Guillaume-Victor-Émile Augier once said that after his birth nothing had ever happened to him. Aside from his generally triumphant career in the theater, Augier’s life was, in fact, largely uneventful. Augier was born at Valence, of a wealthy middle-class family, in 1820. The grandson of the celebrated writer Charles Pigault-Lebrun, who in 1831 dedicated to him his book of short stories Contes à mon petit-fils, Augier was not long in discovering his own literary proclivities. His father, Victor Augier, was a lawyer and hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps. In 1828, Victor took the family to Paris, where he bought a notary’s practice, and Augier did embark on a law career in the offices of M. Masson after establishing a fine academic record at the Collège Henri IV.
Although he obtained a law degree from the University of Paris in 1844, Augier did not practice, preferring to write for the stage. Indeed, the very year in which he completed his law studies, Augier presented the first of nine verse plays, La Ciguë, to the Théâtre-Français, which rejected it. He then submitted it to the Théâtre de l’Odéon, which performed it, and successfully. From that point on, Augier, with rare exceptions, was exclusively absorbed in the writing of plays. His career as a playwright, a career whose general orientation toward social drama was already discernible in these early verse plays, developed rapidly and securely. He wrote mainly for the Comédie-Française, the Théâtre du Gymnase, the Théâtre de l’Odéon, and the Théâtre du Vaudeville.
In 1853, Augier began seriously to write plays in prose, collaborating with Jules Sandeau on La Pierre de touche. He had already worked with Sandeau on the composition of La Chasse au roman in 1851, and before that, with Alfred de Musset on The Green Coat in 1849. In succeeding years, he collaborated again with Sandeau and coauthored plays also with Eugène Labiche and Édouard Foussier . Influenced by the example of François Ponsard, who had become the leading advocate of the école de bon sens , or “school of common sense,” a movement designed to free the French theater of Romantic extremes,...
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