Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 976
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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
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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. I wrote the book all in one spurt, without any outline, as I have already said, and literally without knowing where I was going, without even realizing the social problem I was approaching. I was not a Saint-Simonian and never had been, although I had real sympathy for several ideas and people of that sect; but I did not know them at that time, and I was not influenced by them.
The only thing I had in me was a very clear and ardent feeling of horror at brutal and beastly enslavement. I hadn't been victim of it, nor was I then; that can be seen by the freedom I enjoyed, which no one contested. Therefore, Indiana was not, as everybody said, my story in disguise. It was not a complaint formulated against a particular master. It was a protest against tyranny in general; and if I personified this tyranny in a man, if I placed the conflict in the framework of a domestic situation, it was because I had no ambition other than to write a novel of manners. That is why, in a preface written after the book, I defended myself from the charge of wanting to attack social institutions. I was very sincere, and I did not claim to know more than I was saying. The critics taught me more about it and made me examine the questions more closely.
I wrote the book under the power of an emotion and not a system. This emotion, which had slowly accumulated during the course of a lifetime of reflection, overflowed as soon as the vessel of a given situation opened to receive it. But it found itself very constricted, and a kind of combat between the emotion and the execution kept me for six weeks in a state of exertion that was new to me.
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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 was thought disappointing at the time of its appearance, is well worth reading. It was given to the world day by day, as the feuilleton of a newspaper, and, like all the author's compositions, it has the stamp of being written to meet a current engagement. It lacks plan and proportion; the book is extremely ill made. But it has a great charm, and it contains three or four of the best portraits—the only portraits, we were on the point of saying—that the author has painted. The story was begun, but was never really finished; this was the public's disappointment. It contained a great deal about Madame Sand's grandmother and her father—a large part of two volumes are given to a transcript of her father's letters (and very charming letters they are). It abounded in anecdotes of the writer's childhood, her playmates, her pet animals, her school-adventures, the nuns at the Couvent des Anglaises by whom she was educated; it related the juvenile unfolding of her mind, her fits of early piety, and her first acquaintance with Montaigne and Rousseau; it contained a superabundance of philosophy, psychology, morality and harmless gossip about people unknown to the public; but it was destitute of just that which the public desired—an explicit account of the more momentous incidents of the author's maturity. When she reaches the point at which her story becomes peculiarly interesting (up to that time it has simply been agreeable and entertaining) she throws up the game and drops the curtain. In other words, she talks no scandal—a consummation devoutly to be rejoiced in.
The reader nevertheless deems himself unfairly used, and takes his revenge in seeing something very typical of the author in the shortcomings of the work. He declares it to be a nondescript performance, which has neither the value of truth nor the illusion of fiction; and he inquires why the writer should preface her task with such solemn remarks upon the edifying properties of autobiography, and adorn it with so pompous an epigraph, if she meant simply to tell what she might tell without trouble. It may be remembered, however, that George Sand has sometimes been compared to Goethe, and that there is this ground for the comparison—that in form L'Histoire de ma Vie greatly resembles the Dichtung und Wahrheit. There is the same charming, complacent expatiation upon youthful memories, the same arbitrary confidences and silences, the same digressions and general judgments, the same fading away of the narrative on the threshold of maturity. We should never look for analogies between George Sand and Goethe; but we should say that the lady's long autobiographic fragment is in fact extremely typical—the most so indeed of all her works. It shows in the highest degree her great strength and her great weakness—her unequalled faculty of improvisation, as it may be called, and her peculiar want of veracity. Every one will recognise what we mean by the first of these items. People may like George Sand or not, but they can hardly deny that she is the great improvisatrice of literature—the writer who best answers to Shelley's description of the skylark singing "in profuse strains of unpremeditated art." No writer has produced such great effects with an equal absence of premeditation.
On the other hand, what we have called briefly and crudely her want of veracity requires some explanation. It is doubtless a condition of her serene volubility; but if this latter is a great literary gift, its value is impaired by our sense that it rests to a certain extent upon a weakness. There is something very liberal and universal in George Sand's genius, as well as very masculine; but our final impression of her always is that she is a woman and a Frenchwoman. Women, we are told, do not value the truth for its own sake, but only for some personal use they make of it. My present criticism involves an assent to this somewhat cynical dogma. Add to this that woman, if she happens to be French, has an extraordinary taste for investing objects with a graceful drapery of her own contrivance, and it will be found that George Sand's cast of mind includes both the generic and the specific idiosyncrasy. We have more than once heard her readers say (whether it was professed fact or admitted fiction that they had in hand), "It is all very well, but I can't believe a word of it!" There is something very peculiar in this inability to believe George Sand even in that relative sense in which we apply the term to novelists at large. We believe Balzac, we believe Gustave Flaubert, we believe Dickens and Thackeray and Miss Austen. Dickens is far more incredible than George Sand, and yet he produces much more illusion. In spite of her plausibility, the author of Consuelo always appears to be telling a fairy-tale. We say in spite of her plausibility, but we might rather say that her excessive plausibility is the reason of our want of faith. The narrative is too smooth, too fluent; the narrator has a virtuous independence that the Muse of history herself might envy her. The effect it produces is that of a witness who is eager to tell more than is asked him, the worth of whose testimony is impaired by its importunity. The thing is beautifully done, but you feel that rigid truth has come off as it could; the author has not a high standard of exactitude; she never allows facts to make her uncomfortable. L'Histoire de ma Vie is full of charming recollections and impressions of Madame Sand's early years, of delightful narrative, of generous and elevated sentiment; but we have constantly the feeling that it is what children call "made up." If the fictitious quality in our writer's reminiscences is very sensible, of course the fictitious quality in her fictions is still more so; and it must be said that in spite of its odd mixture of the didactic and the irresponsible, L'Histoire de ma Vie sails nearer to the shore than its professedly romantic companions.
The usual objection to the novels, and a very just one, is that they contain no living figures, no people who stand on their feet, and who, like so many of the creations of the other great novelists, have become part of the public fund of allusion and quotation. As portraits George Sand's figures are vague in outline, deficient in detail. Several of those, however, which occupy the foreground of her memoirs have a remarkable vividness. In the four persons associated chiefly with her childhood and youth she really makes us believe. The first of these is the great figure which appears quite to have filled up the background of her childhood—almost to the exclusion of the child herself—that of her grandmother, Madame Dupin, the daughter of a great soldier. The second is that of her father, who was killed at Nohant by a fall from his horse, while she was still a young girl. The third is that of her mother—a particularly remarkable portrait. The fourth is the grotesque but softly-lighted image of Deschartres, the old pedagogue who served as tutor to Madame Sand and her half-brother; the latter youth being the fruit of an "amourette" between the Commandant Dupin and one of his mother's maids. Madame Dupin philosophically adopted the child; she dated from the philosophers of the preceding century. It is worth noting that George Sand's other playmate—the "Caroline" of the memoirs—was a half-sister on her mother's side, a little girl whose paternity antedated the Commandant Dupin's acquaintance with his wife.
In George Sand's account of her father there is something extremely delightful; full of filial passion as it is, and yet of tender discrimination. She makes him a charming figure—the ideal "gallant" Frenchman of the old type; a passionate soldier and a delightful talker, leaving fragments of his heart on every bush; clever, tender, full of artistic feeling and of Gallic gaiety—having in fair weather and foul always the mot pour rire. His daughter's publication of his letters has been called a rather inexpensive mode of writing her own biography; but these letters—charming, natural notes to his mother during his boyish campaigns—were well worth bringing to the light. All George Sand is in the author's portrait of her mother; all her great merit and all her strange defects. We should recommend the perusal of the scattered passages of L'Histoire de ma Vie which treat of this lady to a person ignorant of Madame Sand and desiring to make her acquaintance; they are an excellent measure of her power. On one side an extraordinary familiarity with the things of the mind, the play of character, the psychological mystery, and a beautiful clearness and quietness, a beautiful instinct of justice in dealing with them; on the other side a startling absence of delicacy, of reticence, of the sense of certain spiritual sanctities and reservations. That a woman should deal in so free-handed a fashion with a female parent upon whom nature and time have enabled her to look down from an eminence, seems at first a considerable anomaly; and the woman who does it must to no slight extent have shaken herself free from the bonds of custom. We do not mean that George Sand talks scandal and tittle-tattle about her mother; but that Madame Dupin having been a light woman and an essentially irregular character, her daughter holds her up in the sunshine of her own luminous contemplation with all her imperfections on her head. At the same time it is very finely done—very intelligently and appreciatively; it is at the worst a remarkable exhibition of the disinterestedness of a great imagination.
It must be remembered also that the young Aurore Dupin "belonged" much more to her grandmother than to her mother, to whom in her childhood she was only lent, as it were, on certain occasions. There is nothing in all George Sand better than her history of the relations of these two women, united at once and divided (after the death of the son and husband) by a common grief and a common interest; full of mutual jealousies and defiances, and alternately quarrelling and "making up" over their little girl. Jealousy carried the day. One was a patrician and the other a jealous democrat, and no common ground was attainable. Among the reproaches addressed by her critics to the author of Valentine and Valvèdre is the charge of a very imperfect knowledge of family life and a tendency to strike false notes in the portrayal of it. It is apparent that both before and after her marriage her observation of family life was peculiarly restricted and perverted. Of what it must have been in the former case this figure of her mother may give us an impression; of what it was in the latter we may get an idea from the somewhat idealized ménage in Lucrezia Floriani.
George Sand's literary fame came to her very abruptly. The history of her marriage, which is briefly related in her memoirs, is sufficiently well known. The thing was done, on her behalf, by her relatives (she had a small property) and the husband of their choice, M. Dudevant, was neither appreciative nor sympathetic. His tastes were vulgar and his manners frequently brutal; and after a short period of violent dissension and the birth of two children, the young couple separated. It is safe to say, however, that even with an "appreciative" husband Madame Sand would not have accepted matrimony once for all. She represents herself as an essentially dormant, passive and shrinking nature, upon which celebrity and productiveness were forced by circumstances, and whose unconsciousness of its own powers was dissipated only by the violent breaking of a spell. There is evidently much truth in these assertions; for of all great literary people few strike us as having had a smaller measure of the more vulgar avidities and ambitions. But for all that, it is tolerably plain that even by this profoundly slumbering genius the most brilliant matrimonial associate would have been utterly over-matched.
Madame Sand, even before she had written Indiana was too imperious a force, too powerful a machine, to make the limits of her activity coincide with those of wifely submissiveness. It is very possible that for her to write Indiana and become a woman of letters a spell had to be broken; only, the real breaking of the spell lay not in the vulgarity of a husband, but in the deepening sense, quickened by the initiations of marriage, that outside of the quiet meadows of Nohant there was a vast affair called life, with which she had a capacity for making acquaintance at first hand. This making acquaintance with life at first hand is, roughly speaking, the great thing that, as a woman, Madame Sand achieved; and she was predestined to achieve it. She was more masculine than any man she might have married; and what powerfully masculine person—even leaving genius apart—is content at five-and-twenty with submissiveness and renunciation? "It was a mere accident that George Sand was a woman," a person who had known her well said to the writer of these pages; and though the statement needs an ultimate corrective, it represents a great deal of truth. What was feminine in her was the quality of her genius; the quantity of it—its force, and mass, and energy—was masculine, and masculine were her temperament and character. All this masculinity needed to set itself free; which it proceeded to do according to its temporary light. Her separation from her husband was judicial, and assured her the custody of her children; but as, in return for this privilege, she made financial concessions, it left her without income (though in possession of the property of Nohant) and dependent upon her labours for support. She had betaken herself to Paris in quest of labour, and it was with this that her career began.
This determination to address herself to life at first hand—this personal, moral impulse, which was not at all a literary impulse—was her great inspiration, the great pivot on which her history wheeled round into the bright light of experience and fame. It is, strictly, as we said just now, the most interesting thing about her. Such disposition was not customary, was not what is usually called womanly, was not modest or delicate, nor, for many other persons, in any way comfortable. But it had one great merit: it was in a high degree original and active; and because it was this it constitutes the great service which George Sand rendered her sex—a service in which, we hasten to add, there was as much of fortune as of virtue. The disposition to cultivate an "acquaintance with life at first hand" might pass for an elegant way of describing the attitude of many young women who are never far to seek, and who render no service to their own sex—whatever they may render to the other. George Sand's superiority was that she looked at life from a high point of view, and that she had an extraordinary talent. She painted fans and glove-boxes to get money, and got very little. Indiana, however—a mere experiment—put her on her feet, and her reputation dawned. She found that she could write, and she took up her pen never to lay it down. Her early novels, all of them brilliant, and each one at that day a literary event, followed each other with extraordinary rapidity. About this sudden entrance into literature, into philosophy, into rebellion, and into a great many other matters, there are various different things to be said. Very remarkable, indeed, was the immediate development of the literary faculty in this needy young woman who lived in cheap lodgings and looked for "employment." She wrote as a bird sings; but unlike most birds, she found it unnecessary to indulge, by way of prelude, in twitterings and vocal exercises; she broke out at once with her full volume of expression. From the beginning she had a great style. Indiana, perhaps, is rather in falsetto, as the first attempts of young, sentimental writers are apt to be; but in Valentine, which immediately followed, there is proof of the highest literary instinct—an art of composition, a propriety and harmony of diction, such as belong only to the masters.
One might certainly have asked Madame Sand, as Lord Jeffrey asked Macaulay on the appearance of his first contribution to the Edinburgh Review, where in the world she had picked up that style. She had picked it up apparently at Nohant, among the meadows and the traînes—the deeply-sunken byroads among the thick, high hedges. Her language had to the end an odour of the hawthorn and the wild honeysuckle—the mark of the "climat souple et chaud," as she somewhere calls it, from which she had received "l'initiation première." How completely her great literary faculty was a matter of intuition is indicated by the fact that L'Histoire de ma Vie contains no allusion to it, no account of how she learned to write, no record of effort or apprenticeship. She appears to have begun at the stage of the journey at which most talents arrive only when their time is up. During the five-and-forty years of her literary career, she had something to say about most things in the universe; but the thing about which she had the least to say was the writer's, the inventor's, the romancer's art. She possessed it by the gift of God, but she seems never to have felt the temptation to examine the pulse of the machine.
