AKA Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin
Birthplace: Paris, France
Location of death: Nohant, Indre, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Cimètiere de Nohant, Indre, France
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Lélia
George Sand, the pseudonym of Madame Amandine Lucile Aurore Dudevant, née Dupin, the most prolific female author in the history of literature, and unapproached among the women novelists of France. Her life was as strange and adventurous as any of her novels, which are for the most part idealized versions of the multifarious incidents of her life. In her self-revelations she followed Rousseau, her first master in style, but while Rousseau in his Confessions darkened all the shadows, George Sand is the heroine of her story, often frail and faulty, but always a woman more sinned against than sinning. Thanks, however, to her voluminous correspondence that was later published and to family documents that her French biographers have unearthed, there are now full materials for tracing the history of her public and private career, and for forming a clear and unbiased estimate of her character and genius.
Her father was Maurice Dupin, a retired lieutenant in the army of the republic; her mother, Sophie Delaborde, the daughter of a Paris bird-fancier. Their ill-assorted marriage took place only a month before the birth of the child (July 1, 1804; at Paris). Her paternal grandfather was M. Dupin de Francueil, a farmer-general of the revenue, who married the widow of Count Horn, a natural son of Louis XV, she in her turn being the natural daughter of Maurice de Saxe, the most famous of the many illegitimate children of Augustus the Strong, by the lovely countess of Königsmarck. George Sand, who was a firm believer in the doctrine of heredity, devotes a whole volume of her autobiography (Histoire de ma vie, 1857 seq.) to the elaboration of this strange pedigree. She boasts of the royal blood which ran through her veins, and disregarding the bar sinister she claims affinity with Charles X and Louis XVII, but she is no less frank in declaring that she is vilaine et très vilaine, a daughter of the people, who shares by birth their instincts and sympathies. Her birth itself was romantic. Her father was playing a country dance at the house of a fellow officer, the future husband of Sophie/s sister, when he was told that his wife, who had not long left the room, had borne him a daughter. "She will be fortunate", said the aunt, "she was born among the roses to the sound of music."
Passing by her infantine recollections, which go back further than even those of Charles Dickens, we find her at the age of three crossing the Pyrenees to join her father who was on Murat's staff, occupying with her parents a suite of rooms in the royal palace, adopted as the child of the regiment, nursed by rough old sergeants, and dressed in a complete suit of uniform to please the general.
For the next ten years she lived at Nohant, near La Châtre in Berri, the country house of her grandmother. Here her character was shaped; here she imbibed that passionate love of country scenes and country life which neither absence, politics nor dissipation could uproot; here she learned to understand the ways and thoughts of the peasants, and laid up that rich store of scenes and characters which a marvellously retentive memory enabled her to draw upon at will. The progress of her mind during these early years well deserves to be recorded. Education, in the strict sense of the word, she had none. A few months after her return from Spain her father was killed by a fall from his horse. He was a man of remarkable literary gifts as well as a good soldier. "Character", says George Sand, "is in a great measure hereditary: if my readers wish to know me they must know my father." On his death the mother resigned, though not without a struggle, the care of Aurore to her grandmother, Mme. Dupin de Francueil, a good representative of the ancien régime. Though her husband was a patron of Rousseau, she herself had narrowly escaped the guillotine, and had only half imbibed the ideas of the Revolution. In her son's lifetime she had, for his sake, condoned the mésalliance, but it was impossible for the stately châtelaine and her low-born daughter-in-law to live in peace under the same roof. She was jealous as a lover of the child's affection, and the struggle between the mother and grandmother was one of the bitterest of Aurore's childish troubles.
Next to the grandmother, the most important person in the household at Nohant was Deschatres. He was an ex-abbé who had shown his devotion to his mistress when her life was threatened, and henceforward was installed at Nohant as factotum. He was maire of the village, tutor to Aurore's half-brother, and, in addition to his other duties, undertook the education of the girl. The tutor was no more eager to teach than the pupil to learn. He, too, was a disciple of Rousseau, believed in the education of nature, and allowed his Sophie to wander at her own sweet will. At odd hours of lessons she picked up a smattering of Latin, music and natural science, but most days were holidays and spent in country rambles and games with village children. Her favorite books were Tasso, Atala and Paul et Virginie. A simple refrain of a childish song or the monotonous chaunt of the ploughman touched a hidden chord and thrilled her to tears. She invented a deity of her own, a mysterious Corambé, half pagan and half Christian, and like Goethe erected to him a rustic altar of the greenest grass, the softest moss and the brightest pebbles.
