Paul Bourget was born in Amiens to a family of modest means. His mother was English, his father
French. He moved with his family at an early age to Clermont-Ferrand when his father was
appointed professor of mathematics. He was educated at the Lycée of Clermont until he moved to
Paris to study at Lycée Louis-le-Grand and the École des Hautes Études.
He turned to literature in his late teens publishing poetry volumes between 1872 and 1883 but he
simultaneously pursued a journalistic career and developed a greater interest as a novelist. He
also studied medicine for a brief period and married Mademoiselle Pailleron (unconfirmed, date
In 1884, he visited Britain staying mostly in Oxford where he wrote his first novel, L'irreparable,
and also visited Ireland. This book was followed over the next thirty years by several other
psychologically and socially observant novels in which he rejected the fashionable brutal
positivism and realist themes of the age in order to expound his preference for morality,
family life and authority. His novels include numerous English expressions which have passed
into the French language. Having abandoned religion in his early teens, he gradually resumed
his support of Catholicism over the last decade of the 19th century.
He toured Italy in 1891 and gained critical impressions from a visit in 1893 to US both of which
formed the substance of his following observational books on those countries.
Bourget was admitted to the Académie française in 1894 and was created officer of the Légion
d'honneur in 1894 having already been admitted to the order in 1884. He was well regarded during
his lifetime but his works have fallen from favour in later decades. Debussy set a few of his
poems to music, however, which survive into the present time as art songs.