Sand, George (Feminism in Literature)
Acelebrated writer and controversial personality of nineteenth-century France, Sand wrote prolifically in a variety of genres, producing over eighty novels, three collections of short stories, a twenty-volume autobiography, numerous essays, twenty-five dramas, 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, relatively few of her works are studied today. Instead, she is primarily remembered for her bold behavior while living in Paris as a young woman: wearing men's clothing, espousing equal rights for women, and engaging in love affairs with prominent artistic figures. Feminist scholars who have examined Sand's work have focused on her representations of female characters, her critique of marriage and the relations between the sexes, her deconstruction of gender stereotypes, her exploration of the female body and transvestism, her ideas about masculinity and femininity, and her controversial brand of feminism.
Sand was born Aurore Dupin on July 1, 1804, to parents 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. Her parents married just one month before her birth. Following her father's death when she was four, Sand was entrusted to her paternal grandmother's care and was raised at the family estate of Nohant in Berry. There, she was privately tutored until she reached the age of thirteen, at which time 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 in Paris, due to her considerable literary output as well as her friendships with such figures as Honoré de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert. She also often captured public interest with her romantic involvements, which included relationships with Alfred de Musset and Frederic Chopin. Sand spent her last years in Nohant, where she died in 1876.
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), Lélia (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 that outraged her early British and American critics. These 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 of Angibault). 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) Françoise le champi (1848; Francis the Waif), and La petite Fadette (1849; Little Fadette) were inspired by her love of the countryside and her sympathy for 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 (1845-55; My Life) and her voluminous correspondence.
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. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, many critical studies of Sand's oeuvre attempted to establish links between her life and works, particularly focusing on Sand's romantic relationships. Since the early 1970s, critics have concentrated on the works themselves, noting especially her bold exploration of such issues as sexual freedom and independence for women. Many feminist critics have lauded Sand for presenting strong, willful heroines, and for exposing the obstacles faced by women—particularly women artists—in the nineteenth century. Several commentators have argued, however, that Sand's feminism was limited; she consistently advocated equal rights for women in matters of marriage and divorce, yet she subscribed to conventional views on male and female social roles. Some critics have noted that she regarded women to be creatures of emotion and men as thinking beings. However, Sand continues to be viewed as an important feminist, one whose life and work sought to undercut gender stereotypes and rebel against the roles imposed upon women by male-dominated society.
Indiana (novel) 1832
Valentine (novel) 1832
Lélia (novel) 1833
Jacques (novel) 1834
Lettres d'un voyageur [Letters of a Traveler] (travel sketches) 1834-36
André (novel) 1835
Mauprat (novel) 1837
Spiridion (novel) 1839
Les sept cordes de la lyre [The Seven Strings of the Lyre] (play) 1840
Le compagnon du tour de France [The Companion of the Tour of France] (novel) 1841
Consuelo (novel) 1842-43
Jeanne (novel) 1844
Le meunier d'Angibault [The Miller of Angibault] (novel) 1845
La mare au diable [The Haunted Marsh] (novel) 1846
Françoise le champi [Francis the Waif] (novel) 1848
La petite Fadette [Little Fadette] (novel) 1849
Histoire de ma vie [My Life] 20 vols. (autobiography) 1854-55
Elle et Lui [She and He] (novel) 1859
Le marquis de villemer [The Marquis of Villemer] (novel) 1861
Flamarande (novel) 1875
Correspondance, 1812-1876 6 vols. (letters) 1883-95
(The entire section is 119 words.)
SOURCE: Sand, George. "Preface to the Edition of 1832." In Indiana, translated by G. Burnham Ives, pp. v-xxi. Philadelphia: George Barrie, 1900.
In the following essay, originally included as a preface to the 1832 edition of her novel Indiana, Sand discusses how the work is a representation of the relationship between women and society.
If certain pages of this book should incur the serious reproach of tending toward novel beliefs, if unbending judges shall consider their tone imprudent and perilous, I should be obliged to reply to the criticism that it does too much honor to a work of no importance; that, in order to attack the great questions of social order, one must either be conscious of great strength of purpose or pride one's self upon great talent, and that such presumption is altogether foreign to a very simple tale, in which the author has invented almost nothing. If, in the course of his task, he has happened to set forth the lamentations extorted from his characters by the social malady with which they were assailed; if he has not shrunk from recording their aspirations after a happier existence, let the blame be laid upon society for its inequalities, upon destiny for its caprices! The author is merely a mirror which reflects them, a machine which reverses their tracing, and he has no reason for self-reproach if...
(The entire section is 1721 words.)
SOURCE: Sand, George. "Introduction." In Indiana, translated by G. Burnham Ives, pp. v-xxi. Philadelphia: George Barrie, 1900.
In the following essay, originally written in 1852, Sand discloses her motives for writing her novel Indiana.
