Sand’s literary style is always aristocratic and derives its charm from a high-spirited insouciance, elegance, and assertiveness. In this, the influence of the paternal side of her family, particularly her elegant and witty grandmother, shines. The influence of Sand’s mother, whom Sand described as a true gypsy, and Sand’s own bohemian life can be felt in Sand’s love of mystery and melodrama.
Sand’s characters often personify her themes. She also exhaustively analyzes their motives, usually in a declamatory dialogue form that the contemporary reader will find quaint. The earnest, searching honesty with which Sand squarely faced relations between the sexes keeps many of her concerns relevant.
While identified overwhelmingly with her contributions to women’s issues, Sand devoted considerable effort to making the reader understand her male characters and their problems. Male and female characters display physical characteristics that cause them to border on being stereotypes. Indiana, her first heroine, is an embodiment of the romantic ideal of a fragile, thin, flowerlike, delicate, yet mysterious and exotic female creature; the man who finally wins her is (even to the author) almost too handsome, noble, healthy, and chiseled. Sand gradually modified these stereotypes until, in her last novella, the heroine is pretty but has the “masculine” characteristics of sturdy good health and common sense, and the hero is handsome but bookish, timid, and naïve. Sand always has a sense of the difficulty of men’s position. She treats with understanding the brusque, hearty, egotistical type of man her heroines must flee from, and she reassures the reader that he is not a brute but essentially a good fellow who cannot help being what he is. She also understands how difficult it can be for a sensitive man to take the initiative. In Indiana and again in Mauprat (1837; English translation, 1870), both hero and heroine must come perilously close to dying before they can admit to loving someone whom they considered only a friend.
Sand’s characters are always bedeviled by the romantic ideal of passionate, sexual, but voluntarily unconsummated love, exemplified by such earlier works as Rousseau’s Julie: Ou, La Nouvelle Hélöise (1761; Eloise: Or, A Series of Original Letters, 1761; better known as The New Hélöise). Although Sand’s characters typically consummate their love eventually, such a resolution is prefaced by much agonizing over whether they had not better remain as friends.
Sand did not write for art’s sake alone. The bulk of her work, today little read, consists of potboilers written to pay the bills. Her better works, which are still interesting, were also not written for the sake of art alone. She was blessed with a facile and charming style that she simply allowed to take care of itself and with a storyteller’s instinct for creating suspense. Her works have a conscious didactic purpose. She had a deeply held sense of the nature and importance of love in human life. She was an absolutist in seeing love as humanity’s link with the divine and as the only principle through which men and women alike could attain their full self-realization. The defense of love, therefore, against restrictive convention and against false modesty and hypocrisy was for Sand a holy crusade. For her, the only irreparable tragedy was the defeat of true love. Sand never wrote such a tragedy. The many loves in her works that remain unconsummated are invariably flawed—by subtle hypocrisy or unconscious egotism. Hence their frustration, however agonizing, is never a tragedy. Her didactic purpose in praising ideal love, which rises above selfishness, pettiness, and the desire for control, would not allow her to depict such moral perfection being defeated. Sand was essentially an optimist.
Successful teachers and edifiers of humanity have always resorted to humor to sweeten the lesson, and Sand is no exception. Among her secondary characters, she offers a gallery of eccentric individualists who often serve as mentors to the heroes. These eccentrics are loosely based upon the didactic figures who guided her youth. The heretical, mildly satirized Abbé Aubert (in Mauprat) has elements of the socialist Abbé de Lamenais, a lifelong friend. Aubert’s boon companion, the ascetic peasant philosopher Patience, incorporates two of Sand’s mentors in disguise: Stéphane de Grandsagne (no peasant, but a man similarly devoured by intellectual passions) and François Deschartres, a good-hearted, unpretentious man, devoted to helping youth.
First published: 1832 (English translation, 1833)
Type of work: Novel
The title character leaves her husband, is betrayed by her lover, and finds happiness with her cousin.
Indiana, an intricately plotted novel, brought Sand instant fame. The touching innocence of Indiana and her maid, the creole Noun, both from French Louisiana, is partly explained by their roots in the United States, a country of which Sand had only vague notions, but of which she wrote with enthusiasm.
When readers first meet Indiana, now in France, she is married to a tyrannical old brute, the retired Colonel Delmare, whom she met in America. Their permanent guest is Indiana’s cousin and childhood sweetheart, Sir Ralph. The situation offers Sir Ralph no scope for action other than small gestures to soften Indiana’s fate, unobtrusively calm her husband, and deflect any dangers that threaten. Indiana regards Sir Ralph as merely insipid and her fate as hopeless.
Wishing to shake his wife from her doldrums and hypochondria, Delmare brings her, at the height of the social season, from rural France to the sophisticated social circles of Paris. Sand makes full use of the contrast of scene. The flower from the wilderness, of course, attracts the attention of the most successful dandy of the moment, Raymon de Ramière. Sir Ralph, who has accompanied the Delmares like a shadow, senses the danger. What few...
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