To the cheap edition of her novels, published in 1852-'3, she prefixed a series of short prefaces, in which she relates the origin of each tale—the state of mind and the circumstances in which it was written. These prefaces are charming; they almost justify the publisher's declaration that they form the "most beautiful examination that a great mind has ever made of itself." But they all commemorate the writer's extraordinary facility and spontaneity. One of them says that on her way home from Spain she was shut up for some days at an inn, where she had her children at play in the same room with her. She found that the sight of their play quickened her imagination, and while they tumbled about the floor near her table, she produced Gabriel—a work which, though inspired by the presence of infancy, cannot be said to be addressed to infants. Of another story she relates that she wrote it at Fontainebleau, where she spent all her days wandering about the forest, making entomological collections, with her son. At night she came home and took up the thread of La Dernière Aldini, on which she had never bestowed a thought all day. Being at Venice, much depressed, in a vast dusky room in an old palace that had been turned into an inn, while the sea wind roared about her windows, and brought up the sound of the carnival as a kind of melancholy wail, she began a novel by simply looking round her and describing the room and the whistling of the mingled tumult without. She finished it in a week, and, hardly reading it over, sent it to Paris as Léone Léoni—a masterpiece.
In the few prefatory lines to Isidora I remember she says something of this kind: "It was a beautiful young woman who used to come and see me, and profess to relate her sorrows. I saw that she was attitudinizing before me, and not believing herself a word of what she said. So it is not her I described in Isidora." This is a happy way of saying how a hint—a mere starting point—was enough for her. Particularly charming is the preface to the beautiful tale of André; it is a capital proof of what one may call the author's limpidity of reminiscence, and want of space alone prevents me from quoting it. She was at Venice, and she used to hear her maid-servant and her sempstress, as they sat at work together, chattering in the next room. She listened to their talk in order to accustom her ear to the Venetian dialect, and in so doing she came into possession of a large amount of local gossip. The effect of it was to remind her of the small social life of the little country town near Nohant. The women told each other just such stories as might have been told there, and indulged in just such reflections and "appreciations" as would have been there begotten. She was reminded that men and women are everywhere the same, and at the same time she felt homesick. "I recalled the dirty, dusky streets, the tumble-down houses, the poor moss-grown roofs, the shrill concerts of cocks, children and cats, of my own little town. I dreamed too of our beautiful meadows, of our perfumed hay, of our little running streams, and of the botany beloved of old which I could follow now only on the muddy mosses and the floating weeds that adhered to the side of the gondolas. I don't know amid what vague memories of various types I set in motion the least complex and the laziest of fictions. These types belonged quite as much to Venice as to Berry. Change dress and language, sky, landscape and architecture, the outside aspect of people and things, and you will find that at the bottom of all this man is always the same, and woman still more, because of the tenacity of her instincts."
George Sand says that she found she could write for an extraordinary length of time without weariness, and this is as far as she goes in the way of analysis of her inspiration. From the time she made the discovery to the day of her death her life was an extremely laborious one. She had evidently an extraordinary physical robustness. It was her constant practice to write at night, beginning after the rest of the world had gone to sleep. Alexandre Dumas the younger described her somewhere, during her latter years, as an old lady who came out into the garden at midday in a broad-brimmed hat and sat down on a bench or wandered slowly about. So she remained for hours, looking about her, musing, contemplating. She was gathering impressions, says M. Dumas, absorbing the universe, steeping herself in nature; and at night she would give all this forth as a sort of emanation. Without using too vague epithets one may accept this term "emanation" as a good account of her manner.
If it is needless to go into biographical detail, this is because George Sand's real history, the more interesting one, is the history of her mind. The history of her mind is of course closely connected with her personal history; she is indeed a writer whose personal situation, at a particular moment, is supposed to be reflected with peculiar vividness in her work. But to speak of her consistently we must regard the events of her life as intellectual events, and its landmarks as opinions, convictions, theories. The only difficulty is that such landmarks are nearly as numerous as the trees in a forest. Some, however, are more salient than others. Madame Sand's account of herself is that her ideal of life was repose, obscurity and idleness—long days in the country spent in botany and entomology. She affirms that her natural indolence was extreme, and that the need of money alone induced her to take her pen into her hand. As this need was constant, her activity was constant; but it was a perversion of the genius of a kind, simple, friendly, motherly, profoundly unambitious woman, who would have been amply content to take care of her family, live in slippers, gossip with peasants, walk in the garden and listen to the piano. All this is certainly so far true as that no person of equal celebrity ever made fewer explicit pretensions. She philosophized upon a great many things that she did not understand, and toward the close of her life, in especial, was apt to talk metaphysics, in writing, with a mingled volubility and vagueness which might have been taken to denote an undue self-confidence. But in such things as these, as they come from George Sand's pen, there is an air as of not expecting any one in particular to read them. She never took herself too much au sérieux—she never postured at all as a woman of letters. She scribbled, she might have said—scribbled as well as she could; but when she was not scribbling she never thought of it; though she liked to think of all the great things that were worth scribbling about—love and religion and science and art, and man's political destiny. Her reader feels that she has no vanity, and all her contemporaries agree that her generosity was extreme.
She calls herself a sphinx bon enfant, or says at least that she looked like one. Judgements may differ as to what degree she was a sphinx; but her good nature is all-pervading. Some of her books are redolent of it—some of the more "objective" ones: Consuelo, Les Maîtres Sonneurs, L'Homme de Neige, Les beaux Messieurs de Bois-Doré. She is often passionate, but she is never rancorous; even her violent attacks upon the Church give us no impression of small acrimony. She has all a woman's loquacity, but she has never a woman's shrillness; and perhaps we can hardly indicate better the difference between great passion and small than by saying that she never is hysterical. During the last half of her career, her books went out of fashion among the new literary generation. "Realism" had been invented, or rather propagated; and in the light of Madame Bovary her own facile fictions began to be regarded as the work of a sort of superior Mrs. Radcliffe. She was antiquated; she belonged to the infancy of art. She accepted this destiny with a cheerfulness which it would have savoured of vanity even to make explicit. The Realists were her personal friends; she knew that they did not, and could not, read her books; for what could Gustave Flaubert make of Monsieur Sylvestre, what could Ivan Turgénieff make of Césarine Dietrich? It made no difference; she contented herself with reading their productions, never mentioned her own, and continued to write charming, improbable romances for initiated persons of the optimistic class.
After the first few years she fell into this more and more; she wrote stories for the story's sake. Among the novels produced during a long period before her death I can think of but one, Mademoiselle La Quintinie, that is of a controversial cast. All her early novels, on the other hand, were controversial—if this is not too mild a description of the passionate contempt for the institution of marriage expressed in Indiana, Valentine, Lélia, and Jacques. Her own acquaintance with matrimony had been of a painful kind, and the burden of three at least of these remarkable tales (Lélia stands rather apart) is the misery produced by an indissoluble matrimonial knot. Jacques is the story of an unhappy marriage from which there is no issue but by the suicide of one of the partners; the husband throws himself into the Alpine crevasse in order to leave his wife to an undistributed enjoyment of her lover.
It very soon became apparent that these matters were handled in a new and superior fashion. There had been plenty of tales about husbands, wives, and "third parties," but since the Nouvelle Héloïse there had been none of a high value or of a philosophic tone. Madame Sand, from the first, was nothing if not philosophic; the iniquity of marriage arrangements was to her mind but one of a hundred abominations in a society which needed a complete overhauling, and to which she proceeded to propose a loftier line of conduct. The passionate eloquence of the writer in all this was only equalled by her extraordinary self-confidence. Valentine seems to us even now a very eloquent book, and Jacques is hardly less so; it is easy to imagine their having made an immense impression. The intellectual freshness, the sentimental force of Valentine, must have had an irresistible charm; and we say this with a full sense of what there is false and fantastical in the substance of both books. Hold them up against the light of a certain sort of ripe reason, and they seem as porous as a pair of sieves; but subject them simply to the literary test, and they hold together very bravely.
The author's philosophic predilections were at once her merit and her weakness. On the one side it was a great mind, curious about all things, open to all things, nobly accessible to experience, asking only to live, expand, respond; on the other side stood a great personal volition, making large exactions of life and society and needing constantly to justify itself—stirring up rebellion and calling down revolution in order to cover up and legitimate its own agitation. George Sand's was a French mind, and as a French mind it had to theorize; but if the positive side of its criticism of most human institutions was precipitate and ill-balanced, the error was in a great measure atoned for in later years. The last half of Madame Sand's career was a period of assent and acceptance; she had decided to make the best of those social arrangements which surrounded her—remembering, as it were, the homely native proverb which declares that when one has not got what one likes one must like what one has got. Into the phase of acceptance and serenity, the disposition to admit that even as it is society pays, according to the vulgar locution, our author passed at about the time that the Second Empire settled down upon France. We suspect the fact we speak of was rather a coincidence than an effect. It is very true that the Second Empire may have seemed the death-knell of "philosophy"; it may very well have appeared profitless to ask questions of a world which anticipated you with such answers as that. But we take it rather that Madame Sand was simply weary of criticism; the pendulum had swung into the opposite quarter—as it is needless to remark that it always does.
We have delayed too long to say how far it had swung in the first direction; and we have delayed from the feeling that it is difficult to say it. We have seen that George Sand was by the force of heredity projected into this field with a certain violence; she took possession of a portion of it as a conqueror, and she was never compelled to retreat. The reproach brought against her by her critics is that, as regards her particular advocacy of the claims of the heart, she has for the most part portrayed vicious love, not virtuous love. But the reply to this, from her own side, would be that she has at all events portrayed something which those who disparage her activity have not portrayed. She may claim, that although she has the critics against her, the writers of her own class who represent virtuous love have not pushed her out of the field. She has the advantage that she has portrayed a passion, and those of the other group have the disadvantage that they have not. In English literature, which, we suppose, is more especially the region of virtuous love, we do not "go into" the matter, as the phrase is (we speak of course of English prose). We have agreed among our own confines that there is a certain point at which elucidation of it should stop short; that among the things which it is possible to say about it, the greater number had on the whole better not be said. It would be easy to make an ironical statement of the English attitude, and it would be, if not easy, at least very possible, to make a sound defence of it. The thing with us, however, is not a matter of theory; it is above all a matter of practice, and the practice has been that of the leading English novelists. Miss Austen and Sir Walter Scott, Dickens and Thackeray, Hawthorne and George Eliot, have all represented young people in love with each other; but no one of them has, to the best of our recollection, described anything that can be called a passion—put it into motion before us and shown us its various paces. To say this is to say at the same time that these writers have spared us much that we consider disagreeable, and that George Sand has not spared us; but it is to say furthermore that few persons would resort to English prose fiction for any information concerning the ardent forces of the heart—for any ideas upon them. It is George Sand's merit that she has given us ideas upon them—that she has enlarged the novel-reader's conception of them and proved herself in all that relates to them an authority. This is a great deal. From this standpoint Miss Austen, Walter Scott and Dickens will appear to have omitted the erotic sentiment altogether, and George Eliot will seem to have treated it with singular austerity. Strangely loveless, seen in this light, are those large, comprehensive fictions "Middlemarch" and "Daniel Deronda." They seem to foreign readers, probably, like vast, cold, commodious, respectable rooms, through whose window-panes one sees a snow-covered landscape, and across whose acres of sober-hued carpet one looks in vain for a fireplace or a fire.
The distinction between virtuous and vicious love is not particularly insisted upon by George Sand. In her view love is always love, is always divine in its essence and ennobling in its operation. The largest life possible is to hold one's self open to an unlimited experience of this improving passion. This, I believe, was Madame Sand's practice, as it was certainly her theory—a theory to the exposition of which one of her novels, at least, is expressly dedicated. Lucrezia Floriani is the history of a lady who, in the way of love, takes everything that comes along, and who sets forth her philosophy of the matter with infinite grace and felicity. It is probably fortunate for the world that ladies of Lucrezia Floriani's disposition have not as a general thing her argumentative brilliancy. About all this there would be much more to say than these few pages afford space for. Madame Sand's plan was to be open to all experience, all emotions, all convictions; only to keep the welfare of the human race, and especially of its humbler members, well in mind, and to trust that one's moral and intellectual life would take a form profitable to the same. One was therefore not only to extend a great hospitality to love, but to interest one's self in religion and politics. This Madame Sand did with great activity during the whole of the reign of Louis Philippe. She had broken utterly with the Church, of course, but her disposition was the reverse of sceptical. Her religious feeling, like all her feelings, was powerful and voluminous, and she had an ideal of a sort of etherealized and liberated Christianity, in which unmarried but affectionate couples might find an element friendly to their "expansion." Like all her feelings, too, her religions sentiment was militant; her ideas about love were an attack upon marriage; her faith was an attack upon the Church and the clergy; her socialistic sympathies were an attack upon all present political arrangements. These things all took hold of her by turn—shook her hard, as it were, and dropped her, leaving her to be played upon by some new inspiration; then, in some cases, returned to her, took possession of her afresh and sounded another tune. M. Renan, in writing of her at the time of her death, used a fine phrase about her; he said that she was "the Æolian harp of our time;" he spoke of her "sonorous soul." This is very just; there is nothing that belonged to her time that she had not a personal emotion about—an emotion intense enough to produce a brilliant work of art—a novel that had bloomed as rapidly and perfectly as the flower that the morning sun sees open on its stem. In her care about many things during all these years, in her expenditure of passion, reflection, and curiosity, there is something quite unprecedented. Never had philosophy and art gone so closely hand in hand. Each of them suffered a good deal; but it had appeared up to that time that their mutual concessions must be even greater. Balzac was a far superior artist; but he was incapable of a lucid reflection.
