Alfred de Musset

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Alfred de Musset
Alfred de musset.jpg
Musset painted by Charles Landelle
BornAlfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay
(1810-12-11)11 December 1810
Paris, France
Died2 May 1857(1857-05-02) (aged 46)
Paris, France
OccupationPoet, dramatist
Literary movement Romanticism

Signature Signature of Alfred de Musset.jpg

Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay (French:  [al.fʁɛd də my.sɛ] ; 11 December 1810 – 2 May 1857) was a French dramatist, poet, and novelist. [1] [2] Along with his poetry, he is known for writing the autobiographical novel La Confession d'un enfant du siècle (The Confession of a Child of the Century). [2]

An autobiographical novel is a form of novel using autofiction techniques, or the merging of autobiographical and fictive elements. The literary technique is distinguished from an autobiography or memoir by the stipulation of being fiction. Because an autobiographical novel is partially fiction, the author does not ask the reader to expect the text to fulfill the "autobiographical pact". Names and locations are often changed and events are recreated to make them more dramatic but the story still bears a close resemblance to that of the author's life. While the events of the author's life are recounted, there is no pretense of exact truth. Events may be exaggerated or altered for artistic or thematic purposes.



Commemorative plaque, Mont-Thabor street, Paris Plaque Alfred de Musset, 6 rue du Mont-Thabor, Paris 1.jpg
Commemorative plaque, Mont-Thabor street, Paris

Musset was born in Paris. His family was upper-class but poor and his father worked in various key government positions, but never gave his son any money. His mother came from similar circumstances, and her role as a society hostess – for example her drawing-room parties, luncheons and dinners held in the Musset residence – left a lasting impression on young Alfred. [2]

Early indications of Musset's boyhood talents were seen by his fondness for acting impromptu mini-plays based upon episodes from old romance stories he had read. [2] Years later, elder brother Paul de Musset would preserve these, and many other details, for posterity, in a biography on his famous younger brother. [2]

Alfred de Musset entered the lycée Henri-IV at the age of nine, where in 1827 he won the Latin essay prize in the Concours général. With the help of Paul Foucher, Victor Hugo's brother-in-law, he began to attend, at the age of 17, the Cénacle, the literary salon of Charles Nodier at the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. After attempts at careers in medicine (which he gave up owing to a distaste for dissections), law, [1] drawing, English and piano, he became one of the first Romantic writers, with his first collection of poems, Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie (1829, Tales of Spain and Italy). [1] By the time he reached the age of 20, his rising literary fame was already accompanied by a sulphurous reputation fed by his dandy side.

Lycée Henri-IV Public school in Paris, France

The Lycée Henri-IV is a public secondary school located in Paris. Along with Louis-le-Grand, it is widely regarded as the most prestigious and demanding sixth-form colleges (lycées) in France.

In France, the Concours Général is the most prestigious academic competition held every year between students of Première and Terminale in almost all subjects taught in both general, technological and professional high schools. Exams usually take place in March, and their results are known in June or July. Students who show great ability in one field are selected to participate by their teachers and their school principal. Most of the time, no more than one student per high school is allowed to participate in the competition, which requires strong knowledge of college level topics. In the humanities and social sciences, the exams involve one or more essays and last 5 hours. In the sciences, the exams last almost as long and are problem-based.

Paul Foucher French writer (1810-1875)

Paul-Henri Foucher was a French playwright, theatre and music critic, political journalist, and novelist.

He was the librarian of the French Ministry of the Interior under the July Monarchy. His politics were of a Liberal stamp and he was on good terms with the family of Louis Philippe I. [3] During this time he also involved himself in polemics during the Rhine crisis of 1840, caused by the French prime minister Adolphe Thiers, who as Minister of the Interior had been Musset's superior. Thiers had demanded that France should own the left bank of the Rhine (described as France's "natural boundary"), as it had under Napoleon, despite the territory's German population. These demands were rejected by German songs and poems, including Nikolaus Becker's Rheinlied, which contained the verse: "Sie sollen ihn nicht haben, den freien, deutschen Rhein ..." (They shall not have it, the free, German Rhine). Musset answered to this with a poem of his own: "Nous l'avons eu, votre Rhin allemand" (We've had it, your German Rhine).

July Monarchy kingdom governing France, 1830-1848

The July Monarchy was a liberal constitutional monarchy in France under Louis Philippe I, starting with the July Revolution of 1830 and ending with the Revolution of 1848. It marks the end of the Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830). It began with the overthrow of the conservative government of Charles X, the last king of the House of Bourbon.

Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Yellow is the political colour most commonly associated with liberalism.

