French Literature Of The 19th Century:
The Romantic Novelists
Philosophers And Historians
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
After Hugo there followed a brilliant crowd of writers, who adorn the new reign of Romance. In the Cénacle one of the youngest was Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), a typical Parisian, regarding pleasure as the chief end of life. He was a disciple of Hugo, and still more of Byron, and published at nineteen, "Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie" (Stories of Spain and Italy), which had an immediate success. The stories are in verse and are ideals of love-poetry. His first drama, "Une Nuit Vénitienne" (A Venetian Night), failed on the stage in 183o, and the author was seriously hurt. After some further poems, Musset returned to the drama, producing "Les Caprices de Marianne" (Marianne's Caprices), in which he sought to present a compromise which should combine the merits of the Classical and the Romantic schools. Through adhering pretty closely to the unities, it is fully imbued with the Romantic spirit. It is called a comedy from its fresh dialogue and swift action, but it has also tragical elements in plot and character. The chief event of Musset's career is his unfortunate liaison with George Sand, which has given rise to much controversy. The two authors went to Italy in 1833, and after a short period of passionate devotion, separated. George Sand published her version of the story in "Elle et Lui" (She and He), charging him with mad jealousy. After Alfred's death, his brother Paul replied in "Lui et Elle" (He and She), charging her with infidelity. When Alfred recovered from the shock, he produced his most notable poems, "Les Nuits" (The Nights), describing the seasons of love in four parts, May, August, October, December. His prose "Confession d'un Enfant du Siècle" (Confession of a Child of the Age), is a wild protest against his surroundings, throwing all the blame of the moral evil of the time on the despotism of Napoleon. The fault of the poet's life lay in the moral weakness of the man himself. His genius enabled him to give expression to the ardor of his youth and to the mental conflict of his later dissipated life. He was admitted to the Academy in 1852, being then regarded as a poet of the highest rank.
Other poets and dramatists of the Romantic school who became also novelists, will be treated later. The most notable were Théophile Gautier and Alexandre Dumas. Petrus Borel and Gerard de Nerval affected wierd poetry with a certain success. Later came Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who translated Poe's short stories. He copied and exaggerated the morbid features of his master's imaginative writings. He had, however, original genius which he unfortunately put to vile uses, making the evil of human nature the theme for his artistic skill in language. His excellent critical instinct is seen in some admirable studies of poets.