From the free outdoor life at Nohant she passed at thirteen to the convent of the English Augustinians at Paris, where for the first two years she never went outside the walls. Nothing better shows the plasticity of her character than the ease with which she adapted herself to this sudden change. The volume which describes her conventual life is as graphic as Charlotte Brontë's Villette, but we can only dwell on one passage of it. Tired of mad pranks, in a fit of homesickness, she found herself one evening in the convent chapel.
"I had forgotten all: I knew not what was passing in me; with my soul rather than my senses, I breathed an air of ineffable sweetness. All at once a sudden shock passed through my whole being, my eyes swam, and I seemed wrapped in a dazzling white mist. I heard a voice murmur in my ear, Tolle, lege. I turned round, thinking that it was one of the sisters talking to me -- I was alone. I indulged in no vain illusion; I believed in no miracle; I was quite sensible of the sort of hallucination into which I had fallen; I neither sought to intensify it nor to escape from it. Only I felt that faith was laying hold of me -- by the heart, as I had wished it. I was so filled with gratitude and joy that the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt as before that I loved God, that my mind embraced and accepted that ideal of justice, tenderness and holiness which I had never doubted, but with which I had never held direct communion, and now at last I felt that this communion was consummated, as though an invincible barrier had been broken down between the source of infinite light and the smouldering fire of my heart. An endless vista stretched before me, and I panted to start upon my way. There was no more doubt or lukewarmness. That I should repent on the morrow and rally myself on my over-wrought ecstasy never once entered my thoughts. I was like one who never casts a look behind, who hesitates before some Rubicon to be crossed, but having touched the farther bank sees no more the shore he has just left."
Such is the story of her conversion as told by herself. It reads more like a chapter from the life of Ste. Thérèse or Madame Guyon than of the author of Lélia. Yet no one can doubt the sincerity of her narrative, or even the permanence of her religious feelings under all her many phases of faith and aberrations of conduct. A recent critic has sought in religion the clue to her character and the mainspring of her genius. Only in her case religion must be taken in an even more restricted sense than Matthew Arnold's "morality touched by emotion." For her there was no categorical imperative, no moral code save to follow the promptings of her heart. "Tenderness" she had abundantly, and it revealed itself not only in effusive sentimentality, as with Rousseau and Chateaubriand, but in active benevolence; "justice" too she had in so far as she sincerely wished that all men should share alike her happiness; but of "holiness", that sense of awe and reverence that was felt in divers kinds and degrees by Isaiah, Sophocles, Virgil and St. Paul, she had not a rudimenatiy conception.
Again in 1820 Aurore exchanged the restraint of a convent for freedom, being recalled to Nohant by Mme. de Francueil, who had no intention of letting her granddaughter grow up a dévote. She rode across country with her brother, she went out shooting with Deschatres, she sat by the cottage doors on the long summer evenings and heard the flax-dressers tell their tales of witches and warlocks. She was a considerable linguist and knew English, Italian and some Latin, though she never tackled Greek. She read widely though unsystematically, studying philosophy in Aristotle, Leibnitz, Locke and Condillac, and feeding her imagination with René and Childe Harold. Her confessor lent her the Genius of Christianity, and to this book she ascribes the first change in her religious views. She renounced once for all the asceticism and isolation of the De imitatione for the more genial and sympathetic Christianity of Chateaubriand. Yet she still clung to old associations, and on her grandmother's death was about to return to her convent, but was dissuaded by her friends, who found her a husband.
