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Alfred de Musset
Musset painted by Charles Landelle
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

Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay (French: [al.fʁɛd 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]


Commemorative plaque, 6 rue du Mont-Thabor, Paris

Musset was born in Paris. His family was upper-class but poor; his father worked in various key government positions, but never gave his son any money. Musset's 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]

An early indication of his boyhood talents was 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 of 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 at age 17. 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.

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 King Louis Philippe. [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).

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]

Outside of his relationship with 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 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

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 shown after having sex with her client, but the controversy helped Gervex's career.

Jean Anouilh's Eurydice (1941) employs an intertextually salient quote of Musset's play On ne badine pas avec l'amour II.5 (1834), "The Tirade of Perdican" — Vincent and Eurydice's Mother rekindle the glorious days of their earlier acting careers and their own amours, when once his on-stage performance of Perdican's tirade instigated their first dressing-room love scene.


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] In 1872 Offenbach composed an opéra comique Fantasio with a libretto by Paul de Musset closely based on the 1834 play of the same name by his brother Alfred. [7] Dame Ethel Smyth composed an opera based on the same work, that premiered in Weimar in 1898. The play La Coupe et les lèvres was the basis of Giacomo Puccini's opera Edgar (1889). Fortunio, a four-act opera by André Messager is based on Musset's 1835 comedy Le Chandelier.The libretto of Mary Rosselli Nissim’s opera Andrea del Sarto (1931) was by Antonio Lega based on writings by Musset. [8] Les caprices de Marianne, a two-act opéra comique by Henri Sauguet (1954) is based on the play by Musset. [9] The opera Andrea del Sarto (1968) by French composer Daniel-Lesur 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.


Bizet set Musset's poems "À une fleur" and "Adieux à Suzon" for voice and piano in 1866; the latter had previously been set by Chabrier in 1862. Pauline Viardot set Musset's poem "Madrid" for voice and piano as part of her 6 Mélodies (1884). The Welsh composer Morfydd Llwyn Owen wrote song settings for Musset's "La Tristesse" and "Chanson de Fortunio". 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.

Instrumental music

Ruggero Leoncavallo's symphonic poem La Nuit de Mai (1886) was based on Musset's poetry. 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…" Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata (1919) is prefaced by two lines from Musset's La Nuit de Mai. [10]


Shane Briant played Alfred de Musset in one episode of a 1974 TV drama series, Notorious Woman.

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


  • "How glorious it is – and also how painful – to be an exception." [11]
  • "Man is a pupil, pain is his teacher." [12]
  • "Verity is nudity." [13]



  • 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


Musset is one of the five characters in the painting George Sand dans l'atelier de Delacroix avec Musset, Balzac et Chopin [14] [George Sand in Delacroix's studio with Musset, Balzac and Chopin] made by Peruvian painter Herman Braun-Vega at the request of the Museums of Châteauroux, France, in 2004, for the bicentenary of George Sand's birth. In his commentary on the painting, Braun-Vega evokes the relationship between Musset and George Sand. [15] The painting was exhibited for the first time in 2004-2005 at the Couvent des Cordeliers in Châteauroux, France.


  1. ^ a b c d e f His names are often reversed "Louis Charles Alfred de Musset": see "(Louis Charles) Alfred de Musset" (bio),, 2007, webpage: Bio9413 Archived 8 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "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. ^ Lamb A., "Jacques Offenbach" (work list). In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  8. ^ Cohen, Aaron I. (1987). International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. Books & Music (USA). p. 601. ISBN  978-0-313-24272-4.
  9. ^ Hoérée A & Langham Smith R. Henri Sauguet. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  10. ^ Curtis, Liane. "Clarke, Rebecca". Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  11. ^ Auden, W.H.; Kronenberger, Louis (1966). The Viking Book of Aphorisms. New York: Viking Press.
  12. ^ "A quote by Alfred de Musset".
  13. ^ Ballou, Maturin Murray (1881). Pearls of Thought. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, p. 266.
  14. ^ Braun-Vega, Herman (2004). "George Sand dans l'atelier de Delacroix avec Musset, Balzac et Chopin" [George Sand in Delacroix's studio with Musset, Balzac and Chopin] (Acrylic on canvas, 146 x 146 cm).
  15. ^ George Sand : Interprétations 2004 (in French). éditions joca seria. 2004. p. 75. ISBN  978-2-848-09036-8. Let's imagine: A visit to Delacroix studio... We are in 1847. The master is making a portrait. George Sand is posing, surrounded by Chopin, Balzac and Musset. [...] Musset, in the shade of sunflowers, makes a strange gesture with the right hand. Does he remember Venice?


