Eugène Brieux firmly believed that the public need know only a man’s work, not the man himself. Even during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, the years of his greatest popularity, Brieux shunned the limelight. Typically, after his initial acclaim and good fortune enabled him to purchase a house on the Riviera, Brieux chose to move his residence as soon as a new road provided the curious with easy access to him. As a result of his retiring attitude, little is known concerning his formative years.
Brieux was born in Paris in 1858 into a working-class family, the son of a carpenter. Orphaned at the age of fourteen, he received little formal schooling. An avid reader, he attempted to educate himself, but his plan to follow prescribed school curriculum came to an end when Greek proved an insurmountable obstacle. Attempting to make ends meet as a clerk, he frequently read by lamplight or in the dimly lit hall of the building in which he lived.
A century earlier, Brieux would have become a preacher, he once observed; for a time, he decided to follow the life of a missionary. That missionary zeal Brieux eventually channeled into his writing. Interested in the dramatic literature of his time, especially the thesis plays of Augier, he believed that he could make a lasting mark as a dramatist. He submitted some of his early efforts both to Augier and to Zola but received no encouragement from either. To earn a living as a writer, he worked for various newspapers, at last settling in Rouen, where eventually he became editor of La Nouvelliste de Rouen.
During this period, Brieux continued to send manuscripts of...
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