French writer Alfred de Musset was born on December 11, 1810 in Paris. His parents moved in the right social circles, despite having very little money. Musset attended the prestigious collège Henri IV where he won a prize for Latin. He tried his hand at medicine, but gave it up when he found he didn’t have the stomach for dissection. In short order, he dabbled in law, drawing, English, and piano before settling on writing. When he was only 20, he published Contes d’Espagne et d’Italie (Tales of Spain and Italy) and fame followed. Like his father, Musset held various government positions to supplement his income as a writer.
He had lots of material to write about based on his love affair with George Sand (a.k.a. Aurore Dupin), which inspired his autobiographical novel La Confession d’un Enfant du Siècle (The Confession of a Child of the Century). In a radio broadcast about the famous couple that I listened to with my students this year, Sand was even unfaithful to him with his own doctor when he was seriously ill! Céline Dion recorded a song entitled “Lettre de George Sand à Alfred de Musset” that focused on the pleasanter parts of their relationship.
Musset was awarded the Légion d’Honneur and he was also elected to the Académie Française. He died in his sleep on May 2, 1857 due to a combination of alcoholism and a heart condition. Musset’s characteristically bobbing head was a sign of his aortic insufficiency and this has become known as de Musset’s sign.
Today’s phrase, “Les grands artists n’ont pas de patrie,” (lay grahnz arteest nohn pah duh patree) which means “Great artists have no country.” France, however, is pretty pleased to claim Musset as its own.
- Confession of a Child of the Century – review (guardian.co.uk)