We have already said that mention has been made of George Sand's analogy with Goethe, who claimed for his lyrical poems the merit of being each the result of a particular incident in his life. It was incident too that prompted Madame Sand to write; but what it produced in her case was not a short copy of verses, but an elaborate drama, with a plot and a dozen characters. It will help us to understand this extraordinary responsiveness of mind and fertility of imagination to remember that inspiration was often embodied in a concrete form; that Madame Sand's "incidents" were usually clever, eloquent, suggestive men. "Le style c'est l'homme"—of her, it has been epigramatically said, that is particularly true. Be this as it may, these influences were strikingly various, and they are reflected in works which may be as variously labelled: amatory tales, religious tales, political, æsthetic, pictorial, musical, theatrical, historical tales. And it is to be noticed that in whatever the author attempted, whether or no she succeeded, she appeared to lose herself. The Lettres d'un Voyageur read like a writer's single book. This melancholy, this desolation and weariness, might pass as the complete distillation of a soul. In the same way Spiridion is exclusively religious and theological. The author might, in relation to this book, have replied to such of her critics as reproach her with being too erotic, that she had performed the very rare feat of writing a novel not only containing no love save divine love, but containing not one woman's figure. We can recall but one rival to Spiridion in this respect—Godwin's Caleb Williams.
But if other things come and go with George Sand, amatory disquisition is always there. It is of all kinds, sometimes very noble and sometimes very disagreeable. Numerous specimens of the two extremes might be cited. There is to our taste a great deal too much of it; the total effect is displeasing. The author illuminates and glorifies the divine passion, but she does something which may be best expressed by saying that she cheapens it. She handles it too much; she lets it too little alone. Above all she is too positive, too explicit, too business-like; she takes too technical a view of it. Its various signs and tokens and stages, its ineffable mysteries, are all catalogued and tabulated in her mind, and she whisks out her references with the nimbleness with which the doorkeeper at an exhibition hands you back your umbrella in return for a check. In this relation, to the English mind, discretion is a great point—a virtue so absolute and indispensable that it speaks for itself and cannot be analysed away; and George Sand is judged from our point of view by one's saying that for her discretion is simply non-existent. Its place is occupied by a sort of benevolent, and almost conscientious disposition to sit down, as it were, and "talk over" the whole matter. The subject fills her with a motherly loquacity; it stimulates all her wonderful and beautiful self-sufficiency of expression—the quality that we have heard a hostile critic call her "glibness."
We can hardly open a volume of George Sand without finding an example of what we mean. We glance at a venture into Teverino, and we find Lady G., who has left her husband at the inn and gone out to spend a day with the more fascinating Léonce, "passing her beautiful hands over the eyes of Léonce, peut-être par tendresse naïve, perhaps to convince herself that it was really tears she saw shining in them." The peut-être here, the tendresse naïve, the alternatives, the impartial way in which you are given your choice, are extremely characteristic of Madame Sand. They remind us of the heroine of Isidora, who alludes in conversation to "une de mes premières fautes." In the list of Madame Sand's more technically amatory novels, however, there is a distinction to be made; the earlier strike us as superior to the later. The fault of the earlier—the fact that passion is too intellectual, too pedantic, too sophistical, too much bent upon proving itself abnegation and humility, maternity, fraternity, humanity, or some fine thing that it really is not and that it is much simpler and better for not pretending to be—this fault is infinitely exaggerated in the tales written after Lucrezia Floriani. Indiana, Valentine, Jacques, and Mauprat are, comparatively speaking, frankly and honestly passionate; they do not represent the love that declines to compromise with circumstances as a sort of eating one's cake and having it too—an eating it as pleasure and a having it as virtue. But the stories of the type of Lucrezia Floriani, which indeed is the most argumentative, [Constance Verrier, Isidora, Pauline, Le dernier Amour, La Daniella, Francia, Mademoiselle Merquem] have an indefinable falsity of tone. Madame Sand had here begun to play with her topic intellectually; the first freshness of her interest in it had gone, and invention had taken the place of conviction. To acquit one's self happily of such experiments, one must certainly have all the gifts that George Sand possessed. But one must also have two or three that she lacked. Her sense of purity was certainly defective. This is a brief statement, but it means a great deal, and of what it means there are few of her novels that do not contain a number of illustrations.
There is something very fine, for instance, about Valentine, in spite of its contemptible hero; there is something very sweet and generous in the figure of the young girl. But why, desiring to give us an impression of great purity in her heroine, should the author provide her with a half-sister who is at once an illegitimate daughter and the mother of a child born out of wedlock, and who, in addition, is half in love with Valentine's lover? Though George Sand thinks to better the matter by representing this love as partly maternal. After Valentine's marriage, a compulsory and most unhappy one, this half-sister plots with the doctor to place the young wife and the lover whom she has had to dismiss once more en rapport. She hesitates, it is true, and inquires of the physician if their scheme will not appear unlawful in the eyes of the world. But the old man reassures her, and asks, with a "sourire malin et affectueux," why she should care for the judgement of a world which has viewed so harshly her own irregularity of conduct. Madame Sand constantly strikes these false notes; we meet in her pages the most startling confusions. In Jacques there is the oldest table of relations between the characters. Jacques is possibly the brother of Silvia, who is probably, on another side, sister of his wife, who is the mistress of Octave, Silvia's dismissed amanti Add to this that if Jacques be not the brother of Silvia, who is an illegitimate child, he is convertible into her lover. On s'y perd. Silvia, a clever woman, is the guide, philosopher, and friend of this melancholy Jacques; and when his wife, who desires to become the mistress of Octave (her discarded lover), and yet, not finding it quite plain sailing to do so, weeps over the crookedness of her situation, she writes to the injured husband that she has been obliged to urge Fernande not to take things so hard: "je suis forcée de la consoler et de la relever à ses propres yeux." Very characteristic of Madame Sand is this fear lest the unfaithful wife should take to low a view of herself. One wonders what had become of her sense of humour. Fernande is to be "relevée" before her fall, and the operation is somehow to cover her fall prospectively.
Take another example from Léone Léoni. The subject of the story is the sufferings of an infatuated young girl, who follows over Europe the most faithless, unscrupulous and ignoble, but also the most irresistible of charmers. It is Manon Lescaut, with the incurable fickleness of Manon attributed to a man; and as in the Abbé Prévost's story the touching element is the devotion and constancy of the injured and deluded Desgrieux, so in Léone Léoni we are invited to feel for the too closely-clinging Juliette, who is dragged through the mire of a passion which she curses and yet which survives unnameable outrage. She tells the tale herself and yet it might have been expected that, to deepen its effect, the author would have represented her as withdrawn from the world and cured of her excessive susceptibility. But we find her living with another charmer, jewelled and perfumed; in her own words, she is a fille entretenue, and it is to her new lover that she relates the story of the stormy life she led with the old. The situation requires no comment beyond our saying that the author had morally no taste. Of this want of moral taste we remember another striking instance. Mademoiselle Merquem, who gives her name to one of the later novels, is a young girl of the most elevated character, beloved by a young man, the intensity of whose affection she desires to test. To do this she contrives the graceful plan of introducing into her house a mysterious infant, of whose parentage she offers an explanation so obtrusively vague, that the young man is driven regretfully to the induction that its female parent is none other than herself. We forget to what extent he is staggered, but, if we rightly remember, he withstands the test. We do not judge him, but it is permitted to judge the young lady.
We have called George Sand an improvisatrice, and in this character, where she deals with matters of a more "objective" cast, she is always delightful; nothing could be more charming than her tales of mystery, intrigue, and adventure. Consuelo, L'Homme de Neige, Le Piccinino, Teverino, Le Beau Laurence, and its sequel, Pierre qui Roule, Antonia, Tamaris, La Famille de Germandre, La Filleule, La dernière Aldini, Cadìo, Flamarande—these things have all the spontaneous inventiveness of the romances of Alexandre Dumas, his open-air quality, his pleasure in a story for a story's sake, together with an intellectual refinement, a philosophic savour, a reference to spiritual things, in which he was grotesquely deficient.
We have given, however, no full enumeration of the author's romances, and it seems needless to do so. We have lately been trying to read them over, and we frankly confess that we have found it impossible. They are excellent reading for once, but they lack that quality which makes things classical—makes them impose themselves. It has been said that what makes a book a classic is its style. We should modify this, and instead of style say form. Madame Sand's novels have plenty of style, but they have no form. Balzac's have not a shred of style, but they have a great deal of form. Posterity doubtless will make a selection from each list, but the few volumes of Balzac it preserves will remain with it much longer, we suspect, than those which it borrows from his great contemporary. We cannot easily imagine posterity travelling with Valentine or Mauprat, Consuelo or the Marquis de Villemer in its trunk. At the same time we can imagine that if these admirable tales fall out of fashion, such of our descendants as stray upon them in the dusty corners of old libraries will sit down on the bookcase ladder with the open volume and turn it over with surprise and enchantment. What a beautiful mind! they will say; what an extraordinary style! Why have we not known more about these things? And as, when that time comes, we suppose the world will be given over to a "realism" that we have not as yet begun faintly to foreshadow, George Sand's novels will have, for the children of the twenty-first century, something of the same charm which Spencer's Fairy Queen has for those of the nineteenth. For a critic of to-day to pick and choose among them seems almost pedantic; they all belong quite to the same intellectual family. They are the easy writing which makes hard reading.
In saying this we must immediately limit our meaning. All the world can read George Sand once and not find it in the least hard. But it is not easy to return to her; putting aside a number of fine descriptive pages, the reader will not be likely to resort to any volume that he has once laid down for a particular chapter, a brilliant passage, an entertaining conversation. George Sand invites reperusal less than any mind of equal eminence. Is this because after all she was a woman, and the laxity of the feminine intellect could not fail to claim its part in her? We will not attempt to say; especially as, though it may be pedantic to pick and choose among her works, we immediately think of two or three that have as little as possible of intellectual laxity. Mauprat is a solid, masterly, manly book; André and La Mare au Diable have an extreme perfection of form. M. Taine, whom we quoted at the beginning of these remarks, speaks of our author's rustic tales (the group to which the Mare au Diable belongs [François le Champí, La Petite Fadette]) as a signal proof of her activity and versatility of mind. Besides being charming stories, they are in fact a real study in philology—such a study as Balzac made in the Contes Drôlatiques, and as Thackeray made in Henry Esmond. George Sand's attempt to return to a more artless and archaic stage of the language which she usually handled in so modern and voluminous a fashion was quite as successful as that of her fellows. In Les Maîtres Sonneurs it is extremely felicitous, and the success could only have been achieved by an extraordinary sympathetic and flexible talent. This is one of the impressions George Sand's reader—even if he have read her but once—brings away with him. His other prevailing impression will bear upon that quality which, if it must be expressed in a single word, may best be called the generosity of her genius. It is true that there are one or two things which limit this generosity. We think, for example, of Madame Sand's peculiar power of self-defence, her constant need to justify, to glorify, to place in a becoming light, to "arrange," as we said at the outset, those errors and weaknesses in which her own personal credit may be at stake. She never accepts a weakness as a weakness; she always dresses it out as a virtue; and if her heroines abandon their lovers and lie to their husbands, you may be sure it is from motives of the highest morality. Such productions as Lucrezia Floriani and Elle et Lui may be attributed to an ungenerous disposition—both of them being stories in which Madame Sand is supposed to have described her relations with distinguished men who were dead, and whose death enabled her without contradiction to portray them as monsters of selfishness, while the female protagonist appeared as the noblest of her sex. But without taking up the discussion provoked by these works, we may say that, on the face of the matter, there is a good deal of justification for their author. She poured her material into the crucible of art, and the artist's material is of necessity in a large measure his experience. Madame Sand never described the actual; this was often her artistic weakness, and as she has the reproach she should also have the credit. Lucrezia Floriani and Elle et Lui were doubtless to her imagination simply tales of what might have been.
It is hard not to feel that there is a certain high good conscience and passionate sincerity in the words in which, in one of her prefaces, she alludes to the poor novel which Alfred de Musset's brother put forth as an incriminative retort to Elle et Lui. Some of her friends has advised her not to notice the book; "but after reflection she judged it to be her duty to attend to it at the proper time and place. She was, however, by no means in haste. She was in Auvergne following the imaginary traces of the figures of her new novel along the scented byways, among the sweetest scenes of spring. She had brought the pamphlet with her to read it; but she did not read it. She had forgotten her herbarium, and the pages of the infamous book, used as a substitute, were purified by the contact of the wild flowers of Puy-de-Dôme and Sancy. Sweet perfumes of the things of God, who to you could prefer the memory of the foulnesses of civilization?"
It must, however, to be just all round, be farther remembered that those persons and causes which Madame Sand has been charged first and last with misrepresenting belonged to the silent, inarticulate, even defunct class. She was always the talker, the survivor, the adversary armed with a gift of expression so magical as almost to place a premium upon sophistry. To weigh everything, we imagine she really outlived experience, morally, to a degree which made her feel, in retrospect, as if she were dealing with the history of another person. "Où sont-ils, où sont-ils, nos amours passés?" she exclaims in one of her later novels. (What has become of the passions we have shuffled off?—into what dusky limbo are they flung away?) And she goes on to say that it is a great mistake to suppose that we die only once and at last. We die piecemeal; some part of us is always dying; it is only what is left that dies at last. As for our "amours passés," where are they indeed? Jacques Laurent and the Prince Karol may be fancied, in echo, to exclaim.
In saying that George Sand lacks truth the critic more particularly means that she lacks exactitude—lacks the method of truth. Of a certain general truthfulness she is full to overflowing; we feel that to her mind nothing human is alien. We should say of her, not that she knew human nature, but that she felt it. At all events she loved and enjoyed it. She was contemplative; but she was not, in the deepest sense, observant. She was a very high order of sentimentalist, but she was not a moralist. She perceived a thousand things, but she rarely in strictness judged; so that although her books have a great deal of wisdom, they have not what is called weight. With the physical world she was as familiar as with the human, and she knew it perhaps better. She would probably at any time have said that she cared much more for botany, mineralogy and astronomy, than for sociology. "Nature," as we call it—landscape, trees and flowers, rocks and streams and clouds—plays a larger part in her novels than in any others, and in none are they described with such a grand general felicity. If Turner had written his landscapes rather than painted them he might have written as George Sand has done. If she was less truthful in dealing with men and women, says M. Taine, it is because she had too high an ideal for them; she could not bear not to represent them as better than they are. She delights in the representation of virtue, and if we sometimes feel that she has not really measured the heights on which she places her characters, that so to place them has cost little to her understanding, we are nevertheless struck with the nobleness of her imagination. M. Taine calls her an idealist; we should say, somewhat more narrowly, that she was an optimist. An optimist "lined," as the French say, with a romancer, is not the making of a moralist. George Sand's optimism, her idealism, are very beautiful, and the source of that impression of largeness, luminosity and liberality which she makes upon us. But we suspect that something even better in a novelist is that tender appreciation of actuality which makes even the application of a single coat of rose-colour seem an act of violence.
