Study Guide

George Sand

George Sand Essay - Sand, George (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Sand, George (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Introduction

George Sand 1804-1876

(Pseudonym of Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin Dudevant) French novelist, essayist, and dramatist.

For further discussion of Sand's career, see .

One of the most celebrated writers and controversial personalities of nineteenth-century France, Sand wrote prolifically in a variety of genres, producing over eighty novels, three collections of short stories, a four-volume autobiography, numerous essays, twenty-five plays, and approximately twenty thousand letters. She remains best known for her novels, which have been praised for their vivid depictions of the peasantry and the countryside, insightful studies of human nature, and natural prose style. Although she was one of the most popular novelists of her time, after her death her works received little critical attention until late in the twentieth century. Instead, she was primarily remembered for her bold behavior while living in Paris as a young woman; wearing men's clothing, espousing equal marital rights for women, and engaging in love affairs with prominent artistic figures.

Biographical Information

Sand's parents, who married one month before her birth in Paris, were of dissimilar backgrounds: her mother was a bird seller's daughter, while her father was an officer in Napoleon's army and purportedly an illegitimate descendant of Frederic-Auguste de Saxe, King of Poland. Following her father's death when she was four, Sand went to live with her paternal grandmother at the family estate of Nohant in Berry, though she maintained contact with her mother. Recent commentators have suggested that this continuous and opposing influence of two mother-figures during her childhood strongly influenced Sand's perception of gender identity in ways that are evident in her literary works. Sand was privately tutored at her grandmother's estate until the age of thirteen, when she was sent to the Convent of the English Augustinians in Paris for three years. When she was eighteen, Sand married a local army officer, Casimir Dudevant, and eventually became the mother of two children. Dudevant and Sand soon realized that they were incompatible, and after several restless and unhappy years of marriage, Sand left her husband in 1831 to pursue a literary career in Paris. Following the publication of two novels written in collaboration with her lover Jules Sandeau and signed J. Sand, she began her career in earnest with the novel Indiana (1832), writing independently under the name George Sand. For the next several decades, Sand remained a prominent member of the artistic and intellectual community of Paris due to her considerable literary output as well as her friendships with such figures as Honoré de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert. Sand also captured public interest with her political beliefs which made her an unofficial intellectual spokesperson for the 1848 revolution. Sand spent her last years at Nohant, where she died in 1876.

Major Works

Sand is best known for her bold statements about the rights of women in nineteenth-century society, her exploration of contemporary social and philosophical issues, and her depiction of the lives and language of French provincials. Several of her important early novels, including Indiana, Valentine (1832), Lelia (1833), and Jacques (1834), reflect her rebellion against the bonds of marriage and deal largely with relationships between men and women. Clearly influenced by Lord Byron and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sand crafted Romantic narratives depicting passionate personal revolt against societal conventions and an ardent feminism, attitudes which outraged her early British and American can critics. Those novels were extremely popular with the reading public, however, and they established Sand as an important literary voice for her generation. Sand's abiding interest in politics and philosophy is evident in such novels as Consuelo (1842-43) and Le meunier d'Angibault (1845; The Miller ofAngibaulf). These works, dealing specifically with humanitarianism, Christian socialism, and republicanism, have been described by critics as the least plausible of her literary efforts: the tone is often didactic and the plots contrived. Sand is perhaps most renowned for her pastoral novels. Set in her native Berry, La mare au diable (1846; The Haunted Marsh), Francois;ois le champí (1848; Francis the Waif), and La petite Fadette (1849; Little Fadette) were inspired by her love of the countryside and her sympathy with the peasants. Realistic in background detail and distinguished by their Romantic idealism, they are considered by many scholars to be Sand's finest novels. The most enduring products of her later years are her autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (1854-55; Story of My Life), and her voluminous correspondence.

