Mal du siècle

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Edgar Degas, Melancholy (c. 1874) Edgar Degas- Melancholy.JPG
Edgar Degas, Melancholy (c. 1874)
Akseli Gallen-Kallela,' painting Symposium made in 1894. From left: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Oskar Merikanto, Robert Kajanus and Jean Sibelius. Gallen Kallela Symposion.jpg
Akseli Gallen-Kallela,' painting Symposium made in 1894. From left: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Oskar Merikanto, Robert Kajanus and Jean Sibelius.

Mal du siècle (French:  [mal dy sjɛkl] , "sickness of the century") is a term used to refer to the ennui, disillusionment, and melancholy experienced by primarily young adults of Europe's early 19th century, when speaking in terms of the rising Romantic movement. François-René de Chateaubriand's protagonist René characterizes the Romantic ennui that would become a benchmark of the Romantic esthetic in the first half of the century:

Depression (mood) state of low mood and aversion to activity

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity. It can affect a person's thoughts, behavior, motivation, feelings, and sense of well-being. It may feature sadness, difficulty in thinking and concentration and a significant increase/decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, and people experiencing depression may have feelings of dejection, hopelessness and, sometimes, suicidal thoughts. It can either be short term or long term. Depressed mood is a symptom of some mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia; it is a normal temporary reaction to life events, such as the loss of a loved one; and it is also a symptom of some physical diseases and a side effect of some drugs and medical treatments.

A young adult is generally a person ranging in age from their late teens or early twenties to their thirties, although definitions and opinions, such as Erik Erikson's stages of human development, vary. The young adult stage in human development precedes middle adulthood. A person in the middle adulthood stage ages from 40 or 41 to 64. In old age, a person is 65 years old or older.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

Contents

René is a young man who was suffering from the moral malady known as "le mal du siècle". This was an "état d'âme" [note 1] that was not uncommon during the first half of the nineteenth century, and that was often copied and idealized in literature. It was largely boredom. Other manifestations were: melancholy of an aristocratic type, precocious apathy, discouragement without cause, distaste for living. The will seemed paralyzed by the contemplation of life's struggle. Faith and a sense of duty were alike absent. Man was "possédé, tourmenté par le démon de son cœur." [note 2] Morbid sadness was mistaken for the suffering of a proud and superior mind. There was in it all a certain "bonheur d'être triste" [note 3] which attracted. This pessimistic state was analyzed in René with great subtlety and penetration. The hero was made a most original and living type, a type that was repeated in the Childe Harold and Manfred of Byron, and even, in some of its manifestations, in the Hernani of Victor Hugo. In the opinion of Chateaubriand, René was his masterpiece. Later judgments regarding it are not unanimous, but many authoritative French critics see in it one of the masterpieces of their literature. [1]

<i>Childe Harolds Pilgrimage</i> poem by Lord Byron

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a lengthy narrative poem in four parts written by Lord Byron. It was published between 1812 and 1818 and is dedicated to "Ianthe". The poem describes the travels and reflections of a world-weary young man who, disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands. In a wider sense, it is an expression of the melancholy and disillusionment felt by a generation weary of the wars of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The title comes from the term childe, a medieval title for a young man who was a candidate for knighthood.

<i>Manfred</i> closet drama by Lord Byron

Manfred: A dramatic poem is a closet drama written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Gothic fiction.

Lord Byron English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, known simply as Lord Byron, was an English poet, peer, and politician who became a revolutionary in the Greek War of Independence, and is considered one of the historical leading figures of the Romantic movement of his era. He is regarded as one of the greatest English poets and remains widely read and influential. Among his best-known works are the lengthy narrative poems Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage; many of his shorter lyrics in Hebrew Melodies also became popular.

While Chateaubriand was the first to "diagnose" this "illness", it is Alfred de Musset who further popularized the notion of a "mal du siècle" in his La Confession d'un enfant du siècle (Confession of a Child of the Century). [2] Musset notably attributed the malady to the loss of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French nation's modern father figure:

Alfred de Musset French writer

Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay was a French dramatist, poet, and novelist. Along with his poetry, he is known for writing the autobiographical novel La Confession d'un enfant du siècle.

Voilà dans quel chaos il fallut choisir alors; voilà ce qui se présentait à des enfants pleins de force et d'audace, fils de l'empire et petits-fils de la révolution. [...] l'esprit du siècle, ange du crépuscule, qui n'est ni la nuit, ni le jour. [3]

Lo and behold in what chaos, then, one must choose; behold the choice that is given to children full of strength and audacity, sons of the Empire and grandsons of the Revolution. [...] the spirit of the century, angel of dusk, that which is neither night nor day.

See also

Notes

  1. State of the soul
  2. Possessed, tormented by the demon of his heart
  3. Happiness at being sad

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References

  1. Chateaubriand, François-René. Atala and René. Trans. Benjamin Lester Bowen. Scott, Foresman and Company, 1901.
  2. Hoog, Armand and Brombert, Beth. "Who Invented the Mal du Siècle?" Yale French Studies, No. 13, Romanticism Revisited (1954), pp. 42-51
  3. Musset, Alfred de. La Confession d'un enfant du siècle. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1993, p. 31
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