I wrote Indiana during the autumn of 1831. It was my first novel; I wrote it without any fixed plan, having no theory of art or philosophy in my mind. I was at the age when one writes with one's instincts, and when reflection serves only to confirm our natural tendencies. Some people chose to see in the book a deliberate argument against marriage. I was not so ambitious, and I was surprised to the last degree at all the fine things that the critics found to say concerning my subversive purposes. Criticism is far too acute; that is what will cause its death. It never passes judgment ingenuously. It looks for noon at four o'clock, as the old women say, and must cause much suffering to artists who care more for its decrees than they ought to do.
Under all régimes and in all times there has been a race of critics, who, in contempt of their own talent, have fancied that it was their duty to ply the trade of denouncers, of purveyors to the prosecuting attorney's office; extraordinary functions for men of letters to assume with regard to their confrères! The rigorous measures of...
(The entire section is 576 words.)
SOURCE: Yalom, Marilyn. "Towards a History of Female Adolescence: The Contribution of George Sand." In George Sand: Collected Essays, edited by Janis Glasgow, pp. 204-15. Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1985.
In the following essay, Yalom examines Sand's contribution to a history of female adolescence, concentrating particularly on the author's autobiography and comparing it with works by other women writers.
When the history of female adolescence is written, it will be seen that the writing of George Sand offers a store of portraits and insights unparalleled in her time and place. Both in her autobiographical and fictive works, Sand proved that adolescence was a subject worthy of observation and a "source of poetry."1 Like her master Rousseau a century earlier, she both excoriated the corrupted state of adolescence among her contemporaries and immortalized the adolescent soul in its physical restlessness, spiritual awakening, and fitful attempts to integrate conflicting social, psychological and biological pressures.
In early nineteenth century France, the idea of adolescence as a period of life distinct from childhood was not yet a familiar concept. As Philippe Ariès has written in Centuries of Childhood: "People had no idea of what we call adolescence, and the idea was a long time taking shape.… The...
(The entire section is 4337 words.)
PETER DAYAN (ESSAY DATE APRIL 1998)
SOURCE: Dayan, Peter. “Who Is the Narrator in Indiana?” French Studies 52, no. 2 (April 1998): 152-61.
In the following essay, Dayan examines the complex point of view in Indiana in which the male narrator presents a distinctly paternalistic stance.
George Sand’s first novel Indiana has been one of the set texts on our second-year literature course for several years now. It is, on the whole, popular with the students. They like it partly because, unlike the work of the uncontroversially canonized (such as Baudelaire or Flaubert), it provides topics for debate on which the students feel they can take sides, for or against. One such topic has been dividing readers and critics since the novel was first published: the question of the literary desirability of the conclusion. At the end of the fourth part of the novel, we are promised the perfect Romantic lovers’ suicide: Ralph takes Indiana in his arms, ‘et l’emporta pour la précipiter avec lui dans le torrent …’. But, in the conclusion which follows, we find they have decided to live happily ever after instead. This has always been felt by some to be a bold rupture with the realist tradition, and by others to be a let-down, an abdication both of verisimilitude and of Romantic nobility for reasons of unworthy sentimentality....
(The entire section is 12054 words.)
DEBRA L. TERZIAN (ESSAY DATE SPRING-SUMMER 1997)
SOURCE: Terzian, Debra L. "Feminism and Family Dysfunction in Sand's Valentine." Nineteenth-Century French Studies 25, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 1997): 266-79.
In the following essay, Terzian analyzes Sand's particular brand of feminism by exploring the construction of her female characters in Valentine.
C'étaient de beaux et chastes livres, presque tous écrits par des femmes sur des histoires de femmes: Valérie, Eugène de Rothelin, Mademoiselle de Clermont, Delphine. Ces récits touchants et passionnées, ces aperçus d'un monde idéal pour moi élèverent mon âme, mais ils la dévorèrent. Je devins romanesque, caractère le plus infortuné qu'une femme puisse avoir.
George Sand, Leone Leoni
In the passage cited above, a female character from one of Sand's fictional works cites the works of fiction that have most influenced her and that have marked decisive moments in what can be termed her sentimental education. The novels she lists form a veritable corpus of women's literature. Evoking the notion of a continuum of women writers, Sand's protagonist makes plain the problematic and troublesome feature that these works share—their power to both "elevate" and...
(The entire section is 6803 words.)
Cate, Curtis. George Sand: A Biography, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975, 812 p.
Provides an in-depth look at Sand's life and work.
Winegarten, Renée. The Double Life of George Sand, Woman and Writer. New York: Basic Books, 1978, 339 p.
Critical biography of Sand, examining in particular her struggle to understand herself as a woman and a human being.
Barry, Joseph. Infamous Woman: The Life of George Sand. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977, 436 p.
Addresses Sand's achievement in terms of her works and the events of her life, asserting that she was "quintessentially the modern woman."
Brée, Germaine. "George Sand: The Fictions of Autobiography." Nineteenth-Century French Studies 4, no. 4 (summer 1976): 438-49.
Argues that Sand's autobiography and fiction constitute attempts to define herself by integrating the opposing tendencies represented by the two mother figures in her life.
Crecelius, Kathryn J. "Writing a Self: From Aurore Dudevant to George Sand." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 14, no. 1 (spring 1985):...
(The entire section is 1438 words.)