VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM, PHILIPPE AUGUSTE MATHIAS, COMTE DE (1838-1889), French poet, was born at St Brieuc in Brittany and baptized on the 28th of November 1838. He may be said to have inaugurated the Symbolist movement in French literature, and Axel, the play on which he was engaged during so much of his life, though it was only published after his death, is -the typical Symbolist drama. He began with a volume of Premieres Poesies (1856-58). This was followed by a wild romance of the supernatural, I sis (1862), and by two plays in prose, Elen (1866) and Morgane (1866). La Revolte, a play in which Ibsen's Doll's House seems to be anticipated, was represented at the Vaudeville in 1870; Conies cruets, his finest volume of short stories, in 1883, and a new series in 1889; Le Nouveau Monde, a drama in five acts, in 1880; L'Eve future, an amazing piece of buffoonery satirizing the pretensions of science, in 1886; Tribulat Bonhomet in 1887; Le Secret de I'echafaud in 1888; Axel in 1890. He died in Paris, under the care of the Freres Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, on the 19th of August 1889. Villiers has left behind him a legend probably not more fantastic than the truth. Sharing many of the opinions of Don Quixote, he shared also Don Quixote's life. He was the descendant of a Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, famous in history, and his pride as an aristocrat and as an idealist were equal. He hated mediocrity, science, progress, the present age, money and " serious " people. In one division of his work he attacked all the things which he hated with a savage irony; in another division of his work be discovered at least some glimpses of the ideal world. He remains a remarkable poet and a remarkable satirist, imperfect as both. He improvised out of an abundant genius, but the greater part of his work was no more than improvisation. He was accustomed to talk his stories before he wrote them. Sometimes he talked them instead of writing them. But he has left, at all events, the Contes cruels, in which may be found every classic quality of the French conle, together with many of the qualities of Edgar Allan Poe and Ernst Hoffman; and the drama of Axel, in which the stage takes a new splendour and a new subtlety of meaning. Villiers's influence on the younger French writers was considerable. It was always an exaltation. No one in his time followed a literary ideal more romantically.
See also R. du Pontavice de Heussey, Villiers del' Isle- Adam (1893), a biography, English trans. (1904) by Lady Mary Loyd; S. Mallarme', Les Miens. Villiers de I Isle-Adam (1892); R. Martineau, Un yivant et deux marts (1901), bibliography. A selection from his stories, Histoires souveraines, was made by his friends (Brussels, 1899).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)