night
CONTES D'ESPAGNE ET D'ITALIE, 1830
UN SPECTACLE DANS UN FAUTEUIL, 1832
LA COUPE ET LES LÈVRES, 1832 - The Cup and the Lip
À QUOI RÉVENT LES JEUNES FILLES, 1832 - Of What Young Maidens Dream
LAS CAPRICES DE MARIANNE, 1833 - The Follies of Marianne
ANDRÉ DEL SARTO, 1833 - trans.
FANTASIO, 1834 - Fantasio: a Comedy in Two Acts (trans. by Maurice Baring)
ON NE BADINE PAS AVEC L'AMOUR, 1834 - No Trifling with Love
LORENZACCIO, 1834 - Lorenzaccio: a Drama in Five Acts (trans. by Edmund Thompson) - Lorenzo
LE CHANDELIER, 1835 - The Candle-Stick
LES NUITS, 1835-37
LA CONFESSION D'UN ENFANT DU SIÈCLE, 1936 - The Confession of a Child of the Century (trans. by Kendall Warren) - Vuosisadan lapsen tunnustus (suom. V.A. Koskenniemi)
IL NE FAUT JURER DE RIEN, 1836 - You Can't Be Sure of Anything
LETTRE À LAMATINE, 1836
LETTRES DE DUPUIS ET COTONET, 1836-37
UN CAPRICE, 1837 - A Caprice
CONTES ET NOUVELLES, 1838
LE SOUVENIR, 1841
HISTOIRE D'UN MERLE BLANC, 1842
PIERRE ET CAMILLE, 1844
IL FAUT QU'UNE PORTE SOIT FERMÉE, 1845 - The Door Must Be either Open or Shut
MIMI PINSON, 1846
L'HABIT VERT, 1849 (with Émile Augier) - The Green Coat
PREMIÈRES POÉSIES, 1852
POÉSIES NOUVELLES, 1852
LA MOUCHE, 1853
COMÉDIES ER PROVERBES, 1853
ON NE SAURAIT PENSER À TOUT, 1853 - You Can't Think of Everything
L'ÂNE ET LE RUISSEAU, 1860 - The Donkey and the Stream
ŒUVRES COMPLÈTES, 1866-83
ŒUVRES POSTHUMES, 1881
The Complete Writings, 1905
COMÉDIES ET PROVERBES, 1906
CORRESPONDANCE 1827-57, 1907
ŒUVRES COMPLÈTES, 1907-09
LETTRES D'AMOUR, 1923
CORRESPONDANCE ENTRE GEORGE SAND ET ALFRED DE MUSSET, 1930
COMÉDIES ET PROVERBES, 1945
ŒUVRES COMPLÈTES E PROSE, 1951
POÉSIES COMPLÈTES, 1951
THÈÂTRE COMPLET, 1952
TEXTES DRAMATIQUES INÉDITS, 1953
A Comedy and Two Proverbs, 1957
ŒUVRES COMPLÈTES, 1962
Seven Plays, 1962
THÉÂTRE COMPLET, 1964
Fantasio and Other Plays, 1993 (trans. by Michael Feingold)
Comedies & Proverbs, 1994 (trans. by David Sices)
Five Plays: The Moods of Marianne, Fantasio, Lorenzaccio, Don't Play With Love, Caprice, 1995
Historical Dramas of Alfred De Musset, 1997 (trans. by David Sices)