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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 question somewhat differently: "True, she took over the ideas of Michel de Bourges, of Lamennais, of Pierre Leroux, 'but they were ideas with which she was already familiar.' "' Long before 1842 when Sand first specifically stated her political and social positions, collected under the title Questions politiques et sociales, and even before 1835 when she met both Lamennais and Bourges, the men who helped her express her socialist leanings, Sand's writings already showed a zeal for humanitarian concerns.
The major novels of this period (often called the romantic or confessional phase of her work)—Indiana (1832), Valentine (1832), Lélia (1833), Jacques (1834), and André (1834)—all demonstrate a critical social awareness. For Sand this is a period in which she clearly shows the influences of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Nodier, Senancour, and above all, her maître de pensée, Rousseau. It is the failures and misdeeds of society which interest the young author in these works. Far from proposing any of the radical reforms with which she was later associated, in these early novels Sand merely condemns society as she sees it, despairing of any hope for improvement or change. The grace, tranquility, and beauty of the Vallée noire are merely glimpsed here, overshadowed by a venomous condemnation of contemporary life. In a letter to Sainte-Beuve in 1833, she writes of society: "I believe that it is lost, I find it odious and I will never be able to say otherwise."2 Both in her correspondence and in her prefatory writings of this early period, Sand takes great pains to deny any kind of social or political sympathies, repeatedly stating that society is beyond help and progress impossible.
While it is true that Sand did not join the saint-simoniens or any other such movement until much later, her spiritual sympathy is clearly evident in her novels. The subject which Sand employs in these novels to illustrate her contempt of contemporary society was the one closest to her own experiences: the injustice of marriage. Thus, all of Sand's early works deal with the question of marriage, either explicitly or implicitly. In Lélia, for example, the fact that none of the characters considers entering into matrimony is revealing, since, as a leading .andian critic says, this work "cannot not be a personal novel."3 None is a roman de bonheur; in every case the lovers are thwarted by social restrictions, usually familial or marital. Indiana, Valentine, and Jacques focus upon an "ill-matched couple" and the resulting injustices; in Indiana the solution is for the true lovers to withdraw from society and live in a harmonious relationship unsanctioned by law, whereas in the other two novels the only escape is death. Valentine and André pose the question of marriage between persons of different social status, a favorite theme of Sand's throughout hèr career; both end with the death of at least one of the lovers. These somewhat melodramatic plots point out an important element of Sand's early fiction: her conviction that marriage in her time is not a viable institution.
Sand's correspondence from 1833 to 1837 exhibits a similar stance in regard to divorce. In 1833, she calls marriage a "state contrary to any kind of union and happiness;" in 1834 she finds that it can be a "despicable tyranny;" and in 1837 she writes to Lamennais that she sees no way out of the "bloody injustices" and "endless miseries" of marriage except "the freedom to break and re-establish the conjugal bond." In her letters on the subject of her own marital difficulties, she describes herself as a "slave of marriage," an image which she often applies to her fictional heroines. This is especially true of Indiana who, like her creator, hides her rebellion and her disgust of her husband behind an air of submission. When accused of adultery by her husband, Indiana defends herself with the courage, force, and intelligence of the young Aurore Dudevant:
I know that I am your slave and you are the lord. The law of this land has made you my master. You can bind my body, tie my hands, govern my actions. You have the rights of the stronger, confirmed by society; but you have no control over my will; God alone can curb it and reduce it.
(Indiana, Gamier, p. 225)4
Both Indiana and Valentine fear their husbands and recognize the power of the male; yet they are courageous enough to commit adultery, both for love and for freedom. In Valentine, Sand considers the marriage ceremony itself, in which feelings are tacked upon church doors and girlish modesty is exposed to the obscene thoughts and gestures of the wedding guests. This public deflowering of the bride is described as a rape, in which society approves and ratifies the submission of a trembling young woman, who "falls, branded by the kisses of a detested master!"5 Even in Lélia, Sand's most poetic and metaphysical novel, this problem is considered by the defiant, liberated heroine, who asks, "Is the role of woman limited to the transports of love?"6 and who views marriage as a kind of prostitution in which women are bought and sold. In her attention to marriage and divorce, however, Sand is not a female chauvinist, but recognizes that the male suffers as well: Colonel Delmare in Indiana and Raymon in Jacques are adequate proof of this assertion.
In her writings, other than novels, of this period, Sand shows that her hatred of injustice extends beyond marriage to the whole of society. Sand's antipathy towards any kind of master—marital, political, or otherwise—is well documented, and her consequent belief in republicanism is professed throughout her correspondence. In 1835, she wrote: ". . . the love of Equality is the only thing which has not varied in me for as long as I have lived."7 Her disgust at the inequities which resulted from differences in social rank, especially in the division of material goods, is often reiterated. Sand quite logically, decries the institution of slavery in a letter to Gustave de Beaumont, author of Marie, ou l'esclavage aux Etats-Unis (1835), in which she praises his "noble work" for its exposure of "false and hypocritical Democracy."8 (Her thoughts on slavery were later elaborated more fully in her notice to the French translation of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852.) Yet at this time, Sand still exhibited uncertainty as to whether the conditions of human inequalities could be ameliorated. Two letters written on October 18, 1835 (there is some question about the date), well illustrate her hesitation: the first, to Liszt, states that her "fits of republican anger . . . are useless,"9 and that she will therefore return to her armchair and do nothing; the second, to Emmanuel Arago, proposes that "we must take up the axe" and destroy society, "all the while thinking of ways to reconstruct it."10 Sand has certainly not yet wholeheartedly arrived at the point of concrete action, preferring a more passive means of persuading, her novels.
Here, differences in rank play a vital role; both Valentine and André depict the destruction of love by social distinctions and restrictions. Valentine, especially, is an étude de moeurs, as Sand analyzes the social classes of Berry—the peasant, the "half-bourgeois, half-country-bumpkin planter class," and the aristocracy.11 Although critical of all classes, she is particularly savage in her condemnation of the pretentious Raimbault family, who erect obstacles between Valentine and her lover, Bénédict, a farmer's nephew. Sand makes it clear that, as Valentine says, "Our rank, our fortune are worth nothing," but that it is the aristocracy of the mind and soul which should be valued. The same is true in André, in which the young fleuriste Geneviéve is the most sympathetic, sensitive, and intelligent of creatures. Both she and Bénédict must die, however, victims of a social structure which is unable to recognize their worth. In Indiana, Sand speaks of what God would do if He decided to interfere in human affairs: ". . . He would pass this large hand over our unequal heads and make them level like the waters of the sea."12 Further proof of the author's commitment to the idea of erasing social inequity is the conclusion of Indiana, where Sir Ralph relates how the couple spends the major portion of their income to buy back slaves (in the tradition of Paul and Virginie), wishing that they were rich enough to rid the earth of that institution.
Another social problem which drew the criticism of the young Sand was that of education in her century. She felt extremely limited in her own knowledge, as stated, for example, in a letter to Hortense Allart in 1833:
I have studied nothing, I know nothing, not even my language. I have so little exactness in my brain that I have never been able to perform the simplest mathematical calculation.13
Echoes of her feelings of ignorance resound in the correspondence. It is not surprising, then, to find her urging her son Maurice to take advantage of education, since "without it, one lives in a kind of slavery."14 It is precisely this lack of education which makes Sand's heroines slaves of the social system. Indiana is "ignorant like a true Creole," becoming bored whenever a question is discussed fully. Valentine is frustrated because she has learned to sing, dance, paint, and embroider, but has been taught nothing of real use; she realizes that she can neither earn her living nor develop her min.—the tools have been denied her. Fernande, the heroine of Jacques, is a frivolous, spoiled, convent-educated young thing who is completely unprepared to engage in meaningful conversation. Likewise, Geneviève (in André) is untutored and untrained, but demonstrates a lively mind when exposed to serious study. Of these heroines only Lélia (and perhaps Sylvia, the "other woman" in Jacques) has attained the knowledge of Mme de Staël's Corinne.
women who are not brilliant poetesses are depicted as appallingly ignorant and thus unequipped to withstand the pressures of society.
In an intelligent and stimulating article in Daedalus (Winter 1976),15 Tony Tanner takes a fresh look at Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse, treating it as a paradigm of the destruction of the paternal house and an indication that the "bourgeois family would not work."16 Sand's early novels follow the lead of Rousseau in demonstrating the lack of cohesion and stability of the maison paternelle. Although this does not constitute overt social criticism and although there is no mention in the correspondence of Sand's frustration with the patriarchal system, it is still interesting that the novels so obviously present a subversion of that system. In Indiana and Jacques, for example, the father figure is an older husband who is rejected by the young wife. In Indiana's case, Sand makes it explicit that her heroine, by changing her name from Carvajal to .elmare, "has only changed masters;" thus, the husband's name is merely a transformation of that of the father, and both imprison Indiana. In Valentine and André an aristocratic family lineage is the object of derision by the young heirs; Valentine is forced to sign over all of the family possessions to her dandified, aristocratic husband, an act which she gladly commits in the hope that it will permit her to lead the life she desires, that of a fermière, and thus escape from "the slavery of an opulent life." André also rejects his heritage—and his petty, cruel, narrow-minded father as well—choosing poverty and ignominy to marry Geneviève. None of the heroines here provides an heir to continue the family name. In all the novels except Valentine, the paternal house will fall; and in this case, it is ironic that the name will be continued by the bastard son of Valentine's sister, Louise, who had herself been rejected from her father's roof.17
In sum, Sand's first novels are hardly revolutionary works; they rarely propose action. The struggles here are useless; all her heroic characters submit to their social fate, thus reflecting Sand's belief that nothing can be changed. The only exceptions are the attempt to reduce slavery in Indiana and the humanitarian mission of the ex-convict Trenmor, who at the end of Lelia sets out to help the world "because everywhere there are duties to fill, a force to use, a destiny to be realized."18
Two works form the watershed in Sand's evolution from pessimism to progress: the second, revised version of Lélia, begun in 1836 and Mauprat, begun in 1835, but not given any real attention until 1837. Both works exhibit the progressive notions of the triumvirate of Sand's mentors—Bourges, Lamennais, and Leroux—and point the way to the socialist and rustic novels of the 1840s and 1850s. In April 1836, Sand wrote to the "famille saint-simonienne" in Paris, a society which she had steadfastly refused to join, stridently bidding them to lead the struggle to rebuild society:
. . . Faithful to old childhood affections, to old social hatreds, I can not separate the idea of republic from that of regeneration, since the salvation of the world seems to rest on us to destroy it, on you to rebuild it.19
There is a new urgency in Sand's tone here; gone are the pessimism, the hesitancy, and the ambiguity of the early years. Instead, we find an almost messianic call to action, one reflected in her fiction of these years.
The revised Lélia is perhaps the most dramatic presentation of the "new" Sand. In May, 1836, she calls the first version "my best work,"20 yet in July of the same year she writes of it: "The poison which has made me ill is now a remedy which is curing me."21 The resulting novel, which appeared in September, 1839, contained enough changes to eradicate the essential thrust of the 1833 version. Instead of an accusation against humanity, it now became an article of faith in progress, a Bible of the poor, a new testament to humanitarianism. The romantic, suffering Lélia became an optimistic prophet, a militant believer in progress, just as her creator had become a loyal disciple of Pierre Leroux.
However, the still metaphysical and ethereal Lélia of 1839 was still not the real forum for Sand's constructive ideas about the future; that function was filled by Mauprat. This action-filled adventure story seems a somewhat bizarre choice for the presentation of the author's newly modified beliefs, yet is replaces Sand's negativism of the earlier novels by offering constructive solutions to the problems of marriage, education, patriarchy, and social equality. Marriage in Mauprat is no longer a barrier to happiness, but a blissful bond, offering eternal joy. This state, however, is not entered into with ease but is rewarded at the end of years of service and proof of worthiness, much in the fashion of a medieval chevalier. Love and marriage are complementary here, not impossible opposites; as Bernard Mauprat says:
She is the only woman I've loved; never has any other attracted my attention or known the squeeze of my hand. I am made that way; what I love, I love eternally, in the past, the present, and the future.22
Education is not exclusively the realm of men in Mauprat; it is Edmée Mauprat, a learned, intelligent, and lucid institutrice, who attempts to guide her lover, Bernard, both morally and intellectually, as did Mme de Warens for Rousseau. This éducation sentimentale has the goal of producing an honnête homme in the nineteenth-century sense of a rebirth in love and virtue. Edmée's singleminded, almost violent pursuit of this renaissance of an enfant sauvage reflects the nineteenth century search for the absolute embodied by such romantic heroines as Corinne, la Sanseverian, and Mme de Mortsauf; the success of her mission is a vindication of the earlier Sandian heroines whose lack of knowledge keeps them chained and helpless in a world dominated by men. The maison paternelle of Bernard Mauprat is destined to fall in this novel; his father's branch of the Mauprat family is wild, vicious, unrestrained, a group of thieving rascals. In becoming an honnête homme Mauprat rejects the values of his fathers and brothers to choose those of the other branch of his family headed by his uncle, Edmée's father. By marrying Edmée, Bernard reunites his family, thus strengthening a divided house and continuing the Mauprat name through four children who hopefully "will succeed in erasing the deplorable memory of their ancestors."23 In this case, Sand does not undermine the entire patriarchal system; rather, she depicts the demise of its most evil incarnation. The revitalized, reborn house of Mauprat is symbolized by the family home, the formerly dreaded bastion of Roche-Mauprat, now the scene of a stable, happy domestic life, a thriving salute to the possibilities of humanity.
