George Sand – 19th Century Novelist with Modern Ideas


The Indre’s world-famous author and her region

George Sand, (1804–1876), whose real name was Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, was a woman ahead of her time whose works and lifestyle were both controversial and fascinating to her national and international audiences.

She defied the conventions of the time by smoking a pipe and cross-dressing, changed her name and left her marriage to concentrate on writing. She conducted numerous love affairs with such prominent figures of the time as Prosper Merimée, the author, Alfred de Musset, the poet, and Fredéric Chopin, the composer, amongst others. The painter Eugène Delacroix did a portrait of her with Chopin.

From Sand’s first solo novel, Indiana (1832), a story of a naive, love-starved woman abused by her much older husband and deceived by a selfish seducer, she became famous. Sand’s works influenced among others Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Flaubert, and Proust. In 1842, the English critic George Henry Lewes wrote that she was “the most remarkable writer of the present century.”

George Sand was born in Paris and brought up in the country home of her grandmother. She received her education at Nohant, her grandmother’s estate, and at Couvent des Anglaises, Paris (1817-20). In 1822 she married the baron Casimir Dudevant, and provided him with a son and a daughter. She inherited Nohant in 1821, but because of her unhappy marriage, she left her family in 1831 and returned to Paris.

In 1831 Sand started to write for Le Figaro, and during this time she got to know several poets, artists, philosophers, and politicians, and wrote a novel with her lover Jules Sandeau, Rose et Blanche, under the pseudonym Jules Sand. The second novel Indiana (1832) was written on her own and gained an immediate attention. It was followed by Valentine (1832), and Lelia (1833). After reading Indiana, the poet Alfred de Musset wrote an admiring letter to Sand which marked the beginning of their passionate affair. At the age of 33 she started an affair with Chopin.

Their relationship ended in 1847 when Sand started to suspect that the composer had fallen in love with her daughter, Solange.

In her early works Sand’s writings show the influence of the writers with whom she was associated. In the 1830s several artists responded to the call of the Comte de Saint-Simon to cure the evils of the new industrial society, among them the composer Franz Listz and Sand who became good friends.

From the 1840s Sand found her own voice in novels, which had roots in her childhood’s peasant upbringing. For the rest of her life, Sand was committed to ideal of Socialism.

After the 1848 revolution in France failed, Sand settled at Nohant. From 1864 to 1867 she lived in Palaiseau, near Versailles.

She spend the rest of her life writing and travelling. “Work is not man’s punishment. It is his reward and his strength, his glory and his pleasure,” she said. During her career she played an important, if long underestimated, role in the evolution of the novel.

In her novels Sand raised the question of sexual identity and transgender issues, very much a topic of today. Sand herself was accused of lesbianism and nymphomania, partly because of affairs with well-known celebrities.

In her mid-life autobiography, Histoire de ma Vie(1854-55, Story of My Life), Sand displaces conventional distinctions separating male from female, fact from fiction, and public from private life. “Life in common among people who love each other is the ideal of happiness,”she says.

Among Sand’s best works are her countryside novels including La Mare au Diable(1846), in which Germain, a young widower, must choose between a rich woman and a poor girl. She also wrote memoirs, short stories, essays and fairy tales.

Sand died on June 8, 1876. Her literary reputation started to decline after her death, and in the beginning of the 20th century, her work did not attract much attention. “The world will know and understand me someday,” Sand once wrote to her critics. “But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter. I shall have opened the way for other women.”

For further reading: Family Romances: George Sand’s Early Novels by Kathryn J. Crecelius (1987); George Sand: A Brave Man, the Most Womanly Woman by Donna Dickenson (1988); George Sand by David Powell (1990);

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