Two years after his birth in Paris, his mother died in Silesia whilst accompanying her husband, a military doctor, a member of Napoleon's Grande Armée. He was brought up by his maternal great-uncle, Antoine Boucher, in the countryside of Valois at Mortefontaine.
On the return of his father from war in 1814, he was sent back to Paris. He frequently returned to the countryside on holidays
His flair for translation was manifest, and his translations of Faust and many other works by Goethe were acclaimed. He became friends with Theophile Gautier and Victor Hugo and was soon established as a member of what was an exceedingly bohemian set, which was ultimately to become the Club des Hashischins.
He committed suicide in 1855, hanging himself from a window grating.
The influence of de Nerval's insistence on the significance of dreams on the Surrealist movement was fully emphasised by André Breton. The writers Marcel Proust and René Daumal were also greatly influenced by de Nerval's work.