Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Consuelo is a rambling novel divided into 106 chapters, each consisting of a short scene which advances the story by slow degrees. It reflects George Sand’s own love of freedom and adventure, as well as her love of music. The story is significant to women’s issues and concerns because it illustrates the plight of a lower-class girl in a male-dominated society where opportunities are restricted to men. It illustrates Sand’s view that marriage, the only “career” open to most women, could be little better than slavery.
The opening chapters deal with Consuelo’s life in Venice. She hopes to escape from grinding poverty by obtaining a musical education at the Scuola dei Mendicanti, a public charity school conducted by Porpora. Only because Consuelo possesses musical genius can she aspire to a better life than most women of her class. Nevertheless, her career on the stage exposes her to lecherous advances by men who assume that women of her profession are immoral.
Consuelo grew up with a handsome Italian boy named Anzoleto. Although they often sleep side by side on the pavement or in gondolas, their relationship is chaste. Consuelo takes it for granted that they will marry. Anzoleto is a good singer, and women find him fascinating. His musical ability, however, is far inferior to that of his fiancée. Realizing this, he hopes to attain success by romancing wealthy women. Consuelo is heartbroken when she discovers that Anzoleto is being callously unfaithful; she seizes...
(The entire section is 616 words.)
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Sand has been called the first modern, liberated woman. Her interest in social reform was focused largely on improving the conditions of women, whom she regarded as little better off than slaves. She deplored the fact that women were often forced to marry for economic reasons rather than for love. Her own experience had left her with a lifelong aversion to marriage; she was a century ahead of her time in wanting to see marriage become an uncoerced contract based on mutual love and respect. Although her novels have a Cinderella flavor, they contain a strong undercurrent of social protest. This was particularly true of her “middle period,” to which the novel Consuelo belongs.
Unfortunately, Sand’s ideas about how equality between men and women could be achieved were rather vague and confused, reflecting the tumultuous changes taking place in French thought in the period following the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era, and the Paris Revolution of 1848. Only exceptional women such as Sand herself were able to obtain economic freedom, and without financial independence it was difficult to visualize equality for women. Sand was particularly interested in how social injustice affected women. She addressed her novels to women and in Consuelo frequently uses such expressions as “my young lady readers.” She was not interested in seeing women obtain the right to vote, but she wanted women to demand and obtain better treatment from...
(The entire section is 485 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Atwood, William G. The Lioness and the Little One: The Liaison of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. Chronicles Sand’s famous love affair with the great Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin, who helped her acquire the rich musical appreciation displayed in Consuelo.
Blount, Paul G. George Sand and the Victorian World. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979. This interesting short volume discusses the reaction of Victorians to Sand and her influence upon such famous writers as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot.
Datlof, Natalie, Jeanne Fuchs, and David A. Powell, eds. The World of George Sand. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. A collection of penetrating essays on Sand’s life, works, politics, contemporaries, and influence on world literature. Includes essays on Consuelo and La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (1843-1844; The Countess of Rudolstadt, 1847), Chapter notes provide a wealth of reference material.
James, Henry. French Poets and Novelists. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964. One of the world’s greatest novelists devotes a chapter in this authoritative book to the life and works of George Sand. Other chapters discuss Sand’s other famous lover, poet Alfred de Musset,...
(The entire section is 506 words.)