There is much negative social criticism in Mauprat: the injustices of society towards women, the lack of moral integrity among the clergy, and the hypocrisy of the judicial system all receive their share of Sandian scorn. Yet, this is the first novel in which a kind of naive revolutionary radicalism appears. Although all of the main characters espouse socialistic ideals, it is the rustic philosopher Patience, one of Sand's most successful character creations, who becomes the champion of republicanism. In this novel, which begins before the 1789 Revolution, Sand traces the gathering of the storm by focusing upon the increasingly unhappy and independent peasant. Patience, a kind of Figaro of Berry, represents the rebellious peasant and predicts that "castles will fall" and the land will be equally divided. He envisions a new order in which men will live in the same peace and harmony as the stars, admires Franklin and Rousseau, and dreams of American soldiers bringing the olive branch of peace to the French nation. During the Revolution he becomes a hero among the poor of Berry and is named the judge of his district, where his impartiality and integrity towards "both the castle and the thatched hut" bring him fame and respect. This is Sand's first instance of the peasant-hero, the naive but wily activist who leads the battle for reform. The moral of the tale is that one must never merely accept things as they are but work for change and betterment, with education as the basis for solving the problems of society. This can be achieved by the Biblical message with which the novel ends, "by loving one another very much."24 The bitter cynicism of the early novels has been transformed into a loving, active socialism by some of the strangest characters in Sand's fiction: a reformed bandit, a rat-catcher (named Marcasse), a defrocked abbé, and a bizarre old peasant philosopher, who assumes the mantle of liberty as a prophet of the new order.
Sand's later political stance and affiliations have been well established. Such works as Marie-Louise Pailleron's George Sand et les hommes de 48, Lucien Buis' Les Théories sociales de George Sand, and Edouard Dolléans's Féminisme et mouvement ouvrier: George Sand chart her progressively evangelical socialism of the 1840s and 1850s. Her admitted misanthropy of the earlier period (see, for example, the letter to Hortense Allart, July 1833)25 has been transformed into a far less critical love of humanity, her former lethargy has become a militant call to action, and her statement of 1832, "I have never put my nose in politics,"26 hardly describes the writer of Mauprat (leaving aside as another question Sand's continued acceptance of the benefits of being a propriétaire in her own right). These novels and letters prove that Sand's intellectual transition from pessimism to progress was not abrupt but gradual. By the time the name George Sand had been coined in 1832, the seeds of social protest had already been sown; nurtured by the ideas of others and by the political events leading to the Revolution of 1848, they blossomed in the later novels, to inspire the whole of France.
1 André Maurois, Lélia: The Life of George Sand (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), p. 323.
2 George Sand, Correspondance, II, ed. Georges Lubin (Paris: Gamier, 1966), 431. This is my translation, as are all translations in this paper.
3 Pierre Reboul, ed., Lélia by George Sand (Paris: Garnier, 1960), p. xliv.
4 George Sand, Indiana (Paris: Gamier, 1962), p. 225.
5 George Sand, Valentine (Paris: L évy, 1869), p. 183. George Sand,
6Lélia (Paris: Gamier, 1960), p. 292. George Sand,
7Correspondance, III, ed. Georges Lubin (Paris: Gamier, 1967), p. 116.
8 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 438.
9 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 66.
10 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 67.
11 Sand, Valentine, p. 6.
12 Sand, Indiana, p. 243.
13 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 389.
14 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 109.
15 Tony Tanner, "Julie and 'La Maison Paternelle': Another Look at Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse," Daedalus (Winter 1976), 23-45.
16 Tanner, p. 23.
17 This is a fascinating subject and one which has not been touched upon in Sandian criticism.
18 Sand, Lélia, p. 326.
19 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 326. (Sand's italics)
20 Sand,Correspondance, III, p. 362.
21 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 474.
22 Sand, Mauprat (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1969), p. 312.
23 Sand, Mauprat, p. 312.
24 Sand, Mauprat, p. 314.
25 Sand, Correspondance, HI, p. 389.
26 Sand, Correspondance, III, p. 14.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4320
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 Doppelgänger1 nor Albert Guérard in his anthology of Stories of the Double2 a half century later includes George Sand alongside those nineteenth and twentieth century writers whose names are synonymous with the literary concept of the double: Dostoevsky, Dickens, Melville, Stevenson, James, Conrad and Kafka. The omission is clearly not a sexist slight, for Emily Brontë receives her tribute as a consummate creator of "exact Doubles differing in sex alone"3 and Sylvia Plath is recognized as an adept manipulator of double characters in The Bell Jar and Ariel poems. Certainly the oversight is largely due to the fact that most of Sand's novels, plays and miscellaneous writings, totalling 115 volumes, were until recently relatively inaccessible in French and were out of print in English translation for the past two generations.
My intent in this paper is to call attention to a special breed of double characters who inhibit the fiction of George Sand and to explore in some detail the process of dédoublement in three of her novels: Indiana, Lélia, and Ma Soeur Jeanne.4 In each of these novels two women give expression to a basic duality common in Western literature and especially prevalent in the works of Victorian writers—that of the lofty spiritual woman and her carnal sister. Indiana, Lélia, Jeanne, the designated heroines, have their fleshly counterparts in servants, sisters, rivals, of a lesser moral order. Yet the more corporeal women are not merely negative images: they are attractive and beguiling persons in their own right, often more convincing in their physical reality than their ethereal opposites.
Indiana is the story of a beautiful young woman raised on the Ile Bourbon (renamed La Réunion) in the Indian Ocean and mismarried to an elderly French colonel; they live together in the French countryside with her faithful English cousin Ralph and her faithful Creole maid Noun, until the monotony of their country life is broken by the intrusion of one Raymon de Ramières. Raymon, the archetypical aristocratic seducer, has been having a clandestine affair with Noun; however, when he encounters Indiana, he proceeds to fall in love with her as well. Raymon serves as a focal point for the affections of both maid and mistress. That Indiana and Noun are doubles is indicated in the first description of the maid.
Noun was Madame Delmare's 'milk sister'; brought up together, these two young women loved each other tenderly. Noun was tall, strong, beaming with health, lively, alert, and full of ardent, passionate Creole blood; her shining beauty eclipsed the pale and frail charms of Madame Delmare; but the goodness of their hearts and the strength of their mutual attachment eliminated all feeling of feminine rivalry.5
The French expression "soeur de lait" tells us that Noun and Indiana were nursed by the same woman, probably Noun's mother. It was a common phenomenon in the early nineteenth century for French women of the middle and upper classes to entrust their infants to wet nurses, who simultaneously cared for several children from different families. Despite the difference in their social positions, they are spiritually sisters. Each is endowed with the physical attributes deemed appropriate to her social station: Noun is tall, strong, healthy, and passionate, whereas Indiana is pale and frail and, implicitly, less hot blooded than the true Creole. Individually they are stereotypes of their respective classes; together they constitute in their "mutual attachment" and love for one another a pair of non-identical twins.
The relationship of Indiana to Noun is similar to the psychological process of "projective identification," whereby an individual "projects" upon another unacceptable impulses and then experiences an uncanny sense of identification with that person. (Dostoevsky's The Double and Conrad's Secret Sharer are the classic examples.) Indiana's compelling sense of sisterhood with Noun far exceeds the conventional bonds between mistress and confidante; it suggests the union of a "respectable" woman and her shadow self.
It is Noun who carries on the behind-the-scene affair with Raymon. She is the free, uninhibited female who delights in lovemaking with "that ardor of the blood, that Eastern voluptuousness which knows how to triumph over all the efforts of the will, all the scruples of thought." She is the body experiencing pleasure. Raymon loves her "with his senses" but loves Indiana "with his whole soul." During the day he declares his chaste and undying love to Indiana: "You are the woman I had dreamed of, the purity I adored—." But at night he returns to Noun, exchanging with her "delirious caresses" which "ultimately banished reason." Alone with Noun in Indiana's bedroom while Indiana is out of the house, he succeeds in confusing the two of them:
Little by little, Indiana's vague shadowy image came to be mixed with Raymon's drunkenness. The two mirrored panels, which infinitely reflected Noun's image between them, seemed to be peopled by a thousand fantoms. He spied in the depths of this double reflection another form, more deeply hidden, and he seemed to glimpse in the last hazy shadows of Noun's reflection the thin, supple form of Madame Delmare.6
The confusion in Raymon's mind between the two women is not accidental. They are clearly complementary characters, each half of a full person, dual projections of a split self. Despite their spiritual sisterhood, they are, on the underground level of the novel, engaged in psychological warfare. That neither knows of the other's involvement with Raymon adds to the tension and suggests the hidden reality of two hostile forces, operating simultaneously within the writer's psyche. How their respective fates are resolved, particularly in relationship to Raymon, reveals an irreconcilable conflict.
Noun becomes pregnant with Raymon's child. Although willing to bear the child out of wedlock, she cannot endure the subsequent humiliating discovery that Raymon had been secretly courting her mistress. Noun drowns herself in a river on the Delmare estate. Such is the fate meted out to the representative of profane love.
In this first of George Sand's novels, the sexual Self survives through only one part of a four part novel. Split off from the author's conscious identity, Noun reaps both the pleasures and punishments of her condition. On the one hand, she experiences the sexual fulfillment not granted to Indiana with Raymon. On the other, she must play the role of social and moral underling, Chambermaid to the Muse of Abstinence. Her social inferiority and earthier nature go hand in hand.
But Sand's use of the classical convention has a psychological function which was non-existent in earlier literary models. The low-born maid is an expression of the personal Self, as well as the high born mistress. In literature the repressed Self is allowed to have its day, however short. (As Albert Guérard puts it, "One of the recurrent preoccupations of double literature is with the need to keep a suppressed Self alive.")7
In Indiana, the repressed Self incarnated in Noun exists outside Indiana's conscious awareness. Despite blatant and nascent suspicions, the protagonist remains willfully blind to the erotic activities of her con soeur. The right hand does not want to know what the left is doing.
Curiously enough, this aspect of Indiana can be compared to a story by Franz Kafka, hardly a writer one would immediately associate with George Sand. A similar incarnation of the spiritual Self and the sexual Self is found in Kafka's "A Country Doctor,"8 though the twentieth century authors goes about it more consciously. In the beginning of "A Country Doctor," the doctor kicks at the door of his "uninhabited pigsty," and out crawls a repugnant looking stable boy. At the sight of this fellow, the servant girl Rosa says to the doctor, "You never know what you're going to find in your own house!" The doctor denies any prior knowledge of this creature by insisting "that the man was a stranger and that I didn't know where he came from."
Nevertheless, it is this same groom who helps the doctor out, miraculously producing two horses as a replacement for the doctor's "which had died in the night." But when the doctor tries to compel the groom to accompany him to the beside of a seriously ill patient, the groom refuses. He prefers to stay home with Rosa. The doctor says: "You are coming with me—or I won't go, urgent as my journey is, I'm not thinking of paying for it by handing the girl over to you." The groom will not comply. He takes a switch to the horses and sends them off with the doctor in tow, while he stays at home with the maid.
The doctor and the groom are dual representatives of the hierarchial division between Flesh and Spirit. The doctor is the nobler half dedicated to healing; in the process of fulfilling his quasi-religious mission, he had disassociated himself from the exigencies of the body concealed in a "pigsty" (i.e., unconscious id forces). He has let his own horse (i.e., potency) die; neglected Rosa ("the pretty girl who had lived in my house for years without my noticing her"); and finally abandoned her to the groom who had waited out his time in the pigsty. When the groom comes out of hiding, he does so with the irrational urgency of long suppressed desires, literally banishing the ascetic persona while he finds sexual release.
As in Indiana, both parts of the split Self (Master/Groom) are interested in the same person (Rosa). The libidinous hireling possesses her while the master is out of the house. In "A Country Doctor" the ineffectual spokesman for Spirit (with whom the author ironically identifies) is ejected from the triad and cut off from any form of satisfaction; the doctor winds up in no-man's land of ambivalent discontent with his role of mock savior.
In comparing the use of doubles in "A Country Doctor" and Indiana, despite obvious differences in style and intent, one is struck by the same basic symbolic division between mind and body. Kafka sees through his own dream-like symbolism to the underlying denial employed by the doctor in his attempt to disown his animal nature and to project it upon the groom. Kafka could have commented on this story, as he did after writing "The Judgment": "Gedanken an Freud natürlich" ("thought of Freud, of course").9
George Sand did not have the benefit of Freudian insights into the creative expression of her own unconscious processes. Here is the expression of a romantic mentality at that fertile literary moment when subjective expression was fashionable but psychoanalysis as yet unborn. Following the confessional mode made popular by Rousseau and Chateaubriand, she would sometimes tell us more about herself than she consciously intended.10
In Indiana, the double figures tell us something about the coexistence of opposites within a person's inner life. No compromise is made between the sensual woman, condemned to suicide early in the novel, and the spiritual woman, who survives the cruelties of a brutal husband and the temptations of an amorous suitor. Noun carries the joys of the flesh with her into the grave, leaving Indiana a Pyrrhic victory in the combat between sacred and profane love. This contest becomes even more explicit in Lélia, Sand's next major novel.
Lélia is another beautiful, intelligent, superior woman, but she has lost some of the innocence of Sand's first heroine. Having idolized a man she took for a demigod, only to discover his human imperfections, Lélia is left with a sense of anguishing disillusionment. In despair because she no longer has the ability to love, she is drawn toward an ascetic existence.12
Lélia has a long-lost sister named Pulchérie (pulchritudo, i.e., physical beauty.) During the years of their separation Pulchérie has become a courtesan. The unexpected meeting between Lélia and Pulchérie can be read as a symbolic dialogue between two parts of the divided Self.12
Lélia is unwilling to accept the concept of love between the sexes in any form other than "the most angelic and most enduring." Pulchérie espouses a more frivolous philosophy: "one shouldn't dream or pray but content oneself with living." Yet neither the romantic nor the hedonist represents a fully satisfying ideal, even to herself. While professing to despise Pulchérie's demeaned condition, Lélia avidly craves her sister's experience of physical pleasure. Pulchérie admits that "le plaisir" can be bought only at the expense of socially inflicted shame and condemnation. "Defying shame is my virtue; it's my strength, just as yours is to avoid it; it's my wisdom, I tell you, and it leads me to my goal. It helps me overcome obstacles, it outlasts the perpetual rebirth of anxiety, and for my reward in this combat, I have pleasure."
That neither sister represents for the author a fully realized person becomes evident in Chapter XXXVIII, one of the strangest episodes in Sand's writing. I am referring to the incident in which the poet Sténio is tricked into making love to Pulchérie whom he mistakes for his beloved Lélia. Here again, a well-worn literary convention, in this case that of the comic travesti, assumes a psychological level of meaning.
