The French novelist George Sand (1804-1876) was the most successful woman writer of her century. Her novels present a large fresco of romantic sentiment and 19th-century life, especially in its more pastoral aspects.
George Sand was born Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin in Paris on July 1, 1804. On her father's side she was related to a line of kings and to the Maréchal de Saxe; her mother was the daughter of a professional bird fancier. Aurore's father, Maurice Dupin, was a soldier of the Empire. He died when Aurore was still a child.
At the age of 14, tired of being the "apple of discord" between her mother and grandmother, Aurore went to the convent of the Dames Augustines Anglaises in Paris. Though she did her best to disrupt the convent's peaceful life, she felt drawn to quiet contemplation and direct communication with God.
To save Aurore from mysticism, her grandmother called her to her home in Nohant. Here Aurore studied nature, practiced medicine on the peasants, read from the philosophers of all ages, and developed a passion for the works of François René Chateaubriand. Her eccentric tutor encouraged her to wear men's clothing while horseback riding, and she galloped through the countryside in trousers and loose shirt, free, wild, and in love with nature.
Marriage and Lovers
When her grandmother died, Aurore became mistress of the estate at Nohant. At 19 she married Casimir Dudevant, the son of a baron and a servant girl. He was goodhearted but coarse and sensual, and he offended her lofty and mystical ideal of love. Aurore soon began to seek her idealized love object elsewhere. For a time she maintained a platonic relationship with Aurélien de Se‧ze, but eventually this affair languished. She had begun to realize that it was impossible to sustain love without physical passion.
At the age of 27 Aurore moved to Paris in search of independence and love, leaving husband and children behind. She began writing articles to earn her living and met a coterie of writers. Henri de Latouche and Charles Sainte-Beuve became her mentors.
Aurore fell in love with Jules Sandeau, a charming young writer. They collaborated on articles and signed them collectively "J. Sand." When she published her first novel, Indiana (1832), she took as her pen name "George Sand."
George Sand made a home for Sandeau and for her daughter, Solange, but eventually she wearied of his jealousy and idle disposition. He, in turn, realized that he could never overcome her essential frigidity. She felt as though she had failed in marriage as well as in adultery. Several novels of disillusioned love were the fruit of this period of her life. Then she met the young poet Alfred de Musset, and they became lovers.
George Sand legally separated from her husband; she gained custody over Solange, while her husband kept the other child, Maurice. She now came to enjoy great renown in Paris both as a writer and as a bold and brilliant woman. She had many admirers and chose new lovers from among them. Her lovers included the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin and the doctor who attended Musset in Venice. Perhaps it was her inability to be aroused to physical passion that drove her from one lover to another. She compensated for this deficiency by the spiritual intensity of her love.
George Sand was a democrat; she felt close to the people by birth, and she often praised the humble virtues of the urban and country poor in her novels. She was a Christian of sorts and advocated a socially conscious religion. Like Jean Jacques Rosseau, she believed that inherently good man was corrupted by civilization and faulty institutions.
Despite her own feminist leanings, George Sand never advocated political equality for women. It was in love that she demanded equality, in the free choice of the love object; the inequality of men and women before the law seemed to her a scandal.
As she grew older, George Sand spent more and more time at her beloved Nohant and gave herself up to the intoxications of pastoral life, the entertainment of friends, the staging of puppet shows, and most of all to her grandchildren. Though she had lost none of her vital energy and enthusiasm, she grew less concerned with politics. Her quest for the absolute in love had led her through years of stormy affairs to the attainment of a tolerant and universal love—of God, of nature, of children. She died in Nohant on June 9, 1876.
Every night from midnight until dawn, George Sand covered her daily quota of 20 pages with her large, tranquil writing, never crossing out a line. All her novels are love stories in which her romantic idealism unfolds in a realistic setting. The characters are people she knew, although their sentiments are idealized.
The early works by George Sand are novels of passion, written to alleviate the pain of her first love affairs. Indiana (1832) has as its central theme woman's search for the absolute in love. Valentine (1832) depicts an aristocratic woman, unhappily married, who finds that a farmer's son loves her. Lélia (1854) is a lyrical but searching confession of the author's own physical coldness. Lélia is a beautiful woman loved by a young poet, but she can show him only maternal affection.
During the 1840s George Sand wrote a number of novels in which she exposed her socialist doctrine joined with a humanitarian religion. Le Compagnon du tour de France (1840), Consuelo (1842-1843), and Le Péchéde Monsieur Antoine (1847) are typical novels of this period. Her socialism was of an optimistic, idealistic nature. She sympathized in these novels with the plight of the worker and the farmer. She also wrote a number of novels devoted to country life, most produced during her retreat to Nohant at the time of the 1848 uprising. La Mare au diable (1846), La Petite Fadette (1849), and Les Maîtres sonneurs (1852) are typical novels of this genre. They celebrate the humble virtues of a simple life and offer idealized portraits of the peasants of Berry.
George Sand's last works show a tendency to moralize; in these novels the characters become incarnated theories rather than human beings.
Further Reading on George Sand
George Sand's appeal to biographers has inspired a number of good works. Elizabeth W. Schermerhorn, The Seven Strings of the Lyre: The Romantic Life of George Sand, 1804-1876 (1927), is authoritative and carefully compiled. Felizia Seyd, Romantic Rebel: The Life and Times of George Sand (1940), is a straightforward account. André Maurois, Lélia: The Life of George Sand (1952; trans. 1953), is readable and emotionally compelling. Two books that emphasize George Sand's love life are Marie J. Howe, George Sand: The Search for Love (1927), and Frances Winwar, The Life of the Heart: George Sand and Her Times (1945).