George Sand was the most famous lady of letters in nineteenth century France. Her works include nearly ninety novels, two dozen plays, three volumes of short stories, political pamphlets, and twenty thousand letters. She was also the most infamous woman of the age, with a range of lovers almost as extensive as her bibliography. Eisler’s pleasantly readable book devotes far more attention to Sand’s relationships than to her writing, beginning with Sand’s vexed relationship with her mother.
Sophie Delaborde had risen from poverty through a variety of liaisons, culminating in marriage a month before Sand’s birth to the aristocratic French officer Maurice Dupin, though Dupin was not Sand’s biological father. Maurice died when Sand was four years old, and her mother in effect sold her to Marie-Aurore de Saxe Dupin de Franceuil, Sand’s paternal grandmother. For Eisler this maternal abandonment was a key element in Sand’s life. Eisler suggests that Sophie’s behavior toward her daughter smacks of bipolar disorder, as Sophie showered Sand alternately with affection and abuse.
Eisler shows that Sand would repeat this pattern with her own daughter, Solange. Sand indulged her son Maurice, even finding lovers for him, but she neglected and psychologically abused her daughter, going so far as to adopt a cousin, Augustine-Marie Brault, whom she installed at her estate in Nohant and to whom she gave a dowry of 30,000 francs, more than she provided for Solange. After Solange married the sculptor Jean-Baptiste-August Clésinger, whom Sand had favored as Solange’s husband, Sand became estranged from the couple. She banished them from Nohant and urged her former lover composer Frédéric Chopin to end his ties with them as well. Chopin had opposed the match because he knew Clésinger to be abusive and financially unreliable, but he refused to end his friendship with Solange. It was Chopin who informed Sand of the birth of Solange’s first child, a daughter who lived only five days. Solange had not told her mother. Only after Solange took a lover and became estranged from her husband would she and Sand be reconciled, and then only briefly.
Sand’s many relationships with men were equally vexed. Sand married Baron Casimir Dudevant in 1822, when she was eighteen, in large part, according to Eisler, to escape her mother. The marriage was not a success: Both partners soon had lovers; Dudevant was not the father of Solange. In 1830 Sand went to Paris to escape her husband and to pursue a literary career. In the French capital she quickly took as her lover the eighteen-year-old Jules Sandeau, six years her junior. Together they produced works published under the name J. Sand. When this relationship ended, Sand kept the second part of the pseudonym but changed the first part to George. Eisler sees in this choice an homage to the famous English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron and perhaps to England’s patron saint, as Sand had spent a few years under the tutelage of English nuns.
Eisler stresses Sand’s sense of her dual inheritanceworking-class mother and aristocratic fathereven though her biological father was also lower class. Sand’s novels often present lovers from different social milieus. In Valentine (1832; English translation, 1900) an aristocratic woman falls in love with a man lacking social status. La Marquise (1832; English translation, 1999) describes the love between a nobleman and an actor. In 1833 life imitated art: Sand fell in love with the actress Marie Duval (née Marie-Thomase-Amélie Delauney). Eisler sees in this relationship Sand’s quest for a mother figure, since Marie was six years older than Sand. The affair was short-lived. The rift became...
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