The description of Pulchérie and Lélia leading the faithful Sténio into an underground grotto known as "le pavillon d'Aphrodise" is a masterpiece of dédoublement designed to confuse both the reader and Sténio as to the true identity of the woman he embraces. Just as Raymon in the act of making love mentally confounds Noun and Indiana, so Sténio swears that he has never loved Lélia as much as when he holds Pulché.rie in his arms under the mistaken belief that she is Lélia. He declares: "It is only today that I have really loved you."
Despite Sténio's subsequent rejection of Pulchérie when he discovers the dupery, the implications of his experience are clear: his adoration of Lélia is less than perfect without physical consummation. Lélia and Pulchérie, mind and body, spirit and flesh constitute together a fully endowed person.
Apart, they are incomplete, unsatisfying to themselves and to a potential mate. After this triangular union, each sister goes on to her separate, tragic destiny. Sand's second major novel thus constitutes an even stronger expression of the divorce between mind and body.
MA SOEUR JEANNE
During the forty years which separate Indiana and Lélia (1831, 1832) from Ma Soeur Jeanne(1874), the carnal/ascetic doubles continue to haunt George Sand, though in the later works they appear less as tormentors than as old friends. Published just two years before the author's death, Ma Soeur Jeanne13 reflects the mature harmonies of a woman who has lived long and loved well. In style and feeling, it is as unlike the agonising spiritual crisis of Lélia as classicism from romanticism. The division between sacred and profane love expressed as a tragic rift in Sand's youthful works is now regarded with a lighter heart and played out with a lighter hand. The author writes from the distance of age, rendering that emotional distance through the use of a male narrator who intervenes, as it were, between the female author and her female characters.
The narrator, Laurent, a young doctor from the Pyrénées region, tells the story of two women—his sister Jeanne and his would-be mistress Manuela. Jeanne is an angelic figure, "blond, extremely delicate and pretty" and mysteriously "English" in contrast to her robust Basque brother, Laurent. Devoted first to religion and then to music, she obstinately refuses to consider marriage despite the attentions of several suitors. At fourteen, determined to become a nun, she declares to Laurent that she will never love anyone but him; and at twenty-one she wishes to devote her life exclusively to music.
Manuela, on the other hand, is the incarnation of the stereotypic Spanish beauty. She is described as "un oiseau", "une sultane", "une odalisque rieuse." Her charm lies in a childlike spontaneity and feverish sensuality. Although Laurent realizes that Manuela lacks "sufficient education and perhaps sufficient intelligence", he becomes, in the words of his friend Vianne, "the dupe of his senses" and falls into Manuela's seductive arms.
The novel's happy ending resolves Laurent's contradictory sentiments toward these two female types in favor of his sister Jeanne; the revelation that she is not Laurent's blood sister makes marriage between them possible. This time, however, profane love is not totally rejected since Manuela finds consolation with Laurent's friend Vianne. She finds her place within the existing order, though it is clearly second best.
The central issue of marriage between brother and sister is more complex; it suggests a union of masculine and feminine which seems to have been psychologically satisfying to the author. For if Jeanne, the religious mystic, the accomplished musician, the inner-directed female intelligence represents George Sand's idealized Self, and Manuela her split-off sensual Self, Laurent is also part of the author's persona. Just as Jeanne's religious devotion and musical accomplishment derived from the life experience of Aurore Dupin-Dudevant-Sand, so too Laurent's interest in medicine and the natural sciences, his fidelity to one parent's plebeian origins, his healthy constitution and love of the outdoors all recall aspects of the life of George Sand when she was a young woman.
Laurent is an emanation of Sand's "masculine" Self so much discussed by Sand's contemporaries, which finds its complement in the "feminine" figure of Jeanne. In that both Laurent and Jeanne contain salient aspects of the author's persona, their marriage represents a marriage to oneself. Brother marries sister, Self marries Self. In literature, at least, the masculine/feminine spheres of the author's psyche are ingeniously reunited.
To bring up the question of masculine and feminine in a paper devoted to the opposition of Mind and Body suggests the limitations of a dualistic approach in understanding psychological realities. Even the study of doubles requires a more complex format.
The double figures in Ma Soeur Jeanne may be better understood on a tetrapolar schema, along the lines suggested by the critic Robert Cohn.14
Mind and Body, Masculine and Feminine are polar opposites existing within each of us, intersecting at a point on horizontal and vertical lines determined by the preponderance of one binary pole or the other. In the case of George Sand, in terms of her life experience and literary progeny, there was throughout her life a remarkably equitable division between the "masculine" and "feminine" poles, which is not to say that these attributes co-exited without conflict. The marriage of brother and sister in Ma Soeur Jeanne suggests a hard-won equilibrium of sex-related roles attained only in Sand's maturity.
No comparable balance was achieved between the poles of mind and body. The mind held on to its ascendancy as George Sand grew older; but assured of its supremacy and less troubled by matters of the flesh, it was more indulgent toward those whose lives are embedded in the sphere of sensuality. The Manuelas of the world are condescendingly granted the right to exist.
While it is not within the scope of this paper to examine the psycho-social determinants of Sand's problematic relation to Mind/Body dualism, I should like to conclude with two ideas that may elucidate the issue. The first derives from the particulars of George Sand's early life, the second from the social environment into which she was born as a female in the nineteenth century.
Aurore Dupin (Sand's name at birth) was brought up by her own biological mother and her paternal grandmother. After the untimely death of her father when she was only four, Aurore came increasingly under the tutelage of her grandmother, and resided for the most part at her grandmother's estate at Nohant rather than with her mother in Paris. Her childhood years were marked by a distressing sense of divided loyalty to a mother she fiercely loved and a grandmother she profoundly respected.
Never were two women less alike. Her mother, the daughter of a vendor of birds, was uneducated, uncomfortable in polite society, emotional, spontaneous, unstable but capable of inspiring great attachment from her husband and daughter. Her grandmother was a product of ancien régime aristocracy. She prized nothing more than the cultivation of the mind and les bienséances. When she was deprived of her only child—Aurore's father—she directed her efforts toward her only legitimate grandchild. Aurore was educated by her father's tutor; was taught Latin, French literature, history, geography, natural history and even some rudiments of medicine. The older Mme Dupin, always hostile to her plebeian daughter-in-law who had contracted a marriage only one month before Aurore's birth, was determined that her granddaughter would be properly educated and prepared for a suitable marriage.
The sense of rivalrous divisiveness which Aurore experienced between her mother and grandmother surely contributed to her sense that there were two types of women in this world. Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the following passage from her autobiography, Histoire de ma vie:
First I should tell you how my mother and grandmother lived together, those two women who were as different as possible in their nature as in their education and habits. There were really two extreme types of our sex: one fair, blond, sedate, calm and dignified in her mannerisms, a truly noble Saxon, with an aristocratic air, full of ease and protective goodness; the other dark, pale, ardent, awkward and timid in the presence of members of society, but always ready to explode when the storm gathered within, a Spanish nature, jealous, passionate, angry and weak, cruel and kind at the same time.15
These two types of women—one the Nordic, controlled, cultured aristocrat; the other the Southern stereotype, volatile and non-reflective—reappear in innumerable guises in Sand's fiction. They correspond to a certain reality in the figures of her mother and grandmother, but the dichotomy of stereotypes represents a more universally held view of woman, extending beyond that of George Sand's personal experience. Women could either develop their minds and live under its purview, which would render them morally superior, or, through want of "sufficient intelligence and . . . education" (the more common view of women) remain at a baser, sensual level where they would be treated like children. In Sand's writing these two types do not merge into one person.
George Sand's literature is a valid expression of complex female psychodynamics. It provides a valuable supplement to the literary portraiture of nineteenth century heroines from the internal perspective of a woman. The novels of George Sand differ from male-authored works of the same period in that the angel and the whore are intimately related to one another. Like Jekyll and Hyde, they spring from a single psyche and war for dominance within a single person. In Sand's fiction the double characters act out the author's contradictory needs. Consciously, she identifies with the heroine aspiring toward spirituality; unconsciously, she also identifies with the heroine's sensual second.
One may argue that in the life of George Sand the sensual Self was not wont to take a subordinate role. From the time that Mme Aurore Dudevant left her husband to live openly with the writer Jules Sandeau, she embarked upon a "notorious" existence with a series of lovers, of whom Musset and Chopin were only the best known. She was certainly far removed from her Anglo counterparts, the Brontë sisters, who conceived their literary creations in a Methodist parsonage. But despite the outward appearance of Sand's sexual freedom, her writing reveals that, at a deeper level, sexuality was no less problematic for her than for her chaste sisters. We who are still inheritors of the Victorian tradition know that the appearance of sexual freedom frequently belies a different reality where the conflicts expressed by George Sand's double characters are far from resolved.
1Otto Rank, "Der Doppelgänger," Imago, III (1914). Albert
2 Guérard in Stories of the Double (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1967).
3Claire Rosenfeld, "The Shadow Within: The Conscious and Unconscious Use of the Double," in Stories of the Double, éd., Albert Guérard, p. 315.
4George Sand, Indiana, 1831; Lélia, 1832; Ma Soeur Jeanne, 1874. All translations are my own.
5George Sand, Indiana (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1920), p. 29.
6Sand, Indiana, pp. 76-77. Guérard, p.
72. Franz Kafka, "A Country Doctor," in The Penal 8Colony: Stories and Short Pieces, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken Books, 1948). For insights into the psychodynamics of "A Country Doctor," I owe a debt to Walter Sokel, Franz Kafka: Tragik und Ironie (München: Α. Langen, 1964).
9Franz Kafka, Tagebücher (New York: Schocken Books, 1954), p. 294.
10 That she sometimes found it necessary to censor her own all-too-revealing novels may be seen in a comparison of the 1832 and 1854 editions of Lélia. See Osten Södergard, Essai sur la création littéraire d'après un roman remanié: Lélia (Uppsala, 1962).
11For a brilliant treatment of the ascetic aspiration in Sand's works see Jean Pommier, George Sand et le rêve monastique, Spiridion, (Paris: Nizet, 1966).
12George Sand, Lélia 1 (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1917), Part I, Chapter XXXIV. This chapter is crucial to any understanding of the dialectic between the Sexual Self and the Ascetic Self.
13George Sand, Ma Soeur Jeanne (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1914).
14Robert Cohn, "Polypolar Epistemology," in Modes of Art (Stanford, 1975).
15George Sand, Histoire de ma vie (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1893), II, 243.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9997
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 generation that had brought new and daring themes to French literature. Lélia received a very different reception from that of the first two works. The reaction was sharply mixed, with Capo de Feuillide writing a particularly vituperative attack on the novel that led Sand's friend Gustave Planche to fight a duel with the critic.
Although there was almost universal agreement that the style of Lélia was beautiful—"Otherwise, in no other of her novels has the author shown more magic and charm of style"1—the form and the ideas were either lauded or castigated. Planche, who had had a strong influence on the evolution of the novel, assured readers of the Revue des Deux Mondes that Lélia "will begin an explosive revolution in contemporary literature and will give the death blow to purely visible poetry" (L, [Lélia, ed. Pierre Reboul, Paris: Gamier, 1960], xxxvii). Musset, in a review he never published, denied that Lélia would produce a revolution;2 however, he found the novel original and praised it highly in a letter to Sand as a work that defined her as an author, not a lady novelist.3 Sainte-Beuve wrote a fairly balanced review for Le National and concluded that writing Lélia was a courageous act for Sand. "Whatever you might think, Lélia with its faults and excesses, is a book that largely deserved to be written. If the reports of the moment are against it, the very violence of this clamor is enough proof of the audaciousness of the enterprise" (L, 594).
The negative critics did not mince words in excoriating Sand and her novel. Le Petit Poucet called Lélia a "work of lewdness and cynicism" (L, 589), while the relentless Capo de Feuillide wrote that the novel contained "the prostitution of soul and body."4 Both he and Léon Gozlan felt that Lélia was not a work to be read by women, for it would contaminate them. Since Sand herself was a woman, the implication in these criticisms is that she was somehow corrupt. In fact, Capo de Feuillide compared her to Sade!
The question of the author's gender intervened in the critique of Lélia in a different way than in the past. Early critics knew for the most part that G(eorge)(s) Sand was a woman, although some thought they could discern male and female hands at work in Indiana, probably because they were aware of her former collaboration with Sandeau. Sand's gender did not play a large role in the evaluation of Indiana and Valentine; if anything, the fact of her being a woman brought her sympathy or was seen as the cause of her sensitivity to certain issues. With Lélia the situation changed. Le Petit Poucet doubted that the author of such a novel could be a woman. The Journal général de la littérature française ascribed Lélia to a male author and thought that the work would perhaps not be of interest to women (L, 586). On the other hand, Planche felt that women especially would find in Lélia their own history and see the novel as an apologia for their suffering and helplessness, not an accusation against them. Jules Janin published a long article in L'Artiste in 1836, reprinted in other periodicals as well, in which he attributes male and female genders to Sand and describes Lélia as the work of a woman against women:
Cette fois, George Sand quittant ce chaste manteau viril dont elle s'était enveloppée avec tant de courage et d'énergie, a voulu se montrer plus qu'une femme, c'est-à-dire dans sa pansée, deux fois plus qu'un homme, et elle est tombée dans les plus graves excés. . . . George Sand, redevenu une femme, dans ce livre qui est écrit contre les femmes, devait ainsi porter la peine de ce déguisement.5
This time. George Sand, taking off the vast virile coat in which she had enveloped herself with so much courage and energy, wanted to show herself more than a woman, that is, in her thought, twice as much as a man, and she has fallen into the gravest excesses. . . . George Sand, having gone back to being a woman, in this book which is written against women, should thus pay the penalty of this disguise.
Sainte-Beuve also devotes fully one-third of his article in the National to the question of women authors, whom he applauds for their efforts to win more respect and less idolization for their sex, at least as long as women do not enter en masse into writing as a profession. "We especially like to see a noble effort on the part of women to enter into a more equal intellectual partnership with men, to handle all sorts of ideas and to express themselves when necessary in more serious language" (I, 591).
A woman's book, a novel that would corrupt women, a young man's scorn of life—is Lélia any of this? How could readers come to such diverse views of the same work? What exactly was Lélia, and how can we read the novel today?
