Eugène-Marin Labiche, the son of Jacques Philippe Marin Labiche, owner of a glucose factory at Reuil, was born into a comfortable bourgeois household. Only a mediocre student at the Collège Bourbon, the future playwright passed his baccalaureate examinations, achieving high honors because, according to his own admission, he had memorized the study manual. With three classmates, he then toured Switzerland, Italy, and Sicily before entering law school in 1834.
Labiche eventually received a law degree, but he became increasingly interested in writing and the theater. He published travel pieces, short stories, drama reviews, and miscellaneous literary pieces in journals such as Essor, Chérubin, and the Revue du théâtre. Frequenting the popular cafés and the theater wings, he established a reputation as a reasonable, well-behaved young man-about-town. Although in later years Labiche placed his theatrical debut in 1838 with M. de Coyllin: Ou, L’Homme infiniment poli (the infinitely polite man), he had in fact collaborated on a comedy the year before with Auguste Lefranc and Marc-Antoine-Amédée Michel. This play, La Cuvette d’eau (the bucket of water), and another one from the same year were never published and so have left no visible traces. Two additional comedies and a drama were only moderately successful. Labiche did not take his efforts at playwriting seriously but continued because he enjoyed it and wrote easily.
The year 1839 marked two important turning points in Labiche’s career. He saw his aspirations for becoming a novelist dashed by the unsuccessful reception accorded La Clef des champs (the key of the fields); only three hundred copies were printed, and Labiche had them withdrawn almost immediately. At the same time, he had written a vaudeville piece with Lefranc and Michel that they signed under the collective pseudonym Paul Dandré. Its popular success convinced Labiche that he had found his place as a writer.
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