Mirbeau, Octave (Marie-Henri) 1848-1917

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MIRBEAU, Octave (Marie-Henri) 1848-1917

PERSONAL: Born February 16, 1848 in Trevieres, Normandy, France; died February 16, 1917 in Paris, France; son of Ladislas-François (a physician) and Eugènie-Augustine (Duboscq) Mirbeau; married Alice Regnault (an actress), 1887. Education: Attended College Saint-Françoise-Xavier; University of Caen, B.A, 1866.

CAREER: Novelist, playwright, journalist, critic, and short-story writer. L'Ordre de Paris (Bonapartist newspaper), secretary, 1872-77; Ariegeois, editor, 1877-79; Gaulois, secretary, 1879-81; Illustration, member of staff, 1880-81; Paris-Journal, member of staff, 1881-82; Paris-Midi and Paris-Minuit, editor-in-chief, 1883; Grimaces, member of staff, 1883-84. Military service: Forty-ninth Regiment; served in Franco-Prussian War, 1870; attained rank of lieutenant.

MEMBER: Académie Goncourt (founding member).


Le Comédien, Brunox (Paris, France), 1882.

Maîtres modernes. Le Salon de 1885, Baschet (Paris, France), 1885.

Lettres de ma chaumière, Laurent (Paris, France), 1885, portions published as Contes de la chaumière Charpentier (Paris, France), 1894.

Le pour et le contre, Leon Vanier (Paris, France), 1887.

Le calvaire, Ollendorff (Paris, France), 1887, translation by Louis Rich published as Calvary, Lieber & Lewis (New York, NY), 1922.

L'abbé Jules, Ollendorff (Paris, France), 1888.

Sébastien Roch, Charpentier (Paris, France), 1890.

Les mauvais bergers: pièce en cinq actes et en prose (produced in Paris, France, 1897), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1898.

L'épidémie, piece en une acte et en prose (produced in Paris, France, 1898), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1898.

Le jardin des supplices, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1899, translation by Alvah C. Bessie published as Torture Garden, Claude Kendall (New York, NY), 1931.

Le journal d'une femme de chambre, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1900, translation by William Faro published as Celestine: Being the Diary of a Chambermaid, Faro (New York, NY), 1930.

Les amants, produced in Paris, France, 1901.

Vieux ménages: piece en une acte et en prose (produced in Paris, France, 1901), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1901.

Les vingt et un jours d'un neurasthénique, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1902.

Le portefeuille: comédie en une acte et en prose (produced in Paris, France, 1902), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1902.

Interview, produced in Paris, France, 1902).

Les affaires sont les affaires: comédie en trois actes et en prose (produced in Paris, France, 1903), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1903.

Farces et moralités (contains L'épidémie, Vieux ménages, Le portefeuille, Les amants, Scrupules, and Interview), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1904.

Dans l'antichambre, histoire d'une minute, A. Romagnol (Paris, France), 1905.

La 628-E-8, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1907.

(With Thadee Natanson) Le Foyer: pièce en trois actes et en prose (produced in Paris, France, 1908), Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1908.

Dingo, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1913.

La vache tachetée, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1918.

La pipe de cidre, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1919.

Chez l'illustre écrivain, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1919.

Un homme sensible, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1919.

Un gentilhomme, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1920.

Les mémoires de mon ami, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1920.

Les souvenirs d'un pauvre diable, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1921.

Aristide Maillol, Armes de France, Société des Dilettantes (Liège, Belgium), 1921.

Théâtre I (includes Vieux ménages, Les affaires sont les affaires, and L'épidémie), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1921.

Théâtre II (includes Interview, Le portefeuille, Les mauvais bergers, and Scrupules), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.

Théâtre III (includes Le foyer and Les amants), Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.

Le petit gardeur de vaches, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.

Des artistes: 1885-1896, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1922.

Des artistes: 1897-1912, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1924.

Gens de théâtre, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1924.

Les ecrivains: 1884-1894, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1925.

Les ecrivains: 1895-1910, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1926.

