Alfred Victor, Comte de Vigny 

Portrait of Alfred Victor, Comte de Vigny

Alfred Victor, Comte de Vigny was a French poet, Novelist and translator and early Romanticist. He was born on 27th March 1797 in Loches, France and died on 17th September 1863 in Paris, France aged 66.

Major Works

“Cinq Mars” (1826)
“Chatterton” (1835)
“Servitude et Grandeur Militaires” (The Warrior’s life) (1835)

Biography Timeline

Alfred-Victor, count de Vigny was born on 27th March 1797 in Loches, France into an impoverished aristocratic family. His father was a retired soldier who had fought in the Seven Years War. His mother was twenty years younger than her husband who followed the views of Jean Jacques Rousseau and took charge of her son’s education. He grew up in Paris and attended the Lycee Bonaparte and later the Ecole Polytechnic where he was fascinated by military matters.

1814: His family are loyal to the crown and he becomes a second lieutenant in the Maison du Roi (King’s Guard) when the Bourbon family returns to power.

1820: He publishes his first poem, “Le Bal”.

1822: He is promoted to first lieutenant but never sees action on the battlefield and continues writing. His first collection of verse “Poèmes” is published as well as submissions to Victor Hugo’s literary magazine “La Muse Française”. 

1823: He is promoted to Captain.

1824: He writes the narrative poem “Éloa” about the redemption of Satan.

1825: His relationship with the writer Delphine Gay comes to an end and in February he marries Lydia Bunbury, the daughter of a wealthy Englishman in Pau. Taking leave from the army he settles in Paris with his new bride.

1826: “Poèmes” is expanded under the title of “Poèmes Antiques et Modernes” and is a great success. Three months later he publishes the first major historical novel in French, “Cinq-Mars” about the conspiracy surrounding King Louis the Thirteenth’s favourite the Marquis de Cinq-Mars against Cardinal de Richelieu. It is popular due to the fact that the historical novels of Walter Scott are very much in vogue at the time.

1827: He finally leaves the Army after a long leave of absence. The visit of an English theatre group in Paris revives French interest in the plays of William Shakespeare.

1828: He translates “Roméo et Juliette” and writes “Shylock” based on Shakespeare’s original.

1829: His “Le More de Venise” based on Shakespeare’s “Othello” is first performed alongside “Shylock”. The poet Alphonse de Lamartine recognises him as a true Romantic and Victor Hugo and Charles Sainte-Beuve become his friend.

1830: After the July revolution of 1830 his mood about the workings politics becomes melancholy. He remains faithful to the monarchy even though he realises that Charles the Tenth is no better than the ousted Louis-Phillippe. He writes “La Marechale d’Ancre”.

1831: He writes the poem “Paris” in a new style he terms élévations. “La Maréchale d’Ancre”, his first original play tells of the events immediately prior to the reign of King Louis the Thirteenth. He begins a liaison with the actress Marie Dorval. (His wife was an invalid who could not speak much French and they had no children. His father-in-law’s remarriage also deprives the couple of the hoped-for inheritance).

1832: He writes “Stello” which is a series of dialogues between Doctor Noir, representing Vigny’s intellect and Stello representing the poet’s desire for an active role in the public arena. 

1833: His comedy “Quitte Pour la Peur” (Leave for Fear) is first performed.

1835: He takes the part of “Stello” dealing with the suicide of Thomas Chatterton and expands it into a drama in three acts called “Chatterton”. He makes great play of the nobility and suffering of a misunderstood genius in a modern materialistic society and it is seen as one of the best Romantic dramas. Marie Dorval plays Kitty Bell in the first performance. He also writes the novel “Servitude et Grandeur Militaires” (The Military Necessity) which deals with the suffering of soldiers. 

1838: His relationship with Marie Dorval, which was plagued with jealousy when he even accused her of having an affair with George Sand, comes to an end. At the death of his mother he inherits the country house Maine-Giraud, near Angoulême and he retires there rarely going out, which leads to the famous expression by Sainte-Beuve describing him as retreating to an “ivory tower”. He writes the poems “La Mort du Loup” (The Death of the Wolf) and “La Maison du Berger” (The Shepherds Hut). Always interested in philosophy he begin writing a series of “Poèmes Philosophiques” which are not published until 1867, after his death, as “Les Destinées, Le Journal d’un Poète”.

1841: He stands as a candidate for the Academie Francaise but is rejected and only elected in 1845. 

1848: He had at first welcomed the Second French Republic but then rejects it in favour of Louis Napoleon, later Emperor Napoleon the Third and becomes enthusiastic in outing liberal republicans.

1862: His wife, Lydia, finally dies.

Alfred-Victor, Count de Vigny died of stomach cancer on 17th September 1863 in Paris, France after much suffering. He was buried beside his wife in the Cimitiere de Montmartre in Paris. Several of his works were published posthumously including “Daphné”, and “Mémoires Inédits”.