Lélia was original in form and ideas. Both "roman" and "roman-poéme," as Sainte-Beuve called it (L, 593), Lelia was and is difficult to classify. It has no conventional plot, particularly as compared with the elaborate plots of Sand's previous work. As Shelley Temchin points out, certain events occupy a disproportionate amount of space, while others are glossed over, so that narrative time (Erzählzeit) and time narrated (erzählte Zeit) stand in strange relation to each other.6Lélia is not narrated by one narrator. As in a classical play, each character is allowed several monologues, while the dialogues become dialogues de sourds.
The novel is divided into five parts. Part I is mostly an exchange of supposed letters between Lélia and Sténio, with occasional third-person narration. Part II contains a conversation between Magnus and Sténio and more exchanges between Lélia and Sténio. The last two "chapters" or subdivisions of this part are again narrated in the third person and describe Bambucci's ball and Lélia's meeting with Pulchérie. In Part III, Lélia speaks almost exclusively while Pulchérie listens. Part IV is the shortest and consists of third-person narration and letters between Lélia and Sténio. Part V contains the most sustained third-person narration. In Lélia the female character speaks extensively in her own name, for the first time since Aurore Dudevant's early works, and is given responsibility for her own story. Although the first-person narration and minimal novelistic form and content make it easy to identify Lélia with Sand, it should be remembered that however much Lélia derives from her creator, she is a fictional character. As Sand wrote to Sainte-Beuve while the novel was in progress: ". . . [D]on't completely confuse the man [sic] with his suffering. . . . [I]n reality, the man is often less than his pain and thus less poetic, . . . and less damned than his demon" (C, II, 277).
Part prose-poem, related to the epistolary novel, philosophical mediations, gothic novel—Lélia is all this and more. Sand's sources were many: Byron is mentioned by several critics; Anne Radcliffe, whom she had read in the convent, is indubitably present; Sénancour and Nodier, as Pierre Reboul exhaustively (and exhaustingly) documents, formed the backbone of her novel. Staël's Corinne, which Reboul mentions in passing (L, 11), was surely a greater influence than has been imagined. Yet Lélia resembles none of the works Sand drew upon; she did not improve on any one form, but melded several into a wholly new book whose discontinuous, fragmentary form mirrors its raw emotional content.
Like Corinne, Lélia is an artist. Her family and origins are mysterious, as are Corinne's. There is an explicit comparison between the two women established during the ball scene early in the novel: "The dying Corinne must have been plunged into this same mournful attention when she heard her last poems being declaimed at the Capitol by a young girl" (L, 46). In form, there is also a similarity between the two novels, for Corinne is itself an original work, part travelogue, part traditional récit. The long epistolary monologues of Lélia—if one can so describe the passages, much more than letters, where each character speaks in turn—are reminiscent of Corinne's descriptions of Rome's antiquities.
Corinne's art is clearly defined, if imperfectly portrayed; she is an improvisatrice whose oral, spontaneous poetry is by its very nature ill suited to reproduction in a written work. It is always difficult to depict a writer convincingly in a literary work, for unless the author is particularly adept, the character's work can be hard to judge. For three hundred years, critics have been arguing over whether Oronte's sonnet in Molière's Misanthrope is a good or bad poem. In Lélia the song Sténio declaims in "Le Vin" has been attributed to Musset, Sainte-Beuve, Ajasson de Grandsagne, or another of Sand's friends. Pierre Reboul also diplomatically states that the verses are not so good that they couldn't be attributed to Sand herself, for she had written occasional poems in the convent, but she seems to have lacked true talent in this literary genre alone. Sand has cleverly avoided the problem of showing Lélia's artistry (to use James's term) by simply calling her an artist without being more precise; the number of times the word "poète" appears in the text, as well as the fact that Lélia writes to Sténio, makes it a likely assumption that Lélia was a writer, if not literally a poet. Lélia is an Artist, a woman artist who represents all forms of artistic endeavor and all exceptional women whose gifts put them sometimes above, often below, the rest of humanity, but surely outside of the usual social circles.
As has been recognized since the novel's publication, Lélia owes much to Byron. Planche calls the novel a cross between Manfred and Plato's Phaedo (L, 587). Musset found certain pages as beautiful as Lara, while Chateaubriand wrote to Sand that she would be the Lord Byron of France (L, 595). Lélia is a female Byronic hero, a Byronic heroine. She is larger than life, a type, rather than a mimetically vraisemblable character, as Reboul insists too often in his edition. She stands alone, unique and exceptional in a changing, disappointing world. She is hypersensitive and, being capable of much, desires more. "Poetry had created other faculties in me, immense, magnificent, and which nothing on earth could satisfy" (L, 167). Like the Byronic hero, too, Lélia is possessed of "heroic Satanism," in Peter Thorslev's phrase.7 From the very first page of the novel, Sténio asks Lélia if she is an "angel or a demon" (L, 7), a nonhuman creature. In Part IV, he damns her as diabolical for having united him with Pulchérie.
If Lélia derives from Byron's creations, as well as from Faust, with whom she compares herself (L, 100-101), she is also firmly fixed in a well-known line of specifically French heroes, the romantic sufferers of the mal du siècle, particularly René, Obermann, and Nodier's characters. Lélia is a roman de l'individu, a personal cry of despair from one who does not fit into society and who sees no way out of her dilemma. Just as Lélia is the first French Byronic heroine, Lélia represents the first time the French mal du siècle is expressed by a female character. Although Staël was the first woman author to describe the malady of melancholy in De la littérature and depicted Oswald as its victim in Corinne, neither Corinne nor Delphine really embodies the mal du siècle except in the sense that all women were excluded from society and power, and many felt keenly their status as outsiders, unable to act or participate fully in the world. Sand, of course, does insist sharply on this aspect of Lélia's problem, but she does so in a work in which, as in René and Obermann, the voices of the individual characters and philosophical themes take precedence over fictional plot. Staël's aims were clearly different from Sand's in Lélia, even if Corinne did serve on several levels as a model.8 Sand thus arrogated the major theme of both the first and second generation of romantics to herself and to women, and the greatness of Lélia lies in its dialectic of general, human despair and that specific only to women. Furthermore, Lélia integrates all the separate causes for dissatisfaction, adding literal physical impotence to the spiritual and social powerlessness evinced by previous heroes.
Lélia returns to Indiana in its criticism of love, religion, and society as oppressors of all, but of women especially. Sand's portrayal of love in Lélia does not differ substantially from that in her previous works. In Lélia though, Sand has made bold to put her critiques in the mouth of a female character, rather than showing her opinions indirectly through the plot or narration.9
Lélia speaks specifically of what is known today as "romantic love," that form of passion invented by the post-Rousseau, romantic generation.
"C'est pourquoi nous cherchons le ciel dans une créature semblable à nous, et nous dépensons pour elle toute cette haute énergie qui nous avait été donnée pour un plus noble usage. Nous refusons à Dieu le sentiment de l'adoration. . . . Nous le reportons sur un être incomplet et faible, qui devient le dieu de notre culte idolâtre."
"That is why we seek heaven in a creature like ourselves, and we expend on this creature all that high energy we've been given to use more nobly. We refuse God the emotion of adoration. . . . We transfer it to an incomplete, feeble human being who becomes the god of our idolatrous cult."
(l [Lélia, tr. Maria Espinosa, Bloomington: Indiana University Paris, 1978], 36)
This god is always revealed to be a false god and is overthrown, broken, only to be replaced by another, and yet another. When she recalls her first love, Lélia tells Pulchérie that the beloved became the focus of all her energies: "[I] carried over onto him the enthusiasm that I had had for the other creations of the Divinity" (L, 166). She goes on to describe a particularly female way of loving, one that is reminiscent of Indiana's tortured and misguided love for Raymon.
"C'était un état inexprimable de douleur et de joie, de désespoir et d'énergie. Mon âme orageuse se plaisait à ce ballottement funeste qui l'usait sans fruit et sans retour. .. . Il lui fallait des obstacles, des fatigues, des jalousies dévorantes à concentrer. . . . C'était une carrière, une gloire; homme, j'eusse aimé les combats .. . ; peut-être l'ambition de régner par l'intelligence, de dominer les autres hommes par des paroles puissantes, m'eût-elle souri aux jours de ma jeunesse. Femme, je n'avais qu'une destinée noble sur la terre, c'était d'aimer."
"I experienced an inexpressible state of sadness and joy, of despair and energy. My afflicted soul took pleasure in this ill-starred tossing that consumed me fruitlessly. .. . I demanded obstacles, fatigues, devouring jealousies to repress. . . . This was a glorious career. Had I been a man, I would have loved combat. . . . Perhaps in my youth I might have sought to reign by intelligence and to dominate others by powerful speeches. As a woman, I had only one noble destiny on earth, which was to love."
Love is woman's only vocation, whereas men can choose combat or power; men can produce but women merely waste their energies. When Lélia in the monastery imagines death near, she sees it as a "death worthy of heroes and saints" (L, 198), a glorious end, not a servile one. In particular, men can dominate by their words, a poignant admission that she does not see her own writing as having the same impact as a man's. Indeed, although Sand was enormously influential, even outside of France, her force would not be felt for several years, since she had only been writing for the public for a year and a half. Yet Sand might already have felt that her first two novels were too well received, that male critics were patting her on the head rather than helping put into effect her program of social reform.
Woman in love is masochistic and self-effacing: she cannot assert herself in the relationship. "I know that I have used up my strength in devotion, that I have abjured my pride, effaced my existence behind another's" L, 171). Further on, she states: "The more he made me feel his domination, the more I cherished it, the greater pride I took in wearing my fetters" (L, 173), the word fetters (chaîne) being the one that appears in Indiana as the synonym for marriage both with Delmare and (potentially) with Raymon. As in Indiana, too, Lélia discovers that her masochism is scornfully received by men and not appreciated, so that she derives neither personal satisfaction nor outside regard for her self-abnegation. The flaw in this model of woman's submersion in her lover and suppression of her own self stems from the inevitable resurfacing of what Lélia calls egotism, but what more properly might be termed self-love, as opposed to selfishness. This self-love is not limited to women but applies to both sexes. ".. . [H]uman egotism is ferocious, it is indomitable . .." (L, 172). Lélia articulates the dialectic of love as defined by the culture, in which the needs of the self are at war with the demands of the other: "[I] felt that one could both love another, to the point of submitting to him, and love oneself, to the point of hating him who subjugates us" (L, 172). For women, no equilibrium between these conflicting urges is thought necessary or desirable by society.
Woman's needs extend beyond the spiritual to the physical, as anyone who has ever heard of Lélia knows, for the scandal surrounding the novel was due largely to its sexual frankness. While literature had portrayed women as sexual beings before (Corinne is a perfect example of a sympathetic character who is evidently sexually experienced), Lélia is the first woman to speak of her sex life and, what is more, to do so in a critical way. Lélia launches two accusations against men's bedroom technique. Men are brutal, interested only in their own pleasure, and do not hesitate to engage in what today is called "conjugal rape" to satisfy themselves. "But he would pursue me, and claimed that he did not want to have been awakened for no reason. He savored his fierce pleasure on the breast of a woman who had fainted and was half dead" (L, 175). This last image recalls that of the idiot Denise, attacked by Horace in Rose et Blanche. Lélia expresses the same fears of male sexual power and physical force as Rose et Blanche. Once, when Sterno abandons his passive stance and takes Lélia in his arms, forcing her to kiss him, Lélia pushes him away and says: "Leave me alone, I don't like you when you are like this!" (L, 90). Later, after Sténio's death, Lélia recalls the past and her feelings for him. "I would have liked to be your mother and be able to clasp you in my arms without awakening in you a man's desires" (L, 319).
The corollary of male crudeness is the lack of sexual pleasure and fulfillment felt by women. "When he was asleep, satisfied and gratified, I remained immobile and dismayed at his side" (L, 174). It is not that women do not feel desire, nor is it their fault that they cannot respond sexually; rather, men are indifferent to women's needs. This is the crucial distinction between Lélia and Balzac's Foedora, with whom Reboul compares Lélia. Balzac criticizes Foedora's coquetry and coldness; she makes a virtue out of her frigidity and uses it as a weapon against men. This image is that of the man-eater and man-hater, common in our culture. Sand shows a woman who wants to feel sexual pleasure but to whom it is denied and who therefore loses all hope of ever finding satisfaction. Surely Sand's negative depiction of men's lack of sensitivity and inability to please women must have insulted and infuriated the French male critical fraternity, who prided themselves on their prowess in love and contributed heavily to the excoriation of the novel and its author.
By the end of the novel, Sténio has come to much the same conclusions as Lélia regarding woman's condition. In the "Don Juan" section of Part V, he expresses his disillusionment with debauchery and with women; yet in accusing woman of being merely a figment of man's imagination and of having the potential to be as unfaithful as man, he nonetheless repeats Lélia's earlier arguments about the conflict between masochism and self-love in woman's soul. Sténio points out that don juanism is based on the man's eternal conquest of a willing victim and insists that woman's own desires and demands will not remain repressed but will eventually burst forth. He apostrophizes Don Juan:
"Avais-tu lu quelque part dans les Conseils de Dieu que la femme est une chose faite pour le plaisir de l'homme, incapable de résistance ou de changement? Pensais-tu que cette perfection idéale de renoncement existait sur la terre et devait assurer l'inépuisable renouvellement de tes joies?"
"Did you read somewhere in the Counsels of God that woman is a thing made for man's pleasure, incapable of resistance or change? Did you think that this ideal womanly perfection of renunciation existed on earth and would assure the inexhaustible renewal of your joys?"
Sténio has discovered the other side of Lélia's dilemma, namely that if masochism is untenable, so is sadism. Just as Lélia was not grandiose in her self-denial, as Pulchérie tells her, but merely foolish, Sténio and his ilk are not heroes and conquerors, but merely libertines who are rightly condemned. Although Sténio's words have a further structural function in the novel, they complete the portrait developed by Sand of love as total misunderstanding between the sexes.
Because of her lofty talents and unusual sensibility, Lélia cannot find refuge in the kind of love available in the culture. Nor is prostitution the answer, although Pulchérie finds her own justification as a courtesan. Like Lélia the artist, Pulchérie the courtesan is presented without elaborate explanation. We see her at the ball, surrounded by admirers, and later in her villa; although the ignominy and opprobrium attached to prostitutes are alluded to, they are never shown in the novel. Pulchérie simply is a courtesan and is neither castigated nor punished. Unlike Manon Lescaut, who paid for her profligate ways with her death, or Hugo's repentant heroines such as Marion Delorme, Pulchérie neither dies nor repents but simply lives her life as she knows how, doing good where she can and taking her pleasure, physical and spiritual, when possible. This positive, unembarrassed, and nonjudgmental depiction of the courtesan departs sharply from those of prostitution before or after, at least until Colette, whose Léa of the Chéri novels is as unsentimentally and unapologetically drawn as Pulchérie. Sand's perspective differs from the male viewpoint, in which the courtesan is a danger to society and the family and must be neutralized, either through repentance, death, or social exclusion; her creation of Pulchérie contributed not a little to the controversy surrounding the novel.10
The traditional distinction between "good" women and "bad" does not exist in Lélia. In a phrase that anticipates Proudhon's famous dictum "housewife or courtesan," but in an entirely opposite spirit, Pulchérie assimilates lovers, mothers, and courtesans, "three conditions of woman's destiny that no woman can escape, whether she sells herself to a man as a prostitute or as a wife, by a marriage contract" (L, 153). Pulchérie even goes so far as to suggest that the prostitute is superior to the mother, whom society reinforces in her choice of career while the prostitute is an outcast despite the fact that her profession is utilized, even made necessary, by that same society. It is as outsiders that Pulchérie and Lélia find their spiritual as well as real sisterhood, for neither is accepted by proper society. Pulchérie, though, has created a fulfilling life for herself within her own sphere, and like Trenmor, the other character of the novel who has found peace and equilibrium by circumscribing his life, serves as both conscience and reproach to Lélia, who will not bend and cannot compromise, and thus is consumed with regret and impotence. Yet it is clear that it is not Lélia's fault, but society's, that the exceptional woman cannot find an acceptance of her gifts and a match for her soul; the narrator states that the crowd at Spuela's ball was offended by Lélia's independence (L, 48). The courtesan, the mother, and the lover, whatever the hardships of their lives, are happier than the woman artist.
Like love, religion offers little solace to women, for the church is a profoundly misogynist institution, as Rose et Blanche and Indiana had already shown. On her supposed deathbed, Lélia is refused absolution by Magnus, who denies her a place in heaven or hell. In any case, Lélia does not believe in the trappings of religion and thus cannot accept Pulchérie's suggestion that she enter a convent if she cannot make a life for herself in the world. It is a measure of the gulf between the two editions of Lélia that in the later one, Lélia becomes an abbess. Magnus, the priest maddened by his lust for Lélia, calls her the enemy and strangles her while repeating words of exorcism, convinced she is Satan. In Magnus's tortured mind. Lélia is a temptress and the test of his faith, a test he fails every time, to the point of doubting the existence of God. Magnus presents Lélia as a "hideous monster, a harpy" (L, 83), and imagines her as a succubus who entices him in his bed. This depiction of woman as the source of evil and sexual debasement is an old one in the church, going back to Saint Paul. While a clear criticism of the effects of priestly celibacy, which is openly reproved by Lélia in Part V, Lé.lia also demonstrates how women are blamed by religion for the effects they produce in men and condemned by these same men as unnatural.
Sténio, too, sees Lélia as a monster. When she describes the monster of the Apocalypse, the Whore of Babylon riding a hydra, Sténio exclaims, "Are you not this unfortunate and terrible apparition?" (L, 117). Lélia tells Trenmor that for Sténio, she is a "monstrous exception" (Z,, 123), who enables him to believe in his own dreams as normal and usual.
Viewed as an oddity by Magnus and Sténio, Lélia becomes a monster in her own as well as in society's eyes. She makes the connection explicit in Part III, where she describes her stay in an abandoned monastery, ornamented with "these monstrous sculptures with which Catholicism used to adorn its places of worship" (L, 181). Like her in her impotence, these grotesques are imprisoned in stone, images of desire and fury unable to move or act.
"Au-dessous de moi, ces bizarres allégories allongeaient leurs têtes noircies par le temps et semblaient comme moi se pencher vers la plaine pour regarder silencieusement couler les flots, les siécles et les générations. Ces guivres couvertes d'écailles, ces lézards au tronc hideux, ces chimères pleines d'angoisses, tous ces emblèmes du péché, de l'illusion et de la souffrance, vivaient avec moi d'une vie fatale, inerte, indestructible.... [J]e m'identifiais avec ces images d'une lutte éternelle entre la douleur et la nécessité, entre la rage et l'impuissance."
"Beneath me these bizarre allegories stretched out their heads, blackened by time. They seemed to stretch toward the plain and silently to watch the flow of waves, centuries, and generations. These fantastic scaly serpents, these lizards with their hideous bodies, these chimeras full of anguish, all these emblems of sin, illusion, and suffering lived a life that was inert and indestructible.... [I] identified myself with these images of eternal struggle between suffering and necessity, between rage and impotence."
Lélia, in her song in Part II called "A Dieu," asks God why he created her a woman, only to turn her to stone. The image is a tragic inversion of Galatea's transformation from Pygmalion's stone sculpture into a live woman. In Lélia a woman becomes frozen, useless to others and herself; in André, Sand will create a further variant of this legend, the awakening of a woman who becomes not her creator's equal but his superior. Sténio evokes Pygmalion directly in Part, V when he asks: "Why should I henceforth bend my knee before this marble idol? Even if I had Pygmalion's burning glance and the gods' assent to animate her, what would I do with her?" (L, 255). Reboul sees the word "stone" as an allusion to Lélia's "frigidity" (L, 99), but it is wrong to limit Lélia to a mere reference to sexual dysfunction in this passage, as she so obviously places her insufficiencies in a social and artistic context.
Lélia speaks specifically of her soul, not her body: "Is that what is called a poet's soul? .. . O life, o torment! to aspire to everything and to grasp nothing, to understand everything and posses nothing!" (L, 100). She longs to feel, but she also wishes to act, to be able to use her gifts. She does not know why she has been chosen to suffer. "If this is the fate of the chosen, let it be sweet and let me bear it without suffering; if it is a life of punishment, why have you inflicted it on me?" (ibid.). Her invocation to God is followed by a section entitled "Dans le Désert," in which Lélia, who has become a female Christ figure, a prophet of doom who is unheeded, paints a dismal picture of civilization. The world is old and exhausted, and its population does not become better with progress. "The arts, industry and science, the whole scaffolding of civilization, what are they if not the continued effort of human weakness to hide its evils and cover its misery?" (L, 114). Man and nature are in conflict, with man despoiling beauty and creating chaos out of God's order. ".. . [W]e couldn't spend three days here without spoiling the vegetation and polluting the air. .. . You would call it making a garden" (L, 109). Lélia foresees the results of the Industrial Revolution in the pollution and destruction of nature: ". . . [T]his wild valley . . . blossoms beautiful and proud without dreaming that in a single day the plow and the hundred-armed monster called industry could rip open its breast to steal its treasures . . ." (L, 119). This is not the picture of lush nature, either on the île Bourbon or in the Berry, and of unconventional marriages breaking down class barriers and creating new wealth and prosperity; rather, it is an apocalyptic vision of a world beyond redemption. Again the word "monster" appears alongside the image of the rape of nature perpetrated by progress.
Decidedly, Sand's imagination was obsessed with the unnatural while she wrote Lélia. The world as she described it is filled with horrible creatures and suffering; even the warm, meridional regions commonly thought to be paradisiacal are ruled by ferocious, bloodthirsty animals. Humans are themselves compared to animals, and their anxieties described as grotesques. Not only do people pillage their environment, but they flay animals to use the skins and feathers for clothing and covering. In a passage that might have influenced Baudelaire and that anticipates Freud's work on neuroses and the unconscious, Lélia characterizes the poet's imagination as necrophilic, teratogenic:
"Ce que les peintres et les poètes ont inventé de plus hideux dans les fantaisies grotesques de leur imagination et, il faut bien le dire, ce qui nous apparaît le plus souvent dans le cauchemar, c'est un sabat de cadavres vivants, de squelettes d'animaux, décharnés, sanglants, avec des erreurs monstrueuses, des superpositions bizarres, des têtes d'oiseau sur des troncs de cheval, des faces de crocodile sur des corps de chameau; c'est toujours un pêle-mêle d'ossements, une orgie de la peur qui sent le carnage et des cris de douleur, des paroles de menace proférées par des animaux mutilés."
"The most hideous things poets and painters have invented in their grotesque fantasies also appear most often, it must be said, in our nightmares. We dream of witches' sabbaths of living corpses, animal skeletons, emaciated, bloody, with monstrous deformities and bizarre superpositions—bird heads on horse trunks, crocodile faces on camel bodies; there are heaps of bones, it is an orgy of fear that smells of carnage and the cries of suffering, the threats proffered by mutilated animals."
Lélia describes what can be termed the collective unconscious detailed by artists and dreams:
"Croyez-vous que les rêves soient une pure combinaison du hasard? Ne pensez-vous pas qu'en dehors des lois d'association et des habitudes consacrées chez l'homme par le droit et par le pouvoir, il peut exister en lui de secrets remords, vagues, instinctifs, que nul ordre d'idées recues n'a voulu avouer ou énoncer et qui se révélent par les terreurs de la superstition ou les hallucinations du sommeil? Alors que les moeurs, l'usage et la croyance ont détruit certaines réalités de notre vie morale, l'empreinte en est restée dans un coin du cerveau et s'y réveille quand les autres facultées intelligentes s'endorment."
"Do you think that dreams are a pure combination of chance? Don't you think that outside of the laws of association and the habits that man endows with right and power, there can exist in him secret, vague, instinctive remorse which he has not wanted to admit rationally and which reveals itself through the terrors of superstition or the hallucinations of sleep? Although customs and belief have destroyed certain realities of our moral life, the imprint remains in a corner of the brain and awakens when the other intelligent faculties sleep."
In Histoire de ma vie, Sand pursues this syncretic thought when she asks: "Is the life of the individual not the summary of the life of the species?" (Oa [Oeuvres autobiographiques, ed. Georges Lubin, 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard(Pléiade), 1970, 1971] I, 535). Here, the collective life is the terrifying underside of the mind's capacity. The woman artist not only is a monster; she creates monsters in her language, in her imagination; her work, by extension, must also be seen as monstrous. Sand, like her British and American contemporaries, fits the pattern discerned by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar of the social and self-image of the woman writer as monster giving birth to unhealthy progeny.11
Lélia thus repeats in radically intensified form Aurore Dudevant's doubts about her career as an artist, expressed in her very first works. Despite the acclaim awarded to Indiana and Valentine, Sand obviously did not feel successful herself. She felt vulnerable and insecure, without a niche in society or a clear identity, social or sexual. The first line of the book, significantly a question, raises the issue explicitly: "Who are you?" (L, 7). As Pulchérie tells Lélia: "[I] only saw that you had a problematic life as a woman" (L, 154). Lelia posits again Sand's androgynous self-image as man-woman even as it explores her uncertainties concerning her vocation and explicitly links the two in a way the earlier works did not because Lélia speaks for herself. The artist as man and woman appears twice in Lélia, for both Lélia and Sténio are artists and androgynous figures. It should be noted also that Lélia's name is a pseudonym, and that Pulchérie is called La Zinzolina by her friends, so that the same connection between name and identity is made in Lélia as in Rose et Blanche.
Pulchérie and Lélia share a crucial scene in the novel that specifically asserts Lélia's male side. Pulchérie describes her sexual and social awakening as an adolescent thanks to Lélia, a confession that has no previous literary model, as Reboul rightly points out (L, 156). Pulchérie reaches the stage where she is able to perceive herself as other, to differentiate herself from her sister and to break out of her own narcissism. The use of the mirror shows Pulchérie's evolution; at first, she only looks at herself and wants to kiss her own reflection, but after her dream, she finds her sister more beautiful because Lélia resembles a man. The adolescent Pulchérie moves from self-love (and love of the same—the mother) to love for a man, the usual path of female development, while Lélia does not. When Lélia looks into the water, which functions as a mirror, she does not recognize her own beauty or appreciate her androgyny; it is as though the mirror remains empty for her. The young Lélia has no self-image, or at least not the traditional one, and cannot develop like Pulchérie. Lélia specifically states that nothing happened for her that day, whereas Pulchérie's life was changed. Later, Lélia does assume her androgyny, appearing early in the novel in a man's costume at Spuela's ball, as Sand's first heroines had played male roles in the theater.
The scene between the two sisters, which has sometimes been interpreted as a lesbian confession, instead continues Sand's self-portrait not only as androgynous but as the alter ego of her father.12 It is significant that Pulchérie dreams first of a man, "a man with black hair" (L, 156), and then sees Lélia, on whom she projects the description of her dream lover, and not the other way around. Lélia is described as a man by Pulchérie: her skin is tanned, her arms hairy, her expression masculine. "I thought you resembled this beautiful black-haired child of whom I had just dreamed, and, trembling, I kissed your arm" (L, 158). There is again constituted a triangle consisting of the two women and a man, with an equivalence established between the man and Lélia as doubles.
This dream triangle prepares the next one, where Lélia and Pulchérie switch roles so that Sténio makes love to Pulchérie when he thinks he is with Lélia at last. Even though Lélia is as far from Sand's previous works in plot and narrative form as possible, the novel nonetheless presents the same kind of structure as its predecessors: two sisters are involved with the same man, one briefly and sexually, while the other is eventually united with him, in this case in death. The first triangle resembles this one in that sexuality is also present, if only in fantasy: Pulchérie and her imaginary lover exchange a kiss. Pulchérie insists that she has become Lélia by possessing Sténio, while Sténio has nonetheless consummated his relationship with Lélia through Pulchérie. Pulchérie is therefore the link through whom Lélia and Sténio achieve oneness, just as earlier it was through her that the identity of the dream man and Lélia was created.
After this encounter, Sténio becomes explicitly Lélia's double and equal. Earlier, he had been a younger version of Lélia, a poet, too, but one who had not yet produced. He was optimistic, whereas she was disillusioned. In his farewell letter to Lélia after his discovery that he had spent the night with