Casimir Dudevant, whom she married on the 11th of December 1822, was the natural son of a Baron Dudevant. He had retired at an early age from the army and was living an idle life at home as a gentleman farmer. Her husband, though he afterwards deteriorated, seems at that time to have been neither better nor worse than the Berrichon squires around him, and the first years of her married life, during which her son Maurice and her daughter Solange were born, except for lovers' quarrels, were passed in peace and quietness, though signs were not wanting of the coming storm. Among these must be mentioned her friendship with Aurélien de Sèze, advocate-general at Bourdeau. De Sèze was a middle-aged lawyer with a philosophic turn of mind, and Madame Dudevant for two years kept up with him an intimate correspondence. The friendship was purely platonic, but the husband felt or affected jealousy, and resented an intimacy which he from his total lack of culture was unable to share. The breach quickly widened. He on his part was more and more repelled by a superior woman determined to live her own intellectual life, and she on hers discovered that she was mated, if not to a clown, at least to a hobereau whose whole heart was in his cattle and his turnips. So long as the conventionalities were preserved she endured it, but when her husband took to drinking and made love to the maids under her very eyes she resolved to break a yoke that had grown intolerable. The last straw that determined action was the discovery of a paper docketed "Not to be opened till after my death", which was nothing but a railing accusation against herself. She at once quitted Nohant, taking with her Solange, and in 1831 an amicable separation was agreed upon, by which her whole estate was surrendered to the husband with the stipulation that she should receive an allowance of £120 a year. She had regained her liberty, and made no secret of her intention to use it to the full. She endeavored unsuccessfully to eke out her irregularly paid allowance by those expedients to which reduced gentlewomen are driven -- fancywork and painting fans and snuff-boxes; she lived in a garret and was often unable to allow herself the luxury of a fire. It was only as a last resource that she tried literature. Her first apprenticeship was served under Delatouche, the editor of Figaro. He was a native of Berri, like herself, a stern but kindly taskmaster who treated her much as Samuel Johnson treated Fanny Burney. George Sand was methodical and had a ready pen, but she lacked the more essential qualities of a Parisian journalist, wit, sparkle and conciseness. At the end of a month, she tells us, her earnings amounted to fifteen francs. On the staff of Figaro was another compatriot with whom she was already intimate as a visitor at Nohant. Jules Sandeau was a clever and attractive young lawyer. Articles written in common soon led to a complete literary partnership, and 1831 there appeared in the Revue de Paris a joint novel entitled Prima Donna and signed Jules Sand. Shortly after this was published in book form with the same signature a second novel, Rose et Blanche. The sequel to this literary alliance is best recounted in George Sand's own words: "I resisted him for three months but then yielded; I lived in my own apartment in an unconventional style." Her first independent novel, Indiana (1832), was written at the instigation of Delatouche, and the world-famous pseudonym George (originally Georges) Sand was adopted as a compromise between herself and her partner. The "George" connoted a Berrichon as "David" does a Welshman. The one wished to throw Indiana into the common stock, the other refused to lend his name, or even part of his name, to a work in which he had had no share. The novel was received with instant acclamation, and Sainte-Beuve only confirmed the judgment of the public when he pronounced in the Globe that this new author (then to him unknown) had struck a new and original vein and was destined to go far. Delatouche was the first to throw himself at her feet and bid her forget all the hard things he had said of her. Indiana is a direct transcript of the author's personal experiences (the disagreeable husband is M. Dudevant to the life), and an exposition of her theory of sexual relations which is founded thereon. To many critics it seemed that she had said her whole say and that nothing but replicas could follow. Valentine, which was published in the same year, indicated that it was but the first chapter in a life of endless adventures, and that the imagination which turned the crude facts into poetry, and the fancy which played about them like a rainbow, were inexhaustible.
