“This vague, hopeless love I had conceived for an actress, this love which swept me up every evening when the curtain rose, only to release me when sleep finally descended, had its seed in the memory of Adrienne, a night-flower blooming in the pale effulgence of the moon, a phantom fair and rosy gliding over the green grass half-bathed in white mist…”
Sylvie is a novella by French Romanticist Gérard de Nerval. The story, ‘un petit roman’ is about a hero's love for three women, all of whom he loses; an anthem to unattainable, unrequited love.
It was first published in the periodical La Revue des Deux Mondes in 1853, and as a book in Les Filles du feu in 1854, a few months before Nerval killed himself in January 1855.
The book begins at the theatre, where the narrator is said to spend each might ‘dressed in the elegant garb of an ardent suitor.’
He thinks he is in love with an actress, Aurelie; and one assumes, at this early stage, that Sylvie is going to be a love story, (or perhaps an anti-love story), about the romantic tortures of a central male character in unforgiving Paris.
But Sylvie is, at heart, a brilliant portrait of a doomed man who is, in countless ways sadly and tragically grasping at thin air.
Sylvie is often considered Nerval's prose masterpiece, and has been a favorite of Marcel Proust, André Breton, Joseph Cornell and Umberto Eco.
Gérard de Nerval French, [1808 –1855] was the nom-de-plume of the French writer, poet, essayist and translator Gérard Labrunie. A major figure of French romanticism, he is best known for his poems and novellas, especially the collection Les Filles du feu (The Daughters of Fire), which includes the novella Sylvie and the poem "El Desdichado". His later work delved into the relationship between poetry and madness, reality and fiction, and dreams and life. Thus he had a great influence on Marcel Proust, André Breton and Surrealism in general.