George Sand, who was famous during her lifetime primarily as a novelist, earned a living for many years as a journalist. Some of her essays on art, literature, politics, and social questions are collected in two posthumous volumes, Questions d’art et de littérature (1878) and Questions politiques et sociales (1879). Her twenty-volume autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (1854-1855; History of My Life, 1901), is considered by some to be her masterpiece. Georges Lubin produced an excellent annotated edition of this work and other autobiographical writings for Gallimard in 1970. Other important nonfictional works include Lettres d’un voyageur (1837; Letters of a Traveller, 1847), Lettres à Marcie (1837), and Un Hiver à Majorque (1841; Winter in Majorca, 1956). Sand’s plays were published in five volumes in 1877. She wrote more than nineteen thousand letters and was called by André Maurois “the best French epistolary writer.” From 1964 onward, Lubin devoted himself to a new multivolume edition of Sand’s letters, many of which were previously unpublished or had been published only in truncated form. The twenty-sixth and final volume of that series was published in 1995.
To her contemporaries, George Sand was a great novelist and a fallen woman. The controversy surrounding her life has continued into the twenty-first century. Until the late 1980’s, scholars neglected her enormous production of literary works to concentrate on biographical quarrels. She was recognized as a major novelist by Honoré de Balzac, Ivan Turgenev, Victor Hugo, and Henry James. She was widely read in the United States and Great Britain, where she influenced writers such as the Brontë sisters (Anne, Charlotte, and Emily) and George Eliot. In Russia, where political treatises were banned, her novels passed on progressive ideas and inspired political thinkers such as Mikhail Bakunin as well as novelists such as Fyodor Dostoevski. Gustave Flaubert called Sand “My Dear Master,” and Marcel Proust’s most poignant childhood memories involved his mother reading Sand’s rustic novels to him.
This picture of Sand’s pastoral or rustic novels persists in France today, where the average reader considers her a writer of sentimental stories for children. Because of this image, she has been attacked by political liberals who accuse her of supporting the status quo with her tales of happy peasants. Scholars, on the other hand, regard her rustic novels as the perfection of a literary genre. To the nineteenth century public, Sand’s novels calling for the emancipation of women (and men) from arranged marriages, equality between the sexes, and education for women seemed outrageously feminist. Her novel Lélia shocked readers with its explicit analysis of female sexuality. Modern-day feminists, however, point to the limits of Sand’s feminism, especially to her opposition to the participation of women in political affairs, for she felt that women should be educated before they were given the right to vote.
Because of the volume of Sand’s work and the speed at which she was forced to write to support her family, her artistic circle, and her charitable contributions, the quality of her fiction is uneven, yet literary critics admire her fluid style and her techniques of psychological analysis. All agree in considering Mauprat, Consuelo, and the rustic novels as powerful masterpieces.
Did George Sand’s “convent life” have any appreciable influence on her writing?
What is the relationship between love and friendship in Sand’s fiction?
Are Sand’s male characters presented as full personalities?
What was the basis of Sand’s interest in the United States?
Are Sand’s happy endings too contrived?
Is Sand’s reputation based more on her life than on her writing?
Atwood, William G. The Lioness and the Little One: The Liaison of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. A careful, scholarly account of a part of Sand’s life and career that has often been distorted and sensationalized.
Barry, Joseph. Infamous Woman: The Life of George Sand. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977. An illuminating overview of George Sand’s life and writing. Barry chronicles her development as an artist, her tumultuous love affairs, her relationship with her children and her mother, her role in French politics, and her stand against traditional female roles.
Cate, Curtis. George Sand. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975. A sound, comprehensive biography. See the preface for a discussion of Maurois’s classic biography and the fluctations of Sand’s reputation.
Crecelius, Kathryn J. Family Romances: George Sand’s Early Novels. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. An informative study, with chapters on Sand’s handling of heroic romance and bourgeois realism, and her role as a woman artist. Separate chapters cover Lélia, Mauprat, and Valentine.
Danahy, Michael. The Feminization of the Novel. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1991. Studies novels by Sand (Fanchon the Cricket), Gustave Flaubert, and Madame de La Fayette.
Dickenson, Donna. George Sand: A Brave...
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