As a novel Valentine has little to commend it; the plot is feeble and the characters shadowy. Only in the descriptions of scenery, which here resemble too much purple patches, does George Sand reveal her true inspiration, the artistic qualities by which she will live. No one was more conscious than George Sand herself of her strength and of her weakness. In a preface to a later edition she tells us how the novel came to be written, and, though it anticipates events, this revelation of herself may best be given here:
"After the unexpected literary success of Indiana I returned to Berri in 1832 and found a pleasure in painting the scenes with which I had been familiar from a child. Ever since those early days I had felt the impulse to describe them, but as is the case with all profound emotions, whether intellectual or moral, what we most desire to realize to ourselves we are the least inclined to reveal to the world at large. This little nook of Berri, this unknown Vallée Noire, this quiet and unpretentious landscape, which must be sought to find it and loved to be admired, was the sanctuary of my first and latest reveries. For twenty-two years I have lived amongst these pollarded trees, these rutty roads, beside these tangled thickets and streams along whose banks only children and sheep can pass. All this had charms for me alone and did not deserve to be revealed to idle curiosity. Why betray the incognito of this modest countryside without historical association or picturesque sites to commend it to the antiquary or the tourist? The Vallée Noire, so it seemed to me, was part and parcel of myself, the framework in which my life was set, the native costume that I had always worn -- what worlds away from the silks and satins that are suited for the public stage. If I could have foreseen what a stir my writings would make, I think I should have jealously guarded the privacy of this sanctuary where, till then, I perhaps was the only soul who had fed the artist's visions and the poet's dreams. But I had no such anticipation; I never gave it a thought. I was compelled to write and I wrote. I let myself be carried away by the secret charm of the air I breathed; my native air, I might almost call it. The descriptive parts of my novel found favor. The plot provoked some lively criticism on the anti-matrimonial doctrines that I was alleged to have broached before in Indiana. In both novels I pointed out the dangers and pains of an ill-assorted marriage. I thought I had simply been writing a story, and discovered that I had unwittingly been preaching Saint-Simonianism. I was not then at an age for reflecting on social grievances. I was too young to do more than see and note facts, and thanks to my natural indolence and that passion for the concrete, which is at once the joy and the weakness of artists, I should perhaps always have remained at that stage if my somewhat pedantic critics had not driven me to reflect and painfully search after the ultimate causes of which till then I had only grasped the effects. But I was so shrewdly taxed with posing as a strong-minded woman and a philosopher that one fine day I said to myself, What, I wonder, is philosophy?"
Her liaison with Jules Sandeau, which lasted more than a year, was abruptly terminated by the discovery in their apartment on an unexpected return from Nohant of une blanchisseuse quelconque. For a short while she was broken-hearted: "My heart is a cemetery!", she wrote to Sainte-Beuve. "A necropolis", was the comment of her discarded lover when years later the remark was repeated to him.
Her third novel, Lélia (1833), is in the same vein, a stronger and more outspoken diatribe against society and the marriage law. Lélia is a female Manfred, and Dumas had some reason to complain that George Sand was giving them "du Lord Byron au kilo."
But a new chapter in her life was now to open. In her despair she turned for comfort and counsel to Sainte-Beuve, now constituted her regular father confessor. This ghostly Sir Pandarus recommended new friendships, but she was hard to please. Dumas was "trop commis-voyageur", Jouffroy too serenely virtuous and Alfred de Musset "trop dandy." Mérimée was tried for a week, but the cool cynic and the perfervid apostle of women's rights proved mutually repulsive. Alfred de Musset was introduced, and the two natures leapt together as by elective affinity. The moral aspect has been given by Swinburne in an epigram: "Alfred was a terrible flirt and George did not behave as a perfect gentleman."
Towards the end of 1833 George Sand, after winning the reluctant consent of Musset's mother, set out in the poet's company for Italy, and in January 1834 the pair reached Venice, staying first at the Hôtel Danieli and then in lodgings. At first it was a veritable honeymoon; conversation never flagged and either found in the other his soul's complement. But there is a limit to love-making, and George Sand, always practical, set to work to provide the means of living. Musset, though he depended on her exertions, was first bored and then irritated at the sight of this terrible vache à écrire, whose pen was going for eight hours a day, and sought diversion in the cafés and other less reputable resorts of pleasure. The consequence was a nervous illness with some of the symptoms of delirium tremens, through which George Sand nursed him with tenderness and care. But with a strange want of delicacy, to use the mildest term, she made love at the same time to a young Venetian doctor whom she had called in, by name Pagello. The pair went off and found their way eventually to Paris, leaving Musset in Italy, deeply wounded in his affections, but, to do him justice, taking all the blame for the rupture on himself. George Sand soon tired of her new love, and even before she had given him his congé was dying to be on again with the old. She cut off her hair and sent it to Musset as a token of penitence, but Musset, though he still flirted with her, never quite forgave her infidelity and refused to admit her to his deathbed. Among the mass of romans à clef and pamphlets which the adventure produced, two only have any literary importance, Musset's Confessions d'un enfant du siècle and George Sand's Elle et lui. In the former woman appears as the serpent whose trail is over all; in the latter, written twenty-five years after the event, she is the guardian angel abused and maltreated by men. Lui et elle, the rejoinder of the poet's brother Paul de Musset, was even more a travesty of the facts with no redeeming graces of style.