Critical Reception

From the beginning of her career, Sand's unconventional lifestyle interfered with serious critical assessment of her works. In spite of moral prejudice, which dominated early critical analyses of her works, she eventually won acceptance as an artist during her lifetime. Following her death, and during the first half of the twentieth century, Sand was delegated to the fringes of the established canon as an unimportant writer whose romantic pastorals were worthy only as children's literature. Studies of Sand during this period also followed the tradition of biographical criticism, focusing on the links between Sand's works and her notorious romantic relationships. Since the early 1970s, Sand has been rescued from this relative obscurity by the concentrated efforts of feminist critics, who have hailed her as a pioneer. Focusing on her bold portrayal of strong female characters, her consistently stringent criticism of socially sanctioned gender inequality, and her incisive exploration of the place of a woman writer in a predominantly male literary establishment, feminist critics have established Sand as an important figure in gender studies. Other scholars have extended their focus from Sand's female characters to the combined politics of gender and class in Sand's works to highlight her Utopian socialism. By foregrounding the ideological commitment underlying Sand's use of fantasy and folklore, especially in her later works, these scholars have placed Sand in the literary tradition of romantic idealism which challenges the exclusive canonical emphasis on realistic literature. Though debates continue regarding the precise nature of Sand's feminism and socialism, Sand is now firmly established as a major figure in nineteenth-century French literature.

Principal Works

Indiana [Indiana, 1881] (novel) 1832

Valentine [Valentine, published in The Masterpieces of George Sand, 1902] (novel) 1832

Lélia [Lélia, 1978] (novel) 1833

Jacques [Jacques, 1847] (novel) 1834

Lettres d'un voyageur [Letters of a Traveler, 1847] (travel sketches) 1834-36

André [André, 1847] (novel) 1835

Mauprat [Mauprat, 1847] (novel) 1837

Spiridion [Spiridion, 1842] (novel) 1839

Les sept cordes de la lyre [A Woman's Version of the Faust Legend: The Seven Strings of the Lyre, 1989] (play) 1840

Le compagnon du tour de France [The Companion of the Tour of France, 1847] (novel) 1841

Consuelo [Consuelo, 1846] (novel) 1842-43

Jeanne (novel) 1844

Le meunier d'Angibault [The Miller of Angibault, 1847] (novel) 1845

La mare au diable [The Haunted Marsh, 1848] (novel) 1846

François le champí [Francis the Waif, 1889] (novel) 1848

La petite Fadette [Little Fadette, 1849] (novel) 1849

Historie de ma vie. 20 vols. [Story of My Life, 1979] (autobiography) 1854-55

Elle et Lui [She and He, 1978] (novel) 1859

Le marquis de Villemer [The Marquis ofVillemer, 1871] (novel) 1861

Ma Soeur Jeanne [My Sister Jeannie, 1874] (novel) 1874

Flamarande (novel) 1875

Correspondance, 1812-1876. 6 vols, (letters) 1883-95

Criticism

George Sand (essay date 1854-55)

SOURCE: "Chapter XV," in Story of My Life: The Autobiography of George Sand, edited by Thelma Jurgrau, State University of New York Press, 1854-55, pp. 924-25.

[In the following passage, Sand explains the impetus behind her writing of Indiana. Denying charges that the novel is autobiographical or that it attempts to critique an entire social system. Sand claims that Indiana was the result of an emotional reaction against enslavement in any form or shape.]

When I began writing Indiana, I felt a very vivid and distinct emotion that resembled nothing I had experienced in my previous attempts. But that emotion was more painful than pleasurable....

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Henry James (essay date 1877)

SOURCE: "George Sand," in French Poets and Novelists, Macmillan and Co., 1878, pp. 190-236.

[A highly regarded novelist, essayist, and critic, James was one of the nineteenth-century's leading proponents of realism in fiction-writing. In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in the Galaxy in 1877, he reviews Sand's literary accomplishments, praising the "facility" and "spontaneity" of her writing but criticizing her works as lacking "veracity. "]

It is not the purpose of these few pages to recapitulate the various items of George Sand's biography. Many of these are to be found in L'Histoire de ma Vie, a work which, although it...

(The entire section is 9742 words.)

Nancy Rogers (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: "George Sand: Social Protest in Her Early Works," in George Sand Papers: Conference Proceedings, 1976, AMS Press, Inc., 1976, pp. 66-75.

