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|Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)|
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!" (in 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 early poems won the approval of Victor Hugo, who accepted Musset in his Romantic literary circle Cénacle.
Musset's parodic collection of poems in Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie (1830) showed the influence of Lord Byron. In 1830, at the invitation of the director of the Théâtre de l'Odeon, Musset wrote La nuit vénitienne, 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.
Musset's father died in 1832, leaving him the title of viscount. In June 1833 Musset met at a dinner party George Sand, the daring author of Indiana and Valentine, who was carrying a gem-studded dagger. When Sand sent him proof of her forthcoming novel Lélia, Mussed replied: "You've gone and become George Sand; otherwise, you would merely have been Madame so and so, scribbling away." He started an intense relationship with her, which inspired the celebrated four 'Nuits' (1835-37). Both Sand and Musset recorded in their notebooks the love affair.
Gamiani (1833), an erotic novella, which Musset published under the pseudonym Alcide, Baron de M***, tells of Countess Gamiani, who is frigid with men. At the end she poisons a young woman in a lesbian orgy and dies in ecstasy. According to a legend, Musset took up a challenge to write an obscene book without using obscene words and finished the work in two days. After Musset and Sand separated the story was read as Musset's revenge on her.
In 1834 Musset visited Venice with Sand. Stendhal predicted that Sand would find Italy boring. This journey was a turning point in Musset's life. They both became dangerously ill, but Sand was too sick to suffer from boredom. She fell in love with her physician, Pietro Pagello, and Musset returned alone and in despair to Paris, where he resumed his old habit as a womanizer. Musset and Sand went together to see Alfred de Vigny's Chatterton, a major theatrical event, but eventually she had had enough: "Your behavior is deplorable, impossible. . . . The drunkenness, the wine! prostitutes, still, and always! Your insane jealousy about everything, in the midst of everything else!"
Musset's autobiographical work, La Confession d'un enfant du siècle (1835), a fictionalized account of the affair written in the form of an apologia, was a succès de scandale. Sand was cast as Brigitte Pierson, the lover of the male protagonist, who treats him in motherly way. They part in the end. This work reflected 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. Musset's emotionally stormy year of 1835 inspired also 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.
In 1837 Musset became engaged to Aimée d'Alton. 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,
Quan j'ai connu la Vérité,
Et pourtant elle est éternelle,
Dieu parle, il faut qu'on lui réponde.
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 mm. Novelleja (suom. Matti Vuori, 1907), Rakkauden tiet (suom. Jalmari Kekkonen, 1943), runoja teoksissa Ranskalaista laulurunoutta (suom. L. Onerva, 1912), Yöt ja muita runoja (suom. Yrjö Kaijärvi, 1949) ja Tuhat laulujen vuotta (toim. Aale Tynni, 1974), komedioita sekä elämäkerta V.A. Koskenniemen kirjoittamana.