Les grimaces et quelques autres chroniques, Flammarion (Paris, France), 1927.

Oeuvres illustrées, 10 volumes, edited and with an introduction by Roland Dorgeles, Editions Nationales (Paris, France), 1934-1936.

Théâtre (includes Les mauvais bergers, Les affaires sont les affaires, and Le foyer), Editions Nationales (Paris, France), 1935.

La mort de Balzac, Lérot (Paris, France), 1989.

Sur la statue de Zola, L'Echoppe (Caen, France), 1989.

Dans le ciel, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, L'Echoppe (Caen, France), 1990.

Combats pour l'enfant, edited by Pierre Michel, Ivan Davy (Vauchrétien, France), 1990.

Contes cruels, 2 volumes, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, Séguier (Paris, France), 1990.

Combats politiques, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, Séguier (Paris, France), 1990.

Notes sur l'art, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, L'Echoppe (Caen, France), 1990.

Sac au dos, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, L'Echoppe (Caen, France), 1991.

Lettres de l'Inde, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, L'Echoppe (Caen, France), 1991.

L'Affaire Dreyfus, edited by Pierre Michel and Jean-François Nivet, Séguier (Paris, France), 1991.


(Author of preface) Claude Monet. Auguste Rodin, Galerie Georges Petit (Paris, France), 1889.

(Author of preface) Jean Grave, La société mourante et l'anarchie, Stock (Paris, France), 1891.

(Author of preface) Dessins de Rodin, Goupil (Paris, France), 1897.

(Author of preface) Francis de Croisset, Les Nuits de quinze ans, Ollendorff (Paris, France), 1898.

(Author of preface) L'hommage des artistes à Picquart, Société Libre d'Edition des Gens de Lettres (Paris, France), 1899.

(Author of preface) Louis Lamarque (Eugène Montfort), Un an de caserne, Stock (Paris, France), 1901.

(Author of preface) Jean Lombard, L'agonie, Ollendorff (Paris, France), 1901.

(Author of preface) Jules Huret, Tout yeux, tout oreilles, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1901.

(Author of preface) Sacha Guitry, Petite Hollande, Stock (Paris, France), 1908.

(Author of preface) Marguerite Audoux, Marie Claire, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1910.

(Author of preface) Léon Werth, La maison blanche, Fasquelle (Paris, France), 1913.

(Author of preface) Renoir, Bernheim-Jeune (Paris, France), 1913.

(Author of preface) Cézanne, Bernheim-Jeune (Paris, France), 1914.

(Author of preface) Albert Ades and Albert Josipovici, Le livre de Goha le simple, Calmann-Lévy (Paris, France), 1919.

SIDELIGHTS: Octave Mirbeau wrote controversial novels and plays, and as an art critic heralded then-unknown artists who would dominate their fields. They include Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Auguste Renior. Mirbeau's underlying message was truth and morality. As a critic noted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, "Throughout his career, Mirbeau consistently championed the causes of individual liberty and intellectual honesty."

Mirbeau was born into a comfortable, middle-class family. As a youth, he considered becoming a doctor or lawyer, but brushes with authority, especially the military, left him bitter and wary of institutions that limit freedom. Mirbeau drew on these experiences in many of his works.

Mirbeau, who started his career as a journalist before writing novels and plays, tackled many important issues of his time. Julia Przybos wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Mirbeau's "mature journalism championed the oppressed, addressing such issues as poverty, colonialism, child welfare, the death penalty, prostitution, and women's legal rights. His novels presented moral and social problems such as the sexual abuse of boys at Jesuit colleges, priests' celibacy, and the sexual hypocrisy of the ruling classes."

Calvary, Mirbeau's successful debut novel, and L'abbé Jules and Sebastien Roch are sometimes called Mirbeau's "revenge novels" because of their personal tones.