Louis Philippe I King of the French

Louis Philippe I was King of the French from 1830 to 1848. As Duke of Chartres he distinguished himself commanding troops during the Revolutionary Wars but broke with the Republic over its decision to execute King Louis XVI. He fled to Switzerland in 1793 after being connected with a plot to restore France's monarchy. His father Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans fell under suspicion and was executed, and Louis Philippe remained in exile for 21 years until the Bourbon Restoration. He was proclaimed king in 1830 after his cousin Charles X was forced to abdicate by the July Revolution. The reign of Louis Philippe is known as the July Monarchy and was dominated by wealthy industrialists and bankers. He followed conservative policies, especially under the influence of French statesman François Guizot during the period 1840–48. He also promoted friendship with Britain and sponsored colonial expansion, notably the French conquest of Algeria. His popularity faded as economic conditions in France deteriorated in 1847, and he was forced to abdicate after the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1848. He lived out his life in exile in the United Kingdom. His supporters were known as Orléanists, as opposed to Legitimists who supported the main line of the House of Bourbon.

The tale of his celebrated love affair with George Sand in 1833–1835 [1] is told from his point of view in his autobiographical novel La Confession d'un Enfant du Siècle (The Confession of a Child of the Century) (1836), [1] which was made into a 1999 film, Children of the Century , and a 2012 film, Confession of a Child of the Century , and is told from her point of view in her Elle et lui (1859). Musset's Nuits (Nights) (1835–1837) traces the emotional upheaval of his love for Sand from early despair to final resignation. [1] He is also believed to be the anonymous author of Gamiani, or Two Nights of Excess (1833), a lesbian erotic novel also believed to be modeled on Sand. [4]

George Sand 19th-century French novelist and memoirist

Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, best known by her pen name George Sand, was a French novelist, memoirist and socialist. One of the most popular writers in Europe in her lifetime, being more popular than both Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac in England in the 1830s and 1840s, Sand is recognised as one of the most notable writers of the European Romantic era.

<i>Children of the Century</i> 1999 film by Diane Kurys

Children of the Century is a 1999 French film based on the true tale of the tumultuous love affair between two French literary icons of the 19th century, novelist George Sand and poet Alfred de Musset.

<i>Confession of a Child of the Century</i> 2012 film

Confession of a Child of the Century is a 2012 drama film directed by Sylvie Verheyde. The film competed in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. In spite of its selection to the prestigious festival, the film gained notoriety as being the lowest-grossing US theatrical release of 2015; it generated only US$74 from its one-week, one-theater theatrical run. The film is an adaptation of Alfred de Musset's 1836 autobiographical novel of the same name.

Outside of his relationship to Sand, he was a well-known figure in brothels and is widely accepted to be the anonymous author-client who beat and humiliated the author and courtesan Céleste de Chabrillan, also known as La Mogador.

Tomb of Alfred de Musset in Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris Tombe Musset 2013.jpg
Tomb of Alfred de Musset in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Musset was dismissed from his post as librarian by the new minister Ledru-Rollin after the revolution of 1848. He was, however, appointed librarian of the Ministry of Public Instruction in 1853.

On 24 April 1845 Musset received the Légion d'honneur at the same time as Balzac, and was elected to the Académie française in 1852 after two failed attempts in 1848 and 1850.

Alfred de Musset died in his sleep in Paris in 1857. The cause was heart failure, the combination of alcoholism and a longstanding aortic insufficiency. One symptom that had been noticed by his brother was a bobbing of the head as a result of the amplification of the pulse; this was later called de Musset's sign. [5] He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


Rolla by Henri Gervex, 1878 Henri Gervex "Rolla".jpg
Rolla by Henri Gervex, 1878

The French poet Arthur Rimbaud was highly critical of Musset's work. Rimbaud wrote in his Letters of a Seer (Lettres du Voyant) that Musset did not accomplish anything because he "closed his eyes" before the visions (Letter to Paul Demeny, May 1871).

Director Jean Renoir's La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) was inspired by Musset's play Les Caprices de Marianne .

Henri Gervex's 1878 painting Rolla was based on a poem by De Musset. It was rejected by the jury of the Salon de Paris for immorality, since it features suggestive metaphors in a scene from the poem, with a naked prostitute after having sex with her client, but the controversy helped Gervex's career.


Numerous (often French) composers wrote works using Musset's poetry during the 19th and early 20th century.

Georges Bizet's opera Djamileh (1871, with a libretto by Louis Gallet) is based on Musset's story Namouna. [6] Bizet also set Musset's poem "A Une Fleur" for voice and piano.

Ruggero Leoncavallo's symphonic poem "La Nuit de Mai" (1886) was based on Musset's poetry.

Pauline Viardot set Musset's poem "Madrid" for voice and piano as part of her 6 Mélodies (1884).

