George Sand World Literature Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2496

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.

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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.

Indiana

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 know is that Raymon is already intimately connected to the Delmare household through his torrid affair with the beautiful creole, Noun. When Noun discovers that her rival is her beloved mistress, she commits suicide.

Raymon is for a time in love with Indiana, whose scruples prevent a consummation of their ecstatic romance. Meanwhile, her husband loses his fortune and decides to take Indiana back to America with him. Indiana, trying to elude the ship’s departure, flees to Raymon late at night. Raymon, who has grown tired of waiting for her, is at first indifferent. Listening to her tale of woe, he cynically makes up his mind to take her without love and complete her humiliation. At the conclusion of her story, however, Indiana herself calmly rises and leaves.

She considers committing suicide, but she then decides it will be virtually the same to return to America with Delmare. Sir Ralph, matured and chastened by his years of mute suffering, accompanies them as always. In America, Indiana receives an apologetic letter from Raymon, which convinces her to book passage back to France. When she returns, she discovers that Raymon is now married. His bride, a lady of the best society, humiliates Indiana as icily as possible. Indiana is saved from a serious suicide attempt by Sir Ralph, who has followed her. He too longs for death, and so they resolve to go back to America to commit suicide together, in a particularly sylvan spot. She is unmoved by the good news of Delmare’s death by apoplexy.

In his last moments, Sir Ralph’s transformation from a timid peacemaker to a fiery romantic is completed. Indiana is inspired to save him, and she does so with great difficulty after lengthy outpourings of eloquence on both sides. They live together happily thereafter, without benefit of a formal ceremony.

Mauprat

First published: 1837 (English translation, 1870)

Type of work: Novel

In an entertaining medieval adventure story, the novel contains a serious, optimistic message about education.

Mauprat is, in a sense, an allegory of the last days of feudal France as it yielded to the new ideas brought in by the French Revolution. Sand did not dispute its fairy-tale trappings and format. The Mauprat family, consisting of a father and seven brothers living in lawless isolation in their great medieval castle of Roche-Mauprat, has from time immemorial lorded it over the surrounding countryside. The days are gone when the Mauprats could legally confiscate from the local peasants; the Mauprats now survive by outright robbery. These men embody every vice: laziness, lechery, drunkenness, arrogance, deceit, cruelty, and ignorance. Their only redeeming quality is boldness, inherited from their knightly ancestors. For Sand, Roche-Mauprat represents a crucible in which to test Rousseau’s doctrine of humankind’s innate goodness.

Into this den of thieves is brought Bernard Mauprat, their orphaned cousin, an uncorrupted child of seven. Can his essential nature and early rearing survive ten years of indoctrination in the Mauprats’ vices?

The wicked Mauprats deceive the beautiful young woman Edmée, who has become separated from her hunting companions, into seeking shelter in their lair. Bernard is charged with guarding her. Edmée believes that he is redeemable, if he can be reeducated. She notices that Bernard is falling in love with her. They conclude a bargain: If he will help her escape, no other man will have her before Bernard. Bernard does not wish to marry her, but he knows she is too proud not to keep her word. They both agree to keep the bargain secret. Edmée foresees a loophole, which she keeps to herself: She may decide to marry no one.

The reeducation of Bernard is conducted by Edmée, her father, Patience (a homeless peasant philosopher), and the Abbé Aubert. The sow’s ear is turned into a silk purse. The reeducation, conducted with love, is more than successful.

Edmée remains stubborn. Bernard concedes that he is ready for a civilized life and is ready to marry the woman he loves. Edmée hints that she loves him, yet he cannot win her. Nor will she marry anyone else, saying that her father needs her. Feeling at a loss, Bernard goes off to America to fight in the Revolutionary War. For five years, he fights, brooding over the occasional letters that he receives from Edmée.

At last, there is a joyous homecoming. Even Edmée’s father is now impatient to see the two young people married. Edmée presents Bernard with a conundrum: He must unconditionally release Edmée from her promise, and then she will decide whether to marry him, if at all. Bernard has devoted years to making himself worthy of her pledge; the pledge was his motive and inspiration. The more that he loves her, the less able he is to release her.

Fate resolves this problem. The authorities raid the wicked Mauprats. Most are killed, but two survive and go into hiding. They resurface in disguise, with plans to destroy Bernard’s life. Edmée is to be killed in an apparent hunting accident, which will appear to be Bernard’s fault.

Not one but two trials are recounted in considerable detail. At the first, Bernard is condemned to be hanged. At the second, Edmée miraculously recovers and testifies on his behalf. Her testimony—in order to be convincing and thus save his life—must include a public confession of her love for him. Edmée finally professes her love unambiguously. The jury and the public are won over, and the long self-denying lovers are united at last, to live happily ever after.

Marianne

First published: 1876 (English translation, 1883)

Type of work: Novella

Marianne summarizes all of Sand’s most persistent concerns and represents a worthy last word from the author.

The twenty-five-year-old heroine, Marianne Chevreuse, represents the young George Sand as she might have been had she remained Aurore Dupin a few years longer, instead of rushing into marriage. Sand emphasizes the joys and pleasures of an unencumbered existence for an independent woman. Marianne’s country estate of Mortsang is very similar to Sand’s Nohant. Remaining unmarried, with her horse Suzon as her chief companion, Marianne is gaining the reputation of being a bit eccentric and too fond of solitude. In fact, she is in love with Pierre André, an old family friend who is also her godfather. In a situation typical of Sand, Pierre is so accustomed to Marianne that he cannot see that he loves her. Sand’s optimistic view of human nature requires that this common but usually insuperable situation must change.

Pierre is a man of considerable talent and abilities who utterly lacks self-confidence. Life has dashed his early unrealistic dreams, and on the brink of middle age he is about to resign himself to empty bachelorhood. Old school ties, however, lead to the arrival of Philippe Gaucher, a Parisian dandy, into Pierre’s life as an unwelcome houseguest. Gaucher is in search of a bride with a dowry, and Marianne has been recommended to him.

Jealousy plays a part in waking Pierre from his lethargy. Sand is at her most deft in delineating attractive, imaginative, worldly people who nevertheless fail to understand what is really important. The charming Gaucher, besides being a man of the world and a connoisseur of beauty, is a dilettante landscape painter. He drives Pierre to despair with his bold and poetic wooing of Marianne. Pierre warns Marianne that Gaucher is trying to compromise her, and he expresses surprise that Marianne never allows her old friend such liberties. In a conundrum typical of Sand, Marianne explains that she purposely never allows anything that would give rise to gossip about her and Pierre because she wants Pierre to be under no obligation to marry her. The excuse that Pierre would gladly have had for getting married, without admitting love, is removed.

Marianne is an artist in her own way, as expressed in her development of the park bordering her estate. She uses nature to create beauty. In her view, the dilettante Gaucher is deeply mistaken when he claims that because he is a painter, he sees the beauty of the countryside more clearly than those who actually live there. Marianne summarizes George Sand’s aesthetic credo when she tells Gaucher: “Beauty is like God, which exists by itself and gains nothing from all the hymns and paeans of praise lavished upon it.” Angered, Gaucher accuses her of being a philistine and finds that her words “are like a caterpillar on a rose.” To this, Marianne fervently replies that a caterpillar may be just as beautiful as a rose—and indeed, she has never seen an ugly caterpillar.

The ending is happy, not because of sensual bliss, or the triumph of true devotion, or the defeat of the false and empty—though all these come to pass—but because the main characters achieve their best chance to realize themselves through one another. Merely being suited to each other does not ensure that two people will make the match that they seem to be meant for. Sand’s heroines must act to bring it about, or it will not happen.

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