Calvary features a selfish woman who affects the lives of three artists. Narrator Jean Mintie falls in love with the woman, who uses and degrades him, but eventually finds salvation and freedom through a friend's betrayal. The novel also addresses Mintie's horrific experiences with war. Mintie, like Mirbeau, is a writer who serves in the Franco-Prussian War. After Mintie kills an enemy soldier, grief overcomes him and he kisses the dead man. This gesture, perceived as unpatriotic, shocked many conservative readers of that time. The controversy helped make the novel successful.

L'abbé Jules tells of Jules Dervelle, whose middleclass values repress his inclination toward violence and sexual perversions. To retaliate against society, he joins the priesthood. Jules cannot suppress his urges when he tutors his nephew. In a final, defiant gesture against society, Jules leaves his fortune to the first priest to defrock himself. Aleksandra Gruzinska wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that Mirbeau's "compassionate portrayal of an unfortunate priest who made a wrong choice as a young man invites dialogue on such subjects as celibacy, vocation, and preparation for priesthood."

Mirbeau's last novel of revenge, Sebastien Roch, mirrors some of Mirbeau's Jesuit school experiences. Sebastien is a happy and innocent young man until he attends the Jesuit college of Vannes. There, a priest rapes him. The priest then accuses Sebastien of having a homosexual relationship with another student and Sebastien is expelled. Sebastien only finds peace when he dies fighting in the Franco-Prussian War. A Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism writer said, "In making the Jesuits responsible for the serious damage done to Sebastien, however, Mirbeau was expressing far more than merely personal animosity towards a particular sect; by illustrating the dangerous menace of education in the hands of the priesthood, Mirbeau was undermining the validity itself."

Mirbeau's best-known novel is Diary of a Chambermaid. Celestine, a chambermaid, reveals stories about the sordid lives of her many wealthy employers. Her humiliating experiences while moving from employer to employer cause her to resent the wealthy, but as she begins to climb the social ladder, she abandons her class. The novel's many exotic and sexual themes caused a stir at the time. A New Yorker reviewer praised it as "written with great style," dubbing the novel "a bitterly ironic and highly spiced indictment of employers of domestic servants in the eighteen-nineties." According to Gruzinska, "Mirbeau, whose interest in the lower classes remain strong, cultivates in the book a savory style, marked by an impression of spontaneity. … However, attractive and humorous it may seem, it too is a garden of tortures nonetheless." The novel was adapted for a stage production and two films.

Mirbeau, increasingly unhappy with journalism but profiting from his novels, turned to writing plays. Old Couple, his debut as a playwright, is a one-act work that emphasizes a relationship between a bourgeois husband and wife, and how the husband's affair affects their lives.

The success of Les affairs sont les affairs cemented his playwright status. The central character is a businessman who obsesses with wealth and uses family members as pawns. Mirbeau's distain for the wealthy is obvious.

Mirbeau's last play, Le foyer, sparked controversy because it attacked many respected French institutions and the people behind them. Mirbeau portrays them as hypocritical, sadistic and amoral. The central characters are a baron involved in shady business dealings and his wife who takes lovers at her whim, her husband knowing it. To offset an investigation into his business, the baron urges his wife to continue an affair with a lover of whom she has tired. To help her husband, the baroness resumes her affair with the older lover while taking on a new one. Together the baroness, her husband, and two lovers plan a pleasure cruise in the Mediterranean. Parts of the play were censored when it was performed.

Mirbeau wrote novels and plays until his health began to decline, and he died at age sixty-nine. Mirbeau's fame then faded, although his books have since resurfaced and have been growing in popularity, resulting in stage productions and in experimental theaters as one-performer shows.



Anarchism in France: The Case of Octave Mirbeau, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1977.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 123: Nineteenth-Century French Fiction Writers: Naturalism and Beyond, 1860-1900, 1992, Volume 192: French Dramatists, 1789-1914, 1998.

Octave Mirbeau, l'imprécateur au coeur fidèle: biographie, Librarie Séguier (Paris, France), 1990.

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 55, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.


New Yorker, July 27, 1946.


Octave Mirbeau Web site,http://burn.ucsd.edu/~mai/mirbeau (July 28, 2000)

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Mirbeau, Octave (Marie-Henri) 1848-1917

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