It remains to trace the influence, direct or indirect, of the poet on the novelist. Jacques was the first outcome of the journey to Italy, and in precision and splendor of style it marks a distinct progress. The motive of this and of the succeeding novels of what may be called her second period is free (not to be confounded with promiscuous) love. The hero, who is none other than George Sand in man's disguise, makes confession of faith: "I have never imposed constancy on myself. When I have felt that love was dead, I have said so without shame or remorse and have obeyed Providence that was leading me elsewhere." And the runaway wife writes to her lover: "O my dear Octave, we shall never pass a night together without first kneeling down and praying for Jacques." Love is a divine instinct: to love is to be virtuous; follow the dictates of your heart and you cannot go wrong -- such is the doctrine that George Sand preached and practiced.
In Les Lettres d'un voyageur, which ran in the Revue des deux mondes between 1834 and 1836, we have not only impressions of travel, but the direct impressions of men and things not distorted by the exigencies of a novel. They reveal to us the true and better side of George Sand, the loyal and devoted friend, the mother who under happier conditions might have been reputed a Roman matron. We could not choose a more perfect specimen of her style than the allegory under which she pictures the "might have been."
"I care little about growing old; I care far more not to grow old alone, but I have never met the being with whom I could have chosen to live and die, or if I ever met him I knew not how to keep him. Listen to a story and weep. There was a good artist called Watelet, the best aquafortis engraver of his day. He loved Marguerite Lecomte, and taught her to engrave as well as himself. She left husband and home to go and live with him. The world condemned them; then, as they were poor and modest, it forgot them. Forty years afterwards their retreat was discovered. In a cottage in the environs of Paris called Le Moulin joli, there sat at the same table an old man engraving and an old woman whom he called his meunière also engraving. The last design they were at work upon represented the Moulin joli, the house of Marguerite, with the device Cur valle permutem Sabina divitias operosiores? It hangs in my room over a portrait the original of which no one here has seen. For a year the person who gave me this portrait sat with me every night at a little table and lived by the same work. At daybreak we consulted together on our work for the day, and at night we supped at the same little table, chatting the while on art, on sentiment, on the future. The future broke faith with us. Pray for me, 0 Marguerite Lecomte!"
The Everard of the Lettres introduces us to a new and for the time a dominant influence on the life and writings. Michel de Bourges was the counsel whose eloquent pleadings brought the suit for a judicial separation to a successful issue in 1836. Unlike her former lovers, he was a man of masterful will, a budge philosopher who carried her intellect by storm before he laid siege to her heart. He preached republicanism to her by the hour, and even locked her up in her bedroom to reflect on his sermons. She was but half converted, and fled before long from a republic in which art and poetry had no place. Other celebrities who figure in the Lettres under a transparent disguise are Franz Liszt and Mme. d'Agoult (known to literature as Daniel Stern), whom she met in Switzerland and entertained for some months at Nohant. Liszt, in after years when they had drifted apart, wrote of her: "George Sand catches her butterfly and tames it in her cage by feeding it on flowers and nectar -- this is the love period. Then she sticks her pin into it when it struggles -- that is the congé and it always comes from her. Afterwards she vivisects it, stuffs it, and adds it to her collection of heroes for novels." There is some truth in the satire, but it wholly misrepresents her rupture with Frederic Chopin.