  • Affron, Charles (2015). A Stage For Poets: Studies in the Theatre of Hugo and Musset. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Bishop, Lloyd (1987). The Poetry of Alfred de Musset. Styles and Genres. New York City: Peter Lang.
  • Croce, Benedetto (1924). "De Musset." In: European Literature in the Nineteenth Century. London: Chapman & Hall, pp. 252–266.
  • Gochberg, Herbert S. (1967). Stage of Dreams: The Dramatic Art of Alfred de Musset (1828–1834). Geneva: Librairie Droz.
  • Majewski, Henry F. (1989). Paradigm & Parody: Images of Creativity in French Romanticism. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia.
  • Rees, Margaret A. (1971). Alfred de Musset. New York City: Twayne Publishers.
  • Sedgewick, Henry D. (1931). Alfred de Musset, 1810–1857. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs–Merrill Company.
  • Sices, David (1974). The Theatre of Solitude. The Drama of Alfred de Musset. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Further reading

  • "Alfred de Musset, Poet", The Edinburgh Review, Vol. CCIV, 1906, pp. 103–132.
  • Barine, Arvède (1906). The Life of Alfred de Musset. New York: Edwin C. Hill Company.
  • Besant, Walter (1893). "Alfred de Musset." In: Essays and Historiettes. London: Chatto & Windus, pp. 144–169.
  • Beus, Yifen (2003). "Alfred de Musset's Romantic Irony," Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. XXXI, No. 3/4, pp. 197–209.
  • Bishop, Lloyd (1979). "Romantic Irony in Musset's 'Namouna'," Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. VII, No. 3/4, pp. 181–191.
  • Bourcier, Richard J. (1984). "Alfred de Musset: Poetry and Music," The American Benedictine Review, Vol. XXXV, pp. 17–24.
  • Brandes, Georg (1904). Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature, Vol. V. New York: The Macmillan Company, pp. 90–131.
  • Denommé, Robert Thomas (1969). Nineteenth-century French Romantic Poets. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Gamble, D.R. (1989–1990). "Alfred de Musset and the Uses of Experience," Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. XVIII, No. 1/2, pp. 78–84.
  • Gooder, Jean (1986). "Alive or Dead? Alfred de Musset's Supper with Rachel," The Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 2, pp. 173–187.
  • Grayson Jane (1995). "The French Connection: Nabokov and Alfred de Musset. Ideas and Practices of Translation," The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. LXXIII, No. 4, pp. 613–658.
  • Greet, Anne Hyde (1967). "Humor in the Poetry of Alfred de Musset," Studies in Romanticism, Vol. VI, No. 3, pp. 175–192.
  • James, Henry (1878). "Alfred de Musset." In: French Poets and Novelists. London: Macmillan & Co., pp. 1–38.
  • Lefebvre, Henri (1970). Musset: Essai. Paris: L'Arche.
  • Levin, Susan (1998). The Romantic Art of Confession. Columbia, SC: Camden House.
  • Mauris, Maurice (1880). "Alfred de Musset." In: French Men of Letters. New York: D. Appleton and Company, pp. 35–65.
  • Mossman, Carol (2009). Writing with a Vengeance: The Countess de Chabrillan's Rise from Prostitution. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Musset, Paul de (1877). The Biography of Alfred de Musset. Boston: Roberts Brothers.
  • Oliphant, Cyril Francis (1890). Alfred de Musset. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons.
  • Padgett, Graham (1981). "Bad Faith in Alfred de Musset: A Problem of Interpretation," Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. III, pp. 65–82.
  • Palgrave, Francis T. (1855). "The Works of Alfred de Musset." In: Oxford Essays. London: John W. Parker, pp. 80–104.
  • Pitwood, Michael (1985). "Musset." In: Dante and the French Romantics. Genève: Librairie Droz, pp. 209–217.
  • Pollock, Walter Herries (1879). "Alfred de Musset." In: Lectures on French Poets. London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., pp. 43–96.
  • Rees, Margaret A. (1963). "Imagery in the Plays of Alfred de Musset," The French Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, pp. 245–254.
  • Sainte-Beuve, C.A. (1891). "Alfred de Musset." In: Portraits of Men. London: David Scott, pp. 23–35.
  • Stothert, James (1878). "Alfred de Musset," The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. CCXLIII, pp. 215–234.
  • Thomas, Merlin (1985). "Alfred de Musset: Don Juan on the Boulevard de Gand." In: Myths and its Making in the French Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 158–165.
  • Trent, William P. (1899). "Tennyson and Musset Once More." In: The Authority of Criticism. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 269–291.
  • Wright, Rachel L. (1992). "Male Reflectors in the Drama of Alfred de Musset," The French Review, Vol. LXV, No. 3, pp. 393–401.