The play La Coupe et les lèvres was the basis of Giacomo Puccini's opera Edgar (1889).

Dame Ethel Smyth composed an opera based on Fantasio that premiered in Weimar in 1898.

The Welsh composer Morfydd Llwyn Owen wrote song settings for Musset's La Tristesse and Chanson de Fortunio.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Cielo di settembre, op. 1 for solo piano (1910) takes its name from a line of Musset's poem "A quoi rêvent les jeunes filles". The score, in the original publication, is preceded by that line, "Mais vois donc quel beau ciel de septembre…"

Lili Boulanger's Pour les funérailles d'un soldat for baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra is a setting of several lines from Act IV of Musset's play La Coupe et les lèvres.

Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata (1919) is prefaced by two lines from Musset's La Nuit de Mai. [7]

The opera Andrea del Sarto (1968) by French composer Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur (1908–2002) was based on Musset's play André del Sarto.

Lorenzaccio, which takes place in Medici's Florence, was set to music by the musician Sylvano Bussotti in 1972.

Shane Briant plays Alfred de Musset in a Masterpiece Theatre production of "Notorious Woman" in 1974.

In 2007, Céline Dion recorded a song called "Lettre de George Sand à Alfred de Musset" for her album D'elles.




  • À Mademoiselle Zoé le Douairin (1826).
  • Un rêve (1828).
  • Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie (1830).
  • La Quittance du diable (1830).
  • La Coupe et les lèvres (1831).
  • Namouna (1831).
  • Rolla (1833).
  • Perdican (1834).
  • Camille et Rosette (1834).
  • L'Espoir en Dieu (1838).
  • La Nuit de mai (1835).
  • La Nuit de décembre (1835).
  • La Nuit d'août (1836).
  • La Nuit d'octobre (1837).
  • La Nuit d'avril (1838).
  • Chanson de Barberine (1836).
  • À la Malibran (1837).
  • Tristesse (1840).
  • Une Soirée perdue (1840).
  • Souvenir (1841).
  • Le Voyage où il vous plaira (1842).
  • Sur la paresse (1842).
  • Après une lecture (1842).
  • Les Filles de Loth (1849).
  • Carmosine (1850).
  • Bettine (1851).
  • Faustine (1851).
  • Œuvres posthumes (1860).



  • La Confession d'un enfant du siècle (The Confession of a Child of the Century, 1836). [2]
  • Histoire d'un merle blanc (The White Blackbird, 1842).

Short stories and novellas

  • Emmeline (1837).
  • Le Fils du Titien (1838).
  • Frédéric et Bernerette (1838).
  • Margot (1838).
  • Croisilles (1839).
  • Les Deux Maîtresses (1840).
  • Histoire d'un merle blanc (1842).
  • Pierre et Camille (1844).
  • Le Secret de Javotte (1844).
  • Les Frères Van Buck (1844).
  • Mimi Pinson (1845).
  • La Mouche (1853).

In English translation

  • A Good Little Wife (1847).
  • Selections from the Prose and Poetry of Alfred de Musset (1870).
  • Tales from Alfred de Musset (1888).
  • The Beauty Spot (1888).
  • Old and New (1890).
  • The Confession of a Child of the Century (1892).
  • Barberine (1892).
  • The Complete Writings of Alfred de Musset (1907).
  • The Green Coat (1914).
  • Fantasio (1929).
  • Camille and Perdican (1961).
  • Historical Dramas (1997).
  • Lorenzaccio (1998).
  • Twelve Plays (2001).

Selected filmography

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 His names are often reversed "Louis Charles Alfred de Musset": see "(Louis Charles) Alfred de Musset" (bio),, 2007, webpage: Bio9413.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Chessville – Alfred de Musset: Romantic Player", Robert T. Tuohey,, 2006, webpage: Chessville-deMusset Archived 23 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine .
  3. The Spectator, Volume 50. F.C. Westley. 1877. p. 983.
  4. Kendall-Davies, Barbara (2003). The Life and Work of Pauline Viardot Garcia. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 45–46. ISBN   1-904303-27-7.
  5. "Twelve eponymous signs of aortic regurgitation, one of which was named after a patient instead of a physician", in: The American Journal of Cardiology, vol. 93, issue 10, 15 May 2004, pp. 1332–3; by Tsung O. Cheng MD.
  6. Macdonald, Hugh. "Djamileh". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera – Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 4 September 2014.(subscription required)
  7. Curtis, Liane. "Clarke, Rebecca". Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  8. Auden, W.H.; Kronenberger, Louis (1966). The Viking Book of Aphorisms. New York: Viking Press.
  9. "A quote by Alfred de Musset".
  10. Ballou, Maturin Murray (1881). Pearls of Thought. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, p. 266.


Further reading