Sand occupied a most important, transitional position in the French novelistic tradition. She stands alongside Honoré de Balzac for her mixture of romantic and realistic ideals and approaches, though she is more sincere and more didactic than the Tourengeau author. She also takes her place alongside Gustave Flaubert, a generation earlier, though much more sincere and more moralizing than the Norman novelist. In addition, she enjoyed close relationships with many well-known artists in Paris, such as Franz Liszt, Alfred de Musset, Eugène Delacroix, Frédéric Chopin, Heinrich Heine, and Ivan Turgenev, to name but a few. There is no doubt that she reflected the artistic and cultural activities of the capital as well as the ideological concerns of her day.
During her lifetime, George Sand was, with Eugène Sue and Balzac, one of the most widely read French authors. Wherever her novels were serialized, in the Reuve des Deux Mondes, in the Presse, or in several other journals, she enjoyed a faithful following. Her popularity among her contemporaries can be explained by two distinct reasons: feminist and socialist ideology and personal reputation. Sand's novels and plays frequently extol the contributions of women to society and defend women's right to happiness. She also attacks the status quo of nineteenth-century French society, from marriage to the archaic hierarchy of the class system. At the same time, Sand's private life did not go long unnoticed in Parisian circles, and from the moment her gender was discovered (she often sported male student's garb), her personal life became a curiosity for many.
During her lifetime, Sand was widely read and acclaimed. She repeatedly pleased her readership, and many of her works had several reprintings. After her death, however, other contemporary authors took her place in the hearts of the public, and she was soon forgotten by readers and critics alike. Not until the late 1950s was there a resurgence of interest in the Berrichon writer, and even then critical analyses focused largely on the autobiographical nature of her writing. Attacks on marriage in her novels and especially her own sexual freedom led to rather brutal assessments of her work. André Maurois's biography, Lélia, ou la vie de George Sand (Lélia, or The Life of George Sand, 1952) offers an unsophisticated and misogynistic interpretation of that novel as an explanation of Sand's entire life. Shortly after Maurois's biography came one by Pierre Salomon, George Sand (1953), which focuses largely on Sand's love and sex life. He makes the traditional attempts to link life and works and often sees her novels as a fictional transposition of episodes in her life. He has little interest in Sand as a creative mind or a literary innovator.
Since the late 1960s, not uncoincidentally at the same time as the rise of the modern feminist movement, critics have paid more attention to George Sand and her writings. The next decade witnessed the establishment of literary societies devoted to the study of Sand's works (The Friends of George Sand at Hofstra University and Les Amis de George Sand in Paris) as well as several important new editions of her novels and essays, though many still remain to appear in modern, critical editions. Some noteworthy biographies appeared around the centenary of Sand's death, including those by Curtis Cate, Francine Mallet, and Joseph Barry. Sand's novels are now receiving serious consideration by prominent literary critics, and her tenuous position in the French literary canon is being redefined.
George Sand began life as Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, on 1 July 1804, born in Paris to a couple from opposite social backgrounds. Her mother, Sylvie Delaborde, was the daughter of a Parisian bird seller; her father, Maurice Dupin, was an illegitimate descendant of Frederic-Auguste de Saxe, King of Poland. They had wed less than a month before their daughter's birth. Aurore's father began a brilliant career in Napoleon's armies, but his life ended abruptly in a riding accident near his home at Nohant (Berry) when Aurore was only four years old. Aurore's mother, at odds on all counts with her mother-in-law, Marie-Aurore Dupin, eventually gave in to the financial arrangement Mme Dupin the elder proposed; Sylvie left Aurore in Nohant and returned to Paris.
Aurore thus grew up with her strict grandmother, who, despite her Voltairean ideals, sent her granddaughter to convent school in Paris. There Aurore abandoned her childhood religious invention, Corambé, the androgynous deity to whom she had built a natural altar in the woods behind Nohant. At the Convent of the English Augustinians she had a revelation and contemplated taking vows but was quickly and earnestly discouraged by her confessor and a nun who had befriended her.
Quite concerned at her granddaughter's newfound penchant for religious devotion, Mme Dupin brought Aurore back to Nohant. She hoped to teach Aurore to take her place as mistress of Nohant, but she fell ill and died less than a year later. Aurore, who was seventeen, was forced to live in an unsatisfactory arrangement with her mother in Paris. During an escapist visit with friends outside of Paris, Aurore met the man who would take her away from this unpleasant life: Casimir Dudevant. They were married in August 1822, and Aurore gave birth to a son, Maurice, on 30 June 1823.
Aurore soon regretted her marriage. Casimir, who was not a good companion and did not share her intellectual curiosities, spent most of his time hunting and drinking with Hippolyte Chatiron, Aurore's half brother. On a trip to the Pyrenees and then to the Dudevant estate outside of Bordeaux, Aurore met Aurélien de Sèze, a dashing young man with inspiring poetic and intellectual attributes. He is often assumed to be Aurore's first great love. When the Dudevants returned to Nohant, Aurore was reunited with her childhood friend Stéphane Ajasson de Grandsagne, who is reputed to be the father of her second child, Solange, born 13 March 1828.
Two years later another Berrichon returned from his studies in Paris and caught Aurore's fancy: Jules Sandeau. Jules's lively intellect and youthful charms corresponded precisely to Aurore's needs of the moment. Jules returned to Paris; at the same time, Aurore found a letter in which Casimir explained his low opinion of his wife. She confronted him and promptly left for Paris (January 1831) with a modest pension from her husband.
