George Sand – a flamboyant, romantic writer

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: “Portrait of George Sand” by Charles Louis Gratia (c. 1835)

George’s Sand real name was Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin; she was called by her family and friends “Aurore”. Born in Paris in 1801, she was the most popular writer in Europe in mid 1800s, more popular than Victor Hugo and Honore the Balzac. Her work was appreciated by many famous poets and writers: the American poet Walt Whitman cited Sand’s novel Consuelo as a personal favorite; Dostoevsky translated some of her work; she inspired Virginia Wolf, Marcel Proust and many others.

A not so common 19th century French woman

She grew up in the French countryside, in Nohant, near La Châtre in Berry. At age thirteen she was sent to a convent in Paris. Her grandmother was afraid that Sand will become a nun so she brought her back to Nohant. She became the mistress of the estate after her grandmother died. At 19 she got married with Casimir-François Dudevant and they had 2 kids together.

I guess she was bored or grew wings because at 27 she decided that she wanted more and she moved to Paris in search for independence and love. She first worked for Le Figaro. 

It didn’t take long for her to create her own identity: George Sand the writer. At that time, when a woman that demanded respect was supposed to be a dutiful wife and mother, she broke social barriers by becoming a writer. 

She wore male attire in public….yes, pants, shirts and men’s hats!  She also smoked in public. You might think, well, what’s so special about that? It is, because in France back then women were required to have a permit in order to wear male clothing! Some women applied for permit but Sand was one of the women that wore men’s clothes without it. 

She started wearing men’s attire when she wanted to go to the theatre and didn’t have enough money. She loved entering intellectual and artistic venues where women were forbidden. AH, if I was to live during these days I would have done the same!!!

Also, the fact that she was smoking in public was scandalous. While more than a few raised their eyebrows at her rebellious behavior, others found her admirable and were not bothered by it. 

Victor Hugo for example said that:

“George Sand cannot determine whether she is male or female. I entertain a high regard for all my colleagues, but it is not my place to decide whether she is my sister or my brother.”

– Victor Hugo

Writing

She was a romantic soul that always found consolation in her writing. I think that George Sand might be the most prolific woman writer in the history of literature. She wrote 130 volumes of fiction, political and other writing and 25 volumes or more of letters are coming to light. That’s impressive! I wonder when she found time to do anything else…..

All her novels are love stories in which her romantic idealism unfolds in a real world.

Her fist novel, Indiana, brought her immediate fame.  This novel was a passionate protest against the social conventions that made a wife dependent on her husband and a plea for a heroine who abandons an unhappy marriage and finds love. Sounds familiar? Of course it does! The story is very similar to her own life story…..

 The cover of Indiana by George Sand – WikiCommons

Yes, she was a “dream lover

She was and did many things: she was a writer, a mother, an unhappy but trying hard to make it work wife, a lover, a caretaker, a “politician”. But she also had a sensible soul. She was forever searching for love, moving from one lover to another “ searching endlessly for a way to stop searching”( “The dream lover” by Elizabeth Berg). I wish she didn’t have to have that many lovers……but each of us has our own story. From her relationships, most remarkable to me were her relationships with Alfred de Musset, Frederic Chopin and last….Gustave Flaubert. She loved each of them and each man loved her in their own way.

Her longest relationship was with Polish pianist and composer, Frédéric Chopin. He wrote much of his work during their 9 years long relationship.  I cannot imagine what would have been like to hear this man playing piano everyday! I love his Nocturne op.9, No.2; it’s my favorite. I also love Spring Waltz and so many other of his compositions. You can listen to both if you click their names, I attached their youtube links.

George Sand and Frédéric Chopin by Alquiler de Coches – Flickr

She and Gustave Flaubert meet after the publication of his book “Madame Bovary”. She was 53, he was 35. Some say that they were not lovers but friends. They wrote letters to each other; their correspondence lasted for 10 years, until Sand’s death. You can now read their correspondence if you check out these books The George Sand – Gustave Flaubert Letters and Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence.

Books and movies about her

There are a lot of books about her, but the one I have read is “The Dream lover” by Elizabeth Berg.  One must appreciate this writer because of the sum of all feelings and insights you get while reading her work. Berg includes  a lot of dates, places and famous people in Sand’s life. I have read some reviews and many people didn’t like this book, but I did! To me it had a lot of depth and feeling. 

Movies:

Impromptu (1991), with Hugh Grant and Judy Davis, is a very special movie. A young Hugh Grant and Judy Davis play Chopin and Sand.

The Children of the Century (1999) with Juliette Binoche. This movie focuses on Sand’s relationship with fellow author, Alfred de Musset. 

Chopin: desire to love (2002) is a Polish movie. It is definitely one of the truest-to-life depictions of Chopin on the screen.   Danita Stenka is also hands-down the best George Sand I’ve yet seen.

Movie poster for the 2002 movie by Jerzy Antczak titled Chopin: Desire for Love

Some final thoughts

George Sand lived her life as she pleased, which was very rare for any woman at that time. May we all learn from her courage. And may we all strive to be as creative as she was and be even half, a third or a tenth as productive as she was.

What about love? With all the distractions, tv’s, iPhones, internet and such, our fast pace of life makes us feel that we are racing to the unknown without deep feelings, forever rushing through. It feels like we are citizens of a land of banality, brushing shoulders with each other, chasing money, power, success….. But no! This is just an illusion, because deep inside each of us there is something that asks for love, and that is what motivates us to go on and on. 

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