[In the following essay, Rogers traces Sand's sociopolitical awareness in her early novels. Though these novels are more pessimistic than Sand's later works, she argues, they display a similar commitment to equality and freedom.]

Many of George Sand's critics have insisted upon her lack of originality, her inability to formulate ideas of her own, or her capacity to adopt easily the notions of others, especially those of her lovers. André Maurois, the most sensitive and thorough of her twentieth-century biographers, sees this...

(The entire section is 3568 words.)

Marilyn Yalom (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Dédoublement in the Fiction of George Sand," in George Sand Papers: Conference Proceedings, 1978, AMS Press, Inc., 1978, pp. 21-31.

[In the following essay, Yalom examines Sand's portrayal of "doubled" or paired female characters in three of her novels — Indiana, Lélia, and My Sister Jeanne. According to Yalom, these doubled characters represent the split between mind and body and Sand's attempts to accept both these aspects of women.]

The abundance of double figures in George Sand's novels has not yet attracted the interest of psychologically-minded literary critics. Neither Otto Rank in his early psychoanalytic treatise on the...

(The entire section is 4320 words.)

Kathryn J. Crecelius (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Lelia" in Family Romances: George Sand's Early Novels, Indiana University Press, 1987, pp. 95-114.

[In the following excerpt, Crecelius focuses on Lélia, a novel that has evoked extreme reactions from critics. According to Crecelius, these sharp differences are caused by the varied generic traditions that the novel draws upon to explore the dark side of Sand's imagination.]

Both Indiana and Valentine firmly established Sand's reputation as a writer. The beauty of Sand's prose was hailed, and her criticisms of men, marriage, and society, tolerantly approved. She was, after all, a member of the iconoclastic romantic...

(The entire section is 9997 words.)

Naomi Schor (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Idealism in the Novel: Recanonizing Sand," in Yale French Studies, No. 75, 1988, pp. 56-73.

[Exploring Sand's problematic relationship with the literary canon, Schor argues that the writer's commitment to idealism, rather than her gender, is the cause of her exclusion from the canon during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, Schor continues, gender is also important in understanding Sand's position vis-a-vis the canon, since Sand uses idealism in her novels as a strategy of revolt against the phallocentrism inherent in the Balzacian realism exalted by the canon.]

Let me begin with an anecdote: in June 1986 I participated in a...

(The entire section is 8245 words.)

Nancy K. Miller (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Writing from the Pavilion: George Sand and the Novel of Female Pastoral," in Subject to Change: Reading Feminist Writing, Columbia University Press, 1988, pp. 206-28.

[In this study of Valentine, Miller explores the spatial and sexual economy of the text to highlight Sand's attempts to provide an alternative to the female plot of marriage within a patriarchal framework.]

They were all about love, lovers, sweethearts, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every relay, horses ridden to death on every page, sombre forests, heartaches, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, little boatrides in the moonlight,...

(The entire section is 9918 words.)

Isabelle Hoog Naginski (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Articulating an Ars Poetica," in George Sand: Writing for Her Life, Rutgers University Press, 1991, pp. 221-41.

[In the following extract, Naginski argues that although Sand's contemporaries did not always see her as a serious writer, Sand had a well-developed and clearly articulated poetics, which emphasized the ideal over the real and the rural over the urban and which was founded upon an androgynous vision that revolted against socially sanctioned gender inequality.]

The great French writers of the Romantic generation—Hugo, Balzac, Michelet, Dumas—had at least one trait in common: the immensity of their literary output. The "vast nineteenth century," as...

(The entire section is 10854 words.)

Maryline Lukacher (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Sand: Double Identity," in Maternal Fictions: Stendhal, Sand, Rachilde, and Bataille, Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 61-89.

[In the following extract, Lukacher uses psychoanalytical theory to examine the function of doubled female figures in Indiana. Lukacher relates Sand's use of such doubling to the writer's complex relationship with the two mother figures in her life.]

Which paternal eye was then opened on mankind the day it decided to divide itself by placing one sex under the domination of the other sex?

GEORGE SAND, Lélia

What is a...

(The entire section is 10409 words.)