Gérard Labrunie Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Gérard de Nerval was born Gérard Labrunie, the son of Étienne Labrunie, a medical doctor, and of Marie-Antoinette Marguerite Laurent, daughter of a Paris draper. Nerval did not change his name until 1831, when he signed a letter “G. la Brunie de Nerval,” taking the name from a property, Le Clos de Nerval, belonging to his mother’s family. The name is also an anagram of his mother’s maiden name, Laurent. It is known that Nerval hated his father, who served with Napoleon’s Grande Armée as a field surgeon and who was, throughout the poet’s life, an aloof, insensitive parent. Nerval’s mother died when the boy was only two years old, and Nerval was sent to live with his granduncle, Antoine Boucher, at Mortefontaine. These early years Nerval later described as the happiest of his life. He had free range of a library of occult books and discussed philosophy with his granduncle, who may have served as a model for Père Dodu in Nerval’s short story “Sylvie.” When Nerval’s father returned from the front in 1814, the boy joined him in Paris. In 1820, Nerval entered the Collège Charlemagne, where he began to exhibit a fondness for literary pursuits and began his lifelong friendship with the poet Théophile Gautier.

In November, 1827, Nerval published his translation of Goethe’s Faust: Eine Tragödie (1808), but under the publication date of 1828. This work was well received in Parisian literary circles, and Nerval became a disciple of Victor Hugo and joined his Cénacle Romantique. In the notorious dispute that followed the disruptive theatrical opening (February 25, 1830) of Hugo’s play Hernani, however, Nerval sided with Gautier, and thereafter Nerval frequented Gautier’s petit cénacle.

An inheritance from his maternal grandfather in 1834 allowed Nerval to give up his medical studies and pursue a literary...

(The entire section is 771 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Except for some foreign travel, Gérard de Nerval spent his entire life in Paris, where he was born Gérard Labrunie, son of a medical doctor, in 1808. He assumed the name “de Nerval” and is often referred to simply as “Gérard.”

The deaths of two women marked Nerval’s life. His mother died when he was two years old. Then as a young man he was passionately attracted to Jenny Colon, an actress who married another man in 1838 and died in 1842. Nerval never married but continued to fantasize about an ideal but inaccessible woman.

Mental illness also tormented Nerval. After an attack of what may have been schizophrenia, he was treated at a clinic in Montmartre. His doctor there found him well enough to leave but not cured. Nerval’s father suggested that a warmer climate might help him. Thus Nerval made an extended trip to Egypt, the Holy Land, and Constantinople in 1843.

After his trip, Nerval suffered frequent recurrences of his illness. He continued to be active, wrote extensively, traveled within Europe, and enjoyed the support of the most important writers in Paris at the time. Still, in 1855, he was found hanged in a Paris street, an apparent suicide.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111207201-Nerval.jpg Gérard de Nerval (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Many writers’ lives reflect a spiritual quest. Rarely, however, do personal experience, history, myth, and dream fuse so completely as they did in the life of Gérard de Nerval (nehr-vahl). Wide literary explorations, particularly into metaphysical German Romanticism; fascination with the occult, coupled with an enduring interest in the strangely evocative simplicity of folk song and legend; an insatiable wanderlust, leading to extended travels in Italy, Germany, and the Middle East (documented in Journey to the Orient), and many excursions in and about Paris (Promenades et souvenirs); intense probing of the half-perceived realm where, according to his friend Théophile Gautier, “the soul becomes aware of invisible relationships, of previously unnoticed coincidences”—reflected in his writings, all these paths led him to “states of supernaturalistic revery” in which barriers of time and identity dissolved.{$S[A]Labrunie, Gérard;Nerval, Gérard de}

Born Gérard Labrunie in 1808, as a writer Nerval differs from his Romantic contemporaries in transmuting his personal experiences and literary and occult gleanings into a highly complex personal mythology. In his distilled reminiscences survive some of the most richly musical, hauntingly suggestive yet lucid prose and poetry of the pre-Symbolist period. Through translations he played an important role in introducing the folk-like ballads of G. A. Bürger, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Heinrich Heine to the French public. His own early poetry, collected as Les Odelettes, reveals a gift for form at once simple, delicate, and firm. Yet his taste for simplicity of expression blended with the vision of a mystic. The Germany of Friedrich Hölderlin and Jean-Paul Richter, and of the fantastic tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann, had a powerful appeal to him. At the age of eighteen he was at work on his translation of Faust, a poetic accomplishment that won the praises of Goethe. The...

(The entire section is 807 words.)