To explain this we must open a new chapter of the life in which George Sand appears as the devoted mother. The letters to her daughter Solange, which have been published, irresistibly recall the letters of Mme. de Sévigné to Mme. de Grignan. Solange, who inherited all her mother's wild blood with none of her genius, on the eve of a marriage that had been arranged with a Berrichon gentleman, ran away with Clésinger, a sculptor to whom she had sat for her bust. George Sand not only forgave the elopement and hushed up the scandal by a private marriage, but she settled the young couple in Paris and made over to them nearly one-half of her available property. Clésinger turned out a thankless scapegrace and George Sand was at last compelled to refuse to admit him to Nohant. In the domestic quarrel that ensued Solange, who was a very Vivien, got the ear of Chopin. He upbraided the mother with her hard-heartedness, and when she resented his interference he departed in a huff and they never met again.
The mention of Liszt has led us to anticipate the end of the story, and we must revert to 1836, when the acquaintance began. She was then living in Paris, a few doors from her friend Mme. d'Agoult, and the two set up a common salon in the Hôtel de France. Here she met two men, one of whom indoctrinated her with religious mysticism, the other with advanced socialism, Lamennais and Pierre Leroux. In the case of Lamennais the disciple outstripped the master. She flung herself into Lamennais's cause and wrote many unpaid articles in his organ, Le Monde, but they finally split on the questions of labor and of women's rights, and she complained that Lamennais first dragged her forwards and then abused her for going too fast. The Lettres à Marcie (1837) are a testimony to his ennobling and spiritualizing personality. Socialism was a more lasting phase, but her natural good sense revolted at the extravagant mummeries of Père Enfantin and she declined the office of high priestess.
It was doubtless a revulsion of feeling against the doctrinaires and in particular against the puritanic reign of Michel that made her turn to Chopin. She found the maestro towards the end of 1837 dispirited by a temporary eclipse of popularity and in the first stage of his fatal malady, and carried him off to winter with her in the south. How she roughed it on an island unknown to tourists is told in Un hiver à Majorque (1842), a book of travel that may take rank with Heinrich Heine's Reisebilder. In nearly all George Sand's loves there was a strong strain of motherly feeling. Chopin was first petted by her like a spoiled darling and then nursed for years like a sick child.
During this, her second period, George Sand allowed herself to be the mouthpiece of others -- "un écho qui embellissait la voix", as Delatouche expressed it. Spiridion (1838) and Les Sept cordes de la lyre (1840) are mystic echoes of Lamennais. Le Compagnon du tour de France (1841), Les Maîtres mosaïstes and Le Meunier d'Angibault (1845), Le Péché de M. Antoine (1847) are all socialistic novels, though they are much more, and good in spite of the socialism. Consuelo (1842-44) and its sequel La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (1843-45) are fantaisies à la Chopin, though the stage on which they are played is the Venice of Musset. Chopin is the Prince Karol of Lucrezia Floriani (1847), a self-portraiture unabashed as the Tagebuch einer Verlorenen and innocent as Paul et Virginie.
An enumeration of George Sand's novels would constitute a Homeric catalogue, and it must suffice to note only the most typical and characteristic. She contracted with Buloz to supply him with a stated amount of copy for the modest retaining fee of £160 a year, and her editor testifies that the tale of script was furnished with the punctuality of a notary. She wrote with the rapidity of Sir Walter Scott and the regularity of Anthony Trollope. For years her custom was to retire to her desk at 10 PM and not to rise from it until 5 AM. She wrote à la diable, starting with some central thesis to set forth or some problem to investigate, but with no predetermined plot or plan of action. Around this nucleus her characters (too often mere puppets) grouped themselves, and the story gradually crystallized. This unmethodical method produces in her longer and more ambitious novels, in Consuelo for instance and its continuation, a tangled wilderness, the clue to which is lost or forgotten; but in her novelettes, when there is no change of scenery and the characters are few and simple, it results in the perfection of artistic writiiig, "an art that nature makes."
From novels of revolt and tendency novels George Sand turned at last to simple stories of rustic life, the genuine pastoral. It is here that she shows her true originality and by these she will chiefly live. George Sand by her birth and upbringing was half a peasant herself, in M. Faguet's phrase, "un paysan qui savait parler." She had got to know the heart of the peasant -- his superstitions, his suspiciousness and low cunning, no less than his shrewdness, his sturdy independence and his strong domestic attachments.
