Darling Fan and Further Octet of Essays 5 Alfred de Musset Blessed with Every Great Gift
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It was in the glittering Paris of the 1830s that a certain French Romantic poet, playwright and novelist of noble birth by the name of Alfred Charles de Musset-Pathay came close to having the exorbitant ambition of one who didn't want to write unless to aspire to the greatness of a Shakespeare or a Schiller. But then as the son and grandson of writers he'd been an outstanding student; and one who'd published both his first poem and a translation of de Quincey's The Confessions of an English Opium Eater when he was just 16 years old.
And he entered that decade blessed with every great gift a gilded young genius might hope to possess. Being tender as well as elegant, beautiful as well as brilliant, and an irresistible enthusiast...brimful with passion and sensibility. But he'd have to wait a few years before real artistic success came his way.
And his was the era in which the Romantic movement came into full flower in France, and he revelled in it, this prince of youth, his sphere, the mondain café society of the Parisian Right Bank, his closest friend, fellow dandy Alfred Tattet.
And yet for all his dandyism, his relationship with fellow Romantic George Sand arguably had much of the Bohemian about it in terms of its turbulence and debauchery.
It impelled the former golden boy of French letters to pen his hyper-emotional The Confession of a Child of the Century, which was as much about his failed love affair with Sand as the disenchantment of the generation that had come to maturity in the wake of the Revolutionary Age.
Sand, born Amantine Lucile Dupin in Paris in 1810, was clearly a woman of quite extraordinary magnetic power...and by the time of her affair with Musset, she was a divorcee with two young children, and a baroness to boot, even though her own roots were only partly aristocratic. For her effect on Musset was little short of cataclysmic, inspiring much of his finest work; and not just the Confession.
For the famous series of poems known as Les Nuits, composed between 1835 and '37, also spring from his unhappy relationship with Sand, and they are rightly considered to be among the unimpeachable masterpieces of French Romanticism. Indeed of French literature as a whole.
Yet it could be argued that Musset is best known for his theatrical writings, which began as early as 1830 with La Nuit Vénitienne. And of which Lorenzaccio from 1833, and On ne badine pas avec l'amour from '34 are among the most celebrated.
Having said that, it's the Confession, as well as the true life romance at its heart, that appear to most inspire contemporary creators. And certainly it's a glamorous tale; while Musset's life itself is the stuff of legend.
Yet despite the fact that like Gautier, he became a deeply respectable figure in late middle age, receiving the National Order of the Legion of Honour in 1845, before being elected to the French Academy in '52, his was an ultimately tragic life, blighted by alcoholism. Which together with the condition known as aortic insufficiency, brought about his demise from heart failure at just 46 years old.
An age which appears to be a common one for the deaths of great poets whose flaming, beautiful youths were garlanded with the most magnificent promise imaginable. For as well as Musset...Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde died at 46, and together they might serve as a testimony to the awful truth of the brevity of even the most glorious of youths.
As well as the ruinous nature of youthful self-indulgence which so often leads ultimately to what is described in 2 Corinthians 7:10 as "the sorrow of the world," and of which Musset's own heartbreaking poem, Tristesse, is a pre-eminent expression. As opposed, that is to "godly sorrow," which "worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of."
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