Life in Paris with Jules was exciting, and Aurore enthusiastically took advantage of the cultural offerings of the capital. She discovered she could garner inexpensive tickets to the theater if she dressed as a male student; this habit soon established a reputation for the burgeoning writer and became her insignia. She was not above exploiting the obvious marketing advantages of such curiosity. Although she first began cross-dressing for practical reasons, she continued the suggestive habit even after her identity was well-known. She enjoyed shocking people, gaining a reputation as provocative because she smoked in public, most often cigars or a pipe. She once appeared at one of the regular dinner parties at Magny's (a famous Parisian restaurant of the era) dressed in a scarlet Persian outfit, sporting a sword at her side and smoking a cigar. Musset, whom she had met shortly before at Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve's, was quite intimidated by her outfit and demeanor. Such dress and behavior gave rise to rumors concerning Sand's morals, rumors fueled by her bold separation from her husband to live in Paris with her lover.
Aurore began to write at this time. Jules had already embarked on a writing career and encouraged Aurore to join him in a few collaborative efforts, including the full-length novel Rose et Blanche (1831). During her return visit to Nohant and her children in the summer of 1831, Aurore wrote her first solo novel, Indiana (1832), which soon set her apart from her lover. Aurore and Jules had published together under the joint pseudonym "J. Sand." Now Aurore's editor wanted her to continue with a similar name, so she adopted "G. Sand," "G." for "George," which reminded Sand of her earthbound roots in Berry. "George Sand" soon became the name associated with the new author.
In Indiana , Sand deplores the fate of women in marriage. The nineteen-year-old eponymous character, growing weary with her dull life as the wife of a retired army officer, is smitten with the charming Raymon de Ramière, who is having an affair with Indiana's Creole maid, Noun. The latter, pregnant with Raymon's child, discovers his attempts to seduce Indiana and drowns herself. Indiana also attempts suicide, though she never succumbs to Raymon's wiles. Followed by her English cousin, Sir Ralph, Indiana returns to her native Isle of Bourbon, planning to jump off a cliff; out of an ill-explained dedication, Ralph plans to join her. In an appended conclusion now considered an integral part of the text, Indiana and Ralph recognize and declare their love for each other just before their uncompleted suicidal jump. Thereafter they lead a Rousseauistic existence on the island, far from the harmful influence of French society.
Indiana was hailed as a successful novel in the Balzacian mode, in terms of structure and plot. The female characters, however, have much more depth and sensitivity than the men. Indiana's tiresome hesitations implicitly reflect her circumstances; Noun's brash reaction signals a decisiveness of which Indiana is incapable. Raymon is cleverly designed to elicit the reader's scorn. He resembles the socialite Rastignac of Balzac's fictional world, though with less of a sense of historical development. The novel's ending seems abrupt and implausible. Although the return to Bourbon establishes a sense of closure, the final pages give the reader a pseudopastoral depiction of the merits of country life in opposition to the ills of society. Sir Ralph remains sketchy to the end. He lurks in Indiana's surroundings as a shadow, without being fleshed out; when he suddenly decides to accompany her to Bourbon, he becomes a principal character, with almost no preparation. His dedication to Indiana, though touching, verges on incest and largely repeats the older man / younger woman match of her marriage.
Valentine (1832) constitutes Sand's first attempt at depicting life in the provinces. Bénédict, a simple but intelligent peasant, falls in love with the aristocratic but uncomplicated Valentine. Their love is simple, chaste, and mostly implicit. Although Valentine marries someone of her rank, the marriage remains unconsummated, and she continues to see Bénédict, chastely, during her husband's long absences. The situation is made awkward by Valentine's half sister, Louise, who is the unwed mother of a young boy, Valentin. She, too, has feelings for Bénédict, but she sacrifices them for Valentine's sake, even though she knows her half sister's love can never be expressed. The confusion of emotions and social constructs--aristocracy versus peasantry; love versus honor; faithfulness versus personal desires; education and culture versus Philistine pretentions; appearances versus reality--makes this novel a perspicacious examination of society in general and of provincial society in particular. Nothing specifically points to Berry in Valentine, but the emphasis on country folk to the exclusion of Parisian society already marks Sand's determination to devote her talents to the study of her people.
Rather jealous of Sand's two novels and a short story, "Melchior", published in the Revue de Paris (July 1832), Sandeau sank into despair, marked by a lack of productivity. They soon parted, and Sand's autonomous career began. But in her determination to gain independence through writing, further bolstered by her recent successes, she suffered from great anxiety because of her personal situation. According to the Napoleonic Code, she risked losing her homestead, Nohant, and the custody of her children to her husband if she left him definitively. She began to doubt herself and felt she had nowhere to turn, not even the church. From the depths of this despair she produced Lélia, undoubtedly one of her most innovative and challenging novels.
Lélia , published in late July 1833, is a confused repository of Sand's ill feelings, an attempt to define unhappiness with men, disappointment with herself, and disenchantment with society, religion, and indeed life in general. From a plan for a short story concerning a repentant ex-gambler, the novel developed into a disquisition on a woman's inability to satisfy her desires. Lélia's unwillingness to separate Sténio, the poet she loves and who loves her, from other men leads her down a road of denial, uncertainty, self-doubt, and self-destruction. Lélia's long-lost sister, Pulchérie, embodies the hedonism Lélia refuses to recognize. Pulchérie finally seduces Sténio for Lélia's sake. Lélia, now in a convent, explains to Sténio the futility of hoping for any response from her; Sténio drowns himself in despair. Magnus, who has fallen in love with Lélia, fails to answer Sténio's calls for help; he holds himself responsible for the young poet's death. He charges Lélia with political scheming, which also implicates the Cardinal; the latter poisons himself, and Lélia is sentenced by the Inquisition and dies.
Sand was quite fond of what she considered her one metaphysical novel, though she was plagued by the enormity of doubt it communicated. She was also troubled by the unfavorable and sometimes hostile reception it received. Over the next six years, she struggled to revise Lélia to make it a more acceptable, less pessimistic work. Not only did she wish the novel to please the public, but she also feared harmful repercussions on her impending trial for legal separation from Casimir. In 1839 a revised edition of Lélia appeared. In the optimistic new ending, the title character becomes an abbess. Sand's recent introduction to the religious writer Félicité-Robert de Lamennais, Pierre Leroux, Franz Liszt, and the Berrichon lawyer Michel de Bourges certainly influenced her revision of Lélia.
Musset was one of Sand's fans, and he greatly admired Lélia. Shortly after its publication he met her at a dinner party arranged by Sainte-Beuve. Sand and Musset began a liaison in the summer of 1833. During a walk in the forest at Fontainebleau, Musset suffered a seizure and had hallucinations that seemed to presage his early death. In December the romantic couple left for Italy, a lifelong dream for both. Once in Genoa, however, Sand fell ill, and Musset searched the streets for distraction. When they moved on to Florence, Sand had recovered and set to work, but Musset's habits were already well established. Sand handed him her research on powerful Renaissance families in Florence, which she had used to draft "Une Conspiration en 1537," and urged him to accomplish some worthwhile work. He soaked up local color in Florence and used that familiarity to remold Sand's draft, producing one of the most famous plays of the Romantic era, Lorenzaccio (1834).
By the time the couple reached Venice, relations were already strained. Musset fell ill and was apparently near death. Sand called in a young doctor, Pietro Pagello, who was fascinated by the mysterious French female writer. Their affair reportedly began while Musset lay on his sick-bed, only meters away. When Musset felt well enough, he and Sand agreed that it would be better if he returned to Paris. She stayed in Venice and began a full-blown relationship with Pagello.
During the few short months of this liaison, Sand began writing what would become her first autobiographical work, Lettres d'un voyageur (1837; translated as Letters of a Traveller, 1847). Originally consisting of only three letters written to Musset about her thoughts and discoveries in the Veneto, this work grew to include a series of twelve letters written between 1834 and 1836 to various friends and colleagues, expressing a gamut of emotions, from nostalgia to melancholy, from fear to anger, and comprising thoughts on suicide, religion, and music. Sand used the device of a masculine narrator, yet there is no doubt that the central "I" and the author are one and the same.
The "Venetian" letters offer a valuable insight into Sand's interest in "effets de réel" (realistic devices), as she freely describes the details of Venetian fetes, the musical talents of gondoliers, and the costumes of women of all social strata. This attention to detail would serve her well in her quasi-realist depictions of life and people in Berry in her famous rustic novels. The remainder of the letters treat the nature of travel. She extols the need to bring a fresh outlook to one's perception of the world. She writes Giacomo Meyerbeer an adulatory and well-informed letter on his opera Les Huguenots (1836), displaying her knowledge of contemporary music. She also refers to Liszt's link between music and the written word, an important association for Sand's own creative world.
After an untidy and embarrassing ending to the Pagello relationship, Sand, now splitting her time between Paris and Nohant, began legal proceedings against her husband. As divorce was not an option, the most she could hope for was a legal separation that would return to her all her property and the custody of her children. The series of trials was unpleasant; fortunately for Sand, public opinion swayed the judges in their final decision, and she won her case.
Throughout this period (1835-1836), Sand received legal counsel from Bourges. Their relationship, which soon became a liaison, provided a new source of inspiration for Sand, since Michel persuaded her to develop a political discourse in her writing to reflect the world around her. Though the political subtext of Sand's works is evident from the start, there is a marked change at this time as its expression became more explicit.
Mauprat (1837) transforms into fiction many of Sand's burgeoning political and feminist concerns of this tumultuous period. Edmée Mauprat talks her way out of a rape by her cousins with the help of the youngest cousin, Bernard Mauprat. She proves to be the superior and dominant character of the novel. While she is not Sand's first strong woman, she is perhaps the first willfully dominant woman of Sand's universe. Bernard falls in love with her, but Edmée will not accept his declaration of love until he proves himself worthy of her. She designs for him a rigorous rehabilitation program of general education and social training. She even sends him away to America for several years and charges him with continuing his education while abroad. When he returns, there are legal problems between the upper and lower branches of the family. The trial scenes display a realism inspired by Sand's own ordeal in court the year before. The novel does end with Edmée and Bernard's union, but there is no doubt that Edmée successfully and rightfully maintains her dominant role. This text can be seen as Sand's declaration of feminism, more explicitly militant than in any previous work.
About this time Sand managed to wrangle from her friend Liszt an introduction to Chopin. The young, very Catholic Polish musician was at first intimidated by the strong, unconventional Frenchwoman, but he soon gave in to her seductions and to his own desires. They agreed to try out their relationship away from the piercing eyes of Parisian gossipmongers and spent the winter of 1838-1839 in Majorca. There Chopin composed, among other works, his series of preludes, and Sand finished Spiridion (1839), a novel on which she had been working for several months.
Spiridion , which she started while revising Lélia, depicts the conflict between Sand's fervent spiritualism and her uncertain religious affiliations. The novel traces one man's search for the true religion; Leroux's influence shines through. There was later some speculation that he had written parts of the book; these charges were disproven in Jean Pommier's George Sand et le rêve monastique: "Spiridion" ("George Sand and The Monastic Dream: "Spiridion,"1966). The Romantic notion of progress serves as an underpinning to the hero's quest for religious truth. Born and raised Jewish, he converts first to Protestantism, then to Catholicism, changing his name with each new incarnation. Disillusioned with the lack of piety among his fellow monks, Spiridion decides he must go beyond Catholicism, but fear of the Inquisition forces him to write down his vision and secretly to pass the manuscript on to a devoted disciple. Three generations later, the manuscript is unearthed by a young monk, Angel. Labeled Hic est veritas!, it displays the influence of The Imitation of Jesus Christ by Thomas à Kempis (fifteenth-century) and the Gospel of St. John. A revised version of Spiridion appeared almost four years later.
Sand now embarked on projects springing from another interest: socialism. After Bourges urged her to greater political militancy, she gradually incorporated in her writing more explicit commentary on social ills and her dream for an egalitarian community. The first work in this socialist strain, Simon (1836), presents only skeletal issues with little development. In Le Compagnon du Tour de France (1840), Sand demonstrates her ability to insert socialist theory into a narrative. Influenced by Agricol Perdiguier's book, Le Livre du compagnonnage (The Book of Guilds and Trade Associations, 1839), Sand's Compagnon laments the failings of the guild system while admitting the damage often wreaked by overly zealous idealists.
Pierre Hugenin, a master carpenter, represents the innocent socialist who has no pretense to reform. His posture as a tolerant yet careful idealist serves as a literary device to allow sometimes long expositions on socialist theory. A romantic interest parallels the socialist struggle: Pierre falls in love with and is loved by Yseult de Villepreux. Despite her aristocratic name, she and her grandfather are devoted to a democratic ideal. However, the reader discovers that the comte de Villepreux actually harbors Orléanist sympathies. When he discovers his granddaughter's attachment to a carpenter, he reminds Yseult of her promise never to marry a commoner, a promise she does not break. This ending lacks any naive foreshadowing of social ills; there remains, however, an undercurrent of hope.
Horace (1842) continues this social commentary, though along less ambitious lines. Paul Arsène, a working-class provincial, rubs elbows unpretentiously with bourgeois students in Paris. Sand attempts to prove through this character that different classes can coexist peacefully. Horace represents another type, the bourgeois who amasses debts in his attempts to become part of aristocratic society; he fails miserably and goes to Italy to start life afresh. Sand's condemnation of the social climber is not total; at the novel's close, Horace has a clear understanding of his hypocrisy and deceit. She also allows him the hope of a new beginning. The socialist discourse in Horace displays a thorough awareness of contemporary Saint-Simonian activities (based on the ideas of Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon) in Paris. While Sand communicates a certain intellectual curiosity alongside a clear, almost religious dedication to the new socialism, one also detects a warning against trends in political movements.
Le Meunier d'Angibault (The Miller of Angibault, 1845) and Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine (The Sin of Monsieur Antoine, 1846), both minor works in Sand's corpus, present various forms of the socialist dream. The first discusses the issue of whether money obtained immorally can be used for moral purposes. Henri Lémor struggles against his father's devotion to accumulating wealth as well as his own love for an aristocratic woman, Marcelle de Blanchemont. Henri makes amends for his father's swindlings, bankrupting himself in the process. Only when he finds out that Marcelle was left penniless by her deceased husband can he hope for happiness. In the second novel, Monsieur Antoine hides his noble name and raises his daughter, Gilberte, with democratic ideals. She falls in love with Emile Cardonnet, who shares and indeed fosters her socialist dreams. Several theoretical discussions, not always seamlessly woven into the narrative, clarify the dominant socialist theme.
In all the so-called socialist novels, several social classes bear some of the responsibility for conflict, pointing to a need for social leveling and democratization. Sand often considered that country folk demonstrated a greater comprehension of democracy, a conviction which led her to embark on a series of novels devoted to life in the central provinces of France (mostly Berry and Creuse) and to the needs and desires of their people. Three novels traditionally make up the "rustic" series: La Mare au diable, François le champi, and La Petite Fadette . They showed Parisian readers an aspect of French life unfamiliar to them, though her presentation is far from realistic in a Flaubertian sense. Sand's idealization of peasant life remains one of the benchmarks of provincial literature, inspiring such novelists as Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy. At the same time, Sand's peasant paradise has given rise to some criticism: commentators often find fault with her "effects de réel," which are sometimes anachronistic or ageographical, or charge her with using a middle-class, patronizing tone. Her rustic novels deserve, however, a serious reading.
In Sand's first attempt at the provincial / peasant novel, Jeanne (1844), the title character is coveted by three men: an English nobleman, Sir Arthur; a French nobleman, Guillaume; and a French bourgeois, Léon. The vulgar Léon insults Jeanne in his bungled attempts at seduction. Sir Arthur declares his love openly and honestly; Guillaume, Sir Arthur's best friend, represses his love, ostensibly out of respect for Arthur and Jeanne. None of the love interests is developed, though Jeanne is quite moved by Sir Arthur's respect and love for her. Like Chateaubriand's Atala, Jeanne promised her dying mother not to marry, and she dies keeping the promise. Jeanne represents Sand's ideal: a simple, uneducated woman who displays a natural intelligence and a solid moral constitution. Her character would be further developed with Nanon almost thirty years later. The finely woven mixture of Christianity with superstition and regional legends gives this novel its distinctive flavor and provides a valuable insight into peasant beliefs.
La Mare au diable , a novel often given to girls for wholesome reading, depicts the complex confusion that besets a widower strongly encouraged by his family to seek a new wife and mother to his children. While the search concentrates purely on finding someone who will carry out the function of a good wife and mother, Germain finds himself sharing his woes, repeating especially how much he misses his wife, with a young neighbor, Marie. Meanwhile, Marie is beginning her adult life and is discovering the dangers the world holds for women. In a long discussion by a lakeside, the famous "devil's pool," both reveal their disillusions and disappointments to each other, and in so doing realize how well they complement each other. An appendix to the novel, Les Noces de campagne (The Country Wedding), gives a detailed account of their wedding and is often cited as one of Sand's most sincere attempts to document Berrichon life in fiction.
François le champi tells the story of a foundling, François, who is taken in by Madeleine Blanchot. When her mean-spirited husband sends him away, François obtains employment on a farm at some distance. Later, when M. Blanchot dies, François returns to assist Madeleine in her time of grief. He finds her bedridden, unable to perform any household functions. While nursing her and putting her affairs in order, he gradually realizes his love and devotion for her, which she returns. They marry despite the hint of incest, which led to scandal when the novel was first published. As a foundling, François is an outsider and suffers from the stigma, though he does not understand it. In a way his separation from Madeleine and subsequent return bring him a more forthright, less suspicious allure: he comes back as a young adult, for whom the absence of history is somewhat less troublesome than for a child. The separation from Madeleine in time and space also distances him from her and diminishes the incestuous shadow.
La Petite Fadette tackles directly the issue of superstition and "witch doctoring" in Berry. Fadette, a poor young girl who lives in a hovel in the woods, crosses the path of bourgeois twins, Landry and Sylvinet, an encounter which forces the issue of social class. Fadette helps Landry find his brother, who is lost in the woods; Landry is then beholden to her and struggles with the moral conflict of indebtedness to someone who inspires fear and disgust in him. Ashamed that he tried to shirk his responsibility of gratitude, Landry regrets his judgment. He gets to know Fadette and learns to like and respect her; he even falls in love with her. Despite disapproval from friends and family, and especially the strong jealousy of Sylvinet, they marry.
Paganism is pitted against Christianity in Fadette. Taking up again the theme introduced in Jeanne, Sand weaves into the narrative on sorcery a subtle argument about the outsider. Fadette refuses to conform to traditional expectations, which are somewhat foreign to her anyway because of her background. Unable to tolerate difference, the village children mock her clothes and her backward ways. These prejudices inform Landry's initial reaction to Fadette's mysterious powers. Albeit didactic and moralistic, La Petite Fadette is perhaps one of Sand's finest works on the issue of tolerance and acceptance.
Les Maîtres sonneurs (1853; translated as The Bagpipers , 1890), though not traditionally considered one of the "romans champêtres" (rustic novels), takes place in Berry and neighboring Bourbonnais. It explores the complex nature of personal and social problems, successfully dispelling the patronizing Parisian view of "simple provincial life." Joseph, who becomes a master bagpiper in the course of the novel, expresses his love, and his frustration at this unrequited love, through his ingenious musical improvisations. Sand examines communication through music, with special emphasis on folk music and improvisation. Once again she uses the theme of the outsider; Joseph's inability to express himself earns him the reputation of being a backward child. Once he proves his capacity for expression through music, he becomes defensive and almost defiant in his musical prowess. However, even among other musicians, Joseph remains an outsider, largely because of his arrogance, but also because of his gift of improvisation, which sets him apart from more ordinary musicians.
Sand's masterpiece, Consuelo (1843), and its sequel, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (1844; translated, 1847), combine elements of the musical novel, the Gothic novel, the Bildungsroman, and the historical novel. Consuelo follows the title heroine, inspired by Sand's close friend Pauline Viardot, through her preparations for a singing career during the mid eighteenth century, her stint as a private music tutor, her debut and disillusionment with the theater, and her initiation into a secret society. Consuelo is an orphan whose beautiful voice earns her a place in a convent music school with the famous maestro Porpora. Her purity, in musical style as well as in morality, places her above those around her, which causes Consuelo several problems. Repelled by the people in the theater, to whom her friend and betrothed, Anzoleto, has become attached, she leaves Venice to take a job as private music tutor to a Bohemian aristocratic family, the Rudolstadts. The young baron, Albert, an erudite but strange son of the family, believes he is the reincarnation of several famous Bohemian revolutionaries. In Consuelo, he finds the messianic answer to his long-awaited dream. They understand each other through musical expression and appreciation. Music and politics are linked through purity in the ideological theme of this novel.
Albert falls in love with Consuelo, and she recognizes that she is fond of him; but his aunt makes it clear he is not to marry a commoner, so Consuelo keeps her desires to herself, indeed hidden from even herself. Sensing an awkward situation, she leaves the Rudolstadt home to travel on foot to Vienna, where Porpora has relocated. En route she meets a young musician who seeks instruction from the two people of the musical world he admires most: la Porporina (Consuelo) and Porpora. The young man is Joseph Haydn. Together they travel to Vienna and find Porpora, who takes her to Berlin on an opera contract, but she is urgently called back to the Rudolstadt castle, where Albert is dying. His aunt, convinced he is dying of a broken heart, consents to the marriage with Consuelo; Consuelo agrees, also hoping to save Albert's life. All efforts are in vain: Albert dies, and Consuelo promises the aunt never to use her noble title. This scene brings to a poignant head the bitterness of class struggles inherent in the relationship.
Consuelo pleases the Berlin operagoing public, but her refusal to accommodate Frederick the Great puts her in prison. She profits from her incarceration by composing and maintaining the purity of her voice. Concurrently, Albert's comrades, "les Invisibles," examine Consuelo's moral and political fiber to see whether she could become a member of their secret society, a Freemason type of organization aiming to topple unjust despots. This sequence of events is often interpreted as a prefiguration of the French Revolution. Albert has not really died, and he mysteriously frees Consuelo from prison without her knowing who he is. She is inducted into "les Invisibles" after she proves to Albert's mother, Wanda--the only other female member of the secret society--that she does love Albert.
Consuelo loses her voice, a loss that to her seems to be the answer to her troubles; she devotes herself to Albert and their children as they roam throughout Eastern Europe, preaching the love of humanity through music. Albert plays the violin while Consuelo composes some music, but mostly she interprets Albert's music for the public.
Consuelo is a microcosm of Sand's universe. The prerevolutionary setting allows, paradoxically, for a rich political and social commentary on contemporary France, for while Sand's attack on the class system does focus on an aristocratic family, her plea for an egalitarian society suggests the socialism of the 1830s and 1840s. The atmosphere of eighteenth-century underground movements, clearly exemplified by the Masoniclike group of "les Invisibles," contributes as much to the Gothic flavor of the novel as to its function as historical fiction. The idealist strain is also reminiscent of many socialist tracts of the period, and it reflects the tone Sand often used to convey socialist dreams.
The aesthetic aspect of the novel provides an equally rich backdrop to commentary on the role of the artist in society, the attitude of the artist toward art, and the artist's response to the public. La Corilla, Consuelo's rival on the stage as well as in the heart of her betrothed, embodies the perfect opera star: a magnificent instrument, a well-trained technique, and a healthy reserve of sentimentality tempered by the gift of (false) sincerity. But she too often gives the public just what it wants: embellishments. Anzoleto also courts the public, an approach he learns from la Corilla. His character is similar to that of Célio in Le Château des Désertes (The Désertes Château, 1853), who also sings for the public, but without the sincerity of emotion the music requires. Consuelo prefers to reserve embellishments for the exigencies of music, thus forcing the public to appreciate the artist's standards.
On the feminist score, Consuelo presents a strong, mature heroine, one who forges her way in a difficult profession without resorting to feminine wiles. Consuelo is contrasted to la Corilla on every level: artistic integrity, feminist policies, and general morals. Furthermore, Consuelo proves herself intelligent--to the contrary of the stereotypical artist concerned only with her music--and digests a large bibliography of Masonic writings. The enigmatic loss of voice near the end of the novel continues to give rise to various critical interpretations, but Consuelo remains the dominant figure at the end of the novel, even though Albert receives the important musical focus.
One of Sand's earliest literary endeavors, Voyage en Auvergne (1829), includes a plan to compose her memoirs; she even sketched an outline. Eighteen years later she began drafting the story of her life, but its composition was interrupted by the Revolution of 1848 and the coup d'état in 1851. Finally, in late 1854 Histoire de ma vie (translated as Story of My Life , 1991) appeared serially and almost simultaneously in volume form. At first public reaction to Histoire de ma vie showed disappointment; readers had expected details about people and events. Numerous critics also denigrated the lengthy opening section, which deals mostly with Sand's father. Nonetheless, Sand's autobiography offers a wealth of information as well as insight into her universe, at least from the perspective of Sand at age fifty.
After the long section on her ancestors, approximately five hundred pages in the Pléiade edition, where she explains that "everything is history," Sand turns to her own life. The reader learns about her intellectual growth during her years at the convent of the English Augustinians in Paris, of her grandmother's death, and of her precipitous marriage to escape the dominion of her mother. She tells very little about Jules Sandeau or Musset. And the major phase of her writing career occupies relatively few pages, with few details.
Sand does devote a few short chapters to individuals: Marie Dorval, Delacroix, Sainte-Beuve, Luigi Calamatta, and Charles Didier. Michel de Bourges also is the topic of quite a large section. In the last two chapters of the memoirs, Chopin occupies center stage. Sand describes the trip to Majorca and dwells on Chopin's ill health. Finally, the break with Chopin corresponds with the end of the autobiography.
Also in an autobiographical vein, though Sand always denied it, her novel Elle et lui (1859; translated as She and He , 1900) depicts her tempestuous affair with Musset. Here Sand explores the friendship between two artists. Thérèse and Laurant's ill-defined relationship is interrupted by Dick Palmer, who clearly recalls Pagello in the "affaire de Venise" (Venetian affair). The artists' attitudes toward their work reflect what is known about Sand's industriousness and Musset's need for inspiration. Musset tells his version of the stormy affair with Sand in La Confession d'un enfant du siècle (1836; translated as Confession of a Child of the Century, 1892), usually held to be a fair, contrite recounting. Elle et lui, however, was immediately attacked as unjustly harsh on the Musset character.
Perhaps because Musset had died just two years before publication of Elle et lui, the public was more apt to protect his reputation; and the public was always ready to find fault with a woman with Sand's reputation for ruthlessly using men to her advantage. Musset's brother, Paul, added to the hue and cry by publicly condemning Sand's novel; he then countered with a novelistic version of his own, Lui et elle, which appeared barely six weeks later. Elle et lui does not rank among Sand's best work. The artistic context, which offers an ideal vehicle for aesthetic commentary, goes underdeveloped; after the initial exposition, it is hardly important that the two protagonists are even artists. Yet the autobiographical aspect of the novel provides valuable insight into Sand's memoirs and her attitudes toward them.
Le Marquis de Villemer (1860-1861), which garnered great public and critical accolades, examines attitudes of a different sort: class struggles within the nobility. Because of unfortunate circumstances, Caroline de Saint-Géneix finds herself in dire financial straits. Unashamed, she assumes the job of private secretary to Madame la marquise de Villemer. Urbain de Villemer, son of the marquise, is an intellectual, occupied with writing a history of the atrocities of the French aristocracy. He falls in love with Caroline and tells his mother so. The mother, proud and jealous of Caroline's rank, bans her from the house.
Urbain finds her a modest job in Creuse, where she encounters a couple who have adopted a small child. She loves the child and cares for him. It is eventually revealed that the child is Urbain's from an affair with a married woman, who has died. Caroline and Urbain ultimately marry with everyone's approval. Sand uses traditional oppositions in French society for her social commentary: Paris versus the provinces; high nobility versus lower nobility; arrogance versus modesty; and hierarchy versus egalitarianism. Barely eight years into the Second Empire, the French liberal public gladly adopted this work as a declaration of social rights and aspirations.
The novel's success gave Sand the idea to adapt it for the stage. In 1864 Le Marquis de Villemer opened at the Odéon. Once again the work was a great success. Two important differences separate the play from the novel. First, Urbain's illegitimate son becomes the child of a secret marriage. Second, Urbain is not writing a defamatory book on the French nobility, though his political colors do peek through the family armor. While the play is thus less striking from the political perspective, Sand was obliged to adapt the egalitarian theme to the standards of the theatergoing public, which was largely Parisian upper middle class.
Sand had been dabbling in the theater since Cosima (1840), a financial and critical disaster. While the text provides some excellent material on Sand's notion of women being caught in the prison of marriage, the play lacks clear direction and a dramatic sense. But she did not stop writing for the theater; Sand adapted several of her novels for the stage, the most successful, after Le Marquis de Villemer, being the reworkings of her rustic novels. François le champi, produced at the Odéon in 1849 by Victor Bocage, established for Sand a reputation as the rustic realist of the Paris stage. The decor, props, and music developed for the production of François created a fresh interest in the theater. Sand also rewrote Mauprat for the stage (1853); La Petite Fadette was set to music and produced in 1864. These adaptations not surprisingly betray the original novels, usually for reasons of staging and dramatic interest.
Sand wrote two significant closet plays that hold particular interest for their themes and ideology. Les Sept Cordes de la lyre (1839; translated as The Seven Strings of the Lyre, 1989) deals with Sand's thoughts on the mystico-religious capacity of music. The heroine, Hélène, is the only woman in the text and the only mortal character to understand music. She is able, through the beauty of music, to convert Albertus, the cynical philosophy teacher, to a belief in love and possibly in a supreme being.
Gabriel (1840) depicts a main character whose gender or gender identification is always in question. Brought up in Renaissance Italy for reasons of inheritance to believe she is a boy, Gabrielle discovers the deception at age seventeen. She sets off to find her cousin, Astolphe, the rightful, or at least the lawful, heir, and she falls in love with him. Astolphe is confused by his own attraction to his cousin, who is still dressed as a man, until he discovers her true gender in a Carnival scene brilliantly drawn with a double cross-dressing quid pro quo. Gabrielle eventually finds she cannot negotiate two genders. The one that she was brought up to be empowers her in all aspects of her life; she cannot fully integrate the other, which she sincerely wants to be and tries to assume, because of the hypocrisy of her circumstances. Neither of these plays has ever been produced.
Of the plays Sand originally wrote for the stage, perhaps Claudie (1851) is the best known. Here Sand tackles the plight of the unwed mother, surrounded by well-meaning bigots and self-serving hypocrites. Sand uses once again a rustic setting. Claudie presents concerns of interest to all women, especially the problem of "reputation." Claudie, though a strong woman, also suffers from ill-placed guilt. There is a happy ending, but it is attained with difficulty. The play was a great success.
Strong women were Sand's strong suit. Nearly all her novels of the later period (1860-1876) offer levelheaded, determined women. Mademoiselle Merquem (1868) presents a well-established woman, the patron and idol of the small Norman village where she lives. She is attracted to a younger man, Armand, who must learn the difference between pure and impure love before she will agree to a union. In several ways this novel recalls the training process in Mauprat, though here there is more emphasis on the woman's pride and her position in the village. In Césarine Dietrich (1871), Sand introduces a less confident heroine, one who seeks to seduce through intellectual curiosity. The novel turns around the notion of the Protestant tradition for intellectual pursuits and Césarine's struggle to assert herself within and despite this heritage.
Nanon (1872) is undoubtedly Sand's most interesting portrayal of a strong woman from this period. After the 1871 Commune, with which Sand was less than sympathetic, she chose a Revolution-era setting for this novel. Nanon finds herself amid several conflicts in the confusion of the post-Revolution fervor: clergy versus Jacobins; aristocrats versus peasants; principled people versus profiteers. Nanon, a young peasant woman who learns to read, saves the aristocratic novice Emilien, who can hardly read. Nanon also purchases property, thanks to the new post-Revolution laws, manages a large tract of land, and proves herself capable in financial negotiations. Nanon not only bears the responsibility of all the major decisions in the novel, she also enjoys the greatest growth. She profits from all the potential advantages of the postrevolutionary period in ways most peasants did not. The novel is a mixture of historical fiction and feminist idealism that works on the structural and narrative levels; somewhat unreliable in matters of historical accuracy, it nevertheless succeeds in creating a positive view of country women, of women in general, and a hope for a future egalitarian France.
In the last four years of her life, Sand devoted much of her time and energy to her grand-daughters. She wrote for them a series of stories, collected in two volumes, Contes d'une grand-mère (A Grandmother's Stories, 1873 and 1876). The stories place mostly little girls in situations where they learn acceptance of themselves and of others. Introspection balanced with concern for others, courage, and a high degree of imagination make these some of Sand's most interesting characters. Her emphasis on the wonders of language is most striking. From the jargonistic vocabulary of some stories to the invented, nonhuman language used to communicate with statues or birds in other stories, language learning carries strong significance in Sand's universe. Another recurring theme in the stories is change. The young characters undergo many metamorphoses, even death; yet Sand portrays change as something good, something to accept and to anticipate. These stories remain relatively unknown, yet they recapitulate many of Sand's themes and the philosophy of life encountered throughout her oeuvre.
Sand treated many of the dominant concerns of her day, including socialism and religion. She read Leroux and Lamennais; she was familiar with Charles Fourier, Saint-Simon, and Barthélemy Enfantin. Like most novelists who attempted to superimpose socialist theory on a narrative structure, or sometimes vice versa, Sand did not eschew didacticism, though she was not overly idealistic. The edifying strain of Sand's writings appears throughout her career and has been the source of some recent criticism. For the context in which she wrote, however, one can hardly say Sand exaggerates, and she certainly never condescends.
Socialist concerns in the 1830s and 1840s were never very far from religious issues. Sand, who never subscribed to Fourier's materialist ideology, was in constant search of the true religion. She never practiced Catholicism in any regular manner, with the exception of her years in the convent of the English Augustinians; indeed, she constantly criticized the Church and explored other possibilities of religious expression. While her anti-clericalism is less virulent than that of some other Romantic authors, Sand held little respect for the clergy, an attitude that comes out in a few works, particularly in La Daniella (1857).
When Sand's son, Maurice, and his wife, Lina Calmatta, had their marriage rededicated by a Protestant minister, Sand began to explore seriously the advantages of Protestantism over Catholicism. Unfortunately she encountered only a variety of Calvinist dogmas, each as strict if not stricter than the stringencies of Catholicism. Unable to find any acceptable alternative, Sand remained a Catholic to her death, but in name only. This presented a problem when she died, for her daughter, Solange, insisted Sand be buried with full last rites according to church custom. Lina, to whom Sand had always felt much closer than to her own daughter, maintained that a Catholic burial was the last thing Sand would have wanted. Maurice was not much help in resolving the matter, and George Sand received final rites in the Catholic tradition.
Another issue that attracted Sand to the egalitarian aspects of socialism was the place of feminism. Her feminism has been questioned by commentators from Flora Tristan to late-twentieth-century critics, but the circumstances in which Sand was struggling must be considered. Her most defiant and most constant feminist position was against the prisonlike oppression of marriage. Criticized on this score from the publication of her first novel, Indiana, to her last days, Sand often specified that she believed in an egalitarian union between a man and a woman, but she stipulated that marriage as it existed under the Napoleonic Code promoted the oppression of women. Many of her novels grapple with this issue (Indiana, Valentine, André, Jacques, Consuelo, Mademoiselle la Quintinia, La Dernier Amour, and Mademoiselle Merquem, to highlight the most obvious ones), and a few plays treat the same topic, including Cosima, Claudie, and Le Marriage de Victoria. The female characters always hesitate (or regret they did not hesitate) to engage themselves in a social contract that removes all political, social, and psychological sense of individuality.
Of further concern for critics of Sand's feminism was her refusal to run for office. A group of women from the Voix des Femmes, a militant newspaper, nominated Sand as a delegate in the first elections after the 1848 revolt. Sand declined in an open letter to the editor of the Réforme. (Her nomination had been announced publicly without direct contact with Sand.) She explained elsewhere at the same time that she was against universal suffrage; with women's education in the deplorable state of the 1850s, how could one hope for women to make intelligent choices in elections? Their votes would therefore simply reflect the voice of their husbands. Until women received a better education, she believed that they should not vote; and until women could vote, she could not run for public office.
One area where Sand undisputedly made her mark is the provincial novel. Unlike Balzac, she was able to introduce the Parisian readership to even the most unfamiliar details of a life hitherto virtually unknown to them, different in mores, in traditions, and even in language. Her attempts to weave Berrichon dialect into a French narrative, though not always satisfactory, underscored the multiculturalism of mid-nineteenth-century France. Sand's conscious efforts to keep the culture of "la Vallée noire" alive and authentic bear testimony to her dedication to egalitarianism without any sense of undue exploitation. The "romans champêtres" have much to say about Berry and the Berrichons, but even more about Parisians and their attitudes toward provincials.
Sand is at once representative of and unique in the French literary canon. Her individuality, though perhaps not evident in all her prolific production, shines through in many works. Her indisputable influence on other writers (Willa Cather, George Eliot, Elena Gan, and Turgenev) further attests to her stylistic and thematic prowess. Her death was a blow to many, even to Victor Hugo, who never wasted much breath or ink on her during her life. He wrote a stirring eulogistic message: "Je pleure une morte et je salue une immortelle.... George Sand était une idée; elle est hors de la chair, la voilà libre; elle est morte, la voilà vivante" (I mourn a dead woman and I hail an immortal woman.... George Sand was an idea; she is outside of the realm of the flesh, now she is free; she is dead, now she is alive).
Sand remains one of the most important novelists of the nineteenth century. She is well on the way to being assured her proper place in the novelistic tradition. She will certainly be remembered for having forged a way in a profession dominated by men. She will always be remembered as a woman writer who brought to the attention of the reading public the social status of women and country folk.
From: Powell, David A. "George Sand." Nineteenth Century French Fiction Writers: Romanticism and Realism, 1800-1860, edited by Catharine Savage Brosman, Gale, 1992. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 119.