Jeanne (1844) begins the series which has been happily called the Bucolics of France. To paint a Joan of Arc who lives and dies inglorious is the theme she sets herself, and through most of the novel it is perfectly executed. The last chapters when Jeanne appears as the Velida of Mont Barbot and the Grande Pastoure are a falling off and a survival of the romanticism of her second manner. La Mare au diable (1846) is a clear-cut gem, perfect as a work of Greek art. François le champi and La Petite Fadette are of no less exquisite workmanship. Les Maîtres sonneurs (1853) -- the favorite novel of Sir Leslie Stephen -- brings the series of village novels to a close, but as closely akin to them must be mentioned the Contes d'une grande-mère, delightful fairy tales of the Talking Oak, Wings of Courage and Queen Coax, told to her grandchildren in the last years of her life.
The revolution of 1848 arrested for a while her novelistic activities. She threw herself heart and soul into the cause of the extreme republicans, composed manifestos for her friends, addressed letters to the people, and even started a newspaper. But her political ardor was short-lived; she cared little about forms of government, and, when the days of June dashed to the ground her hopes of social regeneration, she quitted once for all the field of politics and returned to her quiet country ways and her true vocation as an interpreter of nature, a spiritualizer of the commonest sights of earth and the homeliest household affections. In 1849 she writes from Berri to a political friend: "You thought that I was drinking blood from the skulls of aristocrats. No, I am studying Virgil and learning Latin!"
In her latest works she went back to her earlier themes of romantic and unchartered love, but the scene is shifted from Berri, which she felt she had exhausted, to other provinces of France, and instead of passionate manifestos we have a gallery of genre pictures treated in the spirit of François le champi. "Vous faites", she said to her friend Honoré de Balzac, "la comédie humaine; et moi, c'est l'églogue humaine que j'ai voulu faire."
A word must be said of George Sand as a playwright. She was as fond of acting as Goethe, and like him began with a puppet stage, succeeded by amateur theatricals, the chief entertainment provided for her guests at Nohant. Undaunted by many failures, she dramatized several of her novels with moderate success -- François le champi, played at the Odon in 1849, and Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Doré (1862) were the best; Claudie, produced in 1851, is a charming pastoral play, and Le Marquis de Villemer (1864) (in which she was helped by Alexandre Dumas fils) was a genuine triumph. Her statue by Clésinger was placed in the foyer of the Théâtre Francais in 1877.
Of George Sand's style a foreigner can be but an imperfect judge, but French critics, from Sainte-Beuve, Nisard and Caro down to Jules Lemaître and Faguet, have agreed to praise her spontaneity, her correctness of diction, her easy opulence -- the lactea ubertas that Quintilian attributes to Livy. The language of her country novels is the genuine patois of middle France rendered in a literary form. Thus in La Petite Fadette, by the happy device of making the hemp dresser the narrator, she speaks (to quote Sainte-Beuve) as though she had on her right the unlettered rustic and on her left a member of the Académie, and made herself the interpreter between the two. She hits the happy mean between the studied archaism of Courier's Daphnis et Cloë and the realistic patois of the later kailyard novel which for Southerners requires a glossary. Of her style generally the characteristic quality is fluidity. She has all the abandon of an Italian improvisatore, the simplicity of a Bernardin de St. Pierre without his mawkishness, the sentimentality of a Rousseau without his egotism, the rhythmic eloquence of a Chateaubriand without his grandiloquence.
As a painter of nature she has much in common with William Wordsworth. She keeps her eye on the object, but adds, like Wordsworth, the visionary gleam, and receives from nature but what she herself gives. Like Wordsworth she lays us on the lap of earth and sheds the freshness of the early world. She, too, had found love in huts where poor men dwell, and her miller, her bagpipers, her workers in mosaic are as faithful renderings in prose of peasant life and sentiment as Wordsworth's leech-gatherer and wagoners and gleaners are in verse. Her psychology is not subtle or profound, but her leading characters are clearly conceived and drawn in broad, bold outlines. No one has better understood or more skilfully portrayed the artistic temperament -- the musician, the actor, the poet -- and no French writer before her had so divined and laid bare the heart of a girl. She works from within outwards, touches first the mainspring and then sets it to play. As Henry James puts it, she interviews herself. Rarely losing touch of earth, and sometimes of the earth earthy, she is still at heart a spiritualist. Her final word on herself rings true, "Toujours tourmentée des choses divines."
Unlike Victor Hugo and Balzac, she founded no school, though Fromentin, Theuriet, Cherbuliez, Fabre and Bazin might be claimed as her collateral descendants. In Russia her influence has been greater. She directly inspired Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Ivan Turgenev owes much to her. In England she has found her warmest admirers. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote sonnets to "the large-brained woman and large-hearted man, self-named George Sand." To Thackeray her diction recalled the sound of village bells faffing sweetly and softly on the ear, and it sent a shiver through John Stuart Mill, like a symphony of Haydn or Mozart. Leslie Stephen advised Thomas Hardy, then an aspiring contributor to the Cornhill, to read George Sand, whose country stories seemed to him perfect. "The harmony and grace, even if strictly inimitable, are good to aim at." He pronounced the Histoire de ma vie about the best biography he had ever read. F. W. H. Myers claimed her as anima naturaliter Christiana and the inspired exponent of the religion of the future.
George Eliot by her very name invites and challenges comparison with George Sand. But it was as a humble follower, not as a rival, that she took George Sand as sponsor. Both women broke with social conventions, but while George Sand (if the expression may be allowed) kicked over the traces, George Eliot was impelled all the more emphatically, because of her exceptional circumstances, to put duty before inclination and to uphold the reign of law and order. Both passed through phases of faith, but while even Positivism did not cool George Eliot's innate religious fervor, with George Sand religion was a passing experience, no deeper than her republicanism and less lasting than her socialism, and she lived and died a gentle savage. Rousseau's Confessions was the favorite book of both (as it was of Emerson), but George Eliot was never converted by the high priest of sentimentalism into a belief in human perfectibifity and a return to nature. As a thinker George Eliot is vastly superior; her knowledge is more profound and her psychological analysis subtler and more scientific. But as an artist, in unity of design, in harmony of treatment, in purity and simplicity of language, so felicitous and yet so unstudied, in those qualities which make the best of George Sand's novels masterpieces of art, she is as much her inferior.
Francis Gribble has summed up her character in "a scornful, insular way" as a light woman. A truer estimate is that of Sainte-Beuve, her intimate friend for more than thirty years, but never her lover. "In the great crises of action her intellect, her heart and her temperament are at one. She is a thorough woman, but with none of the pettinesses, subterfuges, and mental reservations of her sex; she loves wide vistas and boundless horizons and instinctively seeks them out; she is concerned for universal happiness and takes thought for the improvement of mankind -- the last infirmity and most innocent mania of generous souls. Her works are in very deed the echo of our times. Wherever we were wounded and stricken her heart bled in sympathy, and all our maladies and miseries evoked from her a lyric wail."
George Sand died at Nohant on the 8th of June 1876. To a youth and womanhood of storm and stress had succeeded an old age of serene activity and then of calm decay. Her nights were spent in writing, which seemed in her case a relaxation from the real business of the day, playing with her grandchildren, gardening, conversing with her visitors -- it might be Balzac or Dumas, or Octave Feuillet or Matthew Arnold -- or writing long letters to Sainte-Beuve and Flaubert. "Calme, toujours plus de calme", was her last prayer, and her dying words, "Ne détruisez pas la verdure."
Father: Maurice Dupin (Army lieutenant)
Mother: Sophie Delaborde
Husband: Casimir Dudevant (m. 11-Dec-1822, separated 1835)
Son: Maurice (b. 1823)
Daughter: Solange (b. 1828)
Boyfriend: Alfred de Musset (dated 1833-34)
Boyfriend: Franz Liszt (composer)
Boyfriend: Frederic Chopin (composer)
Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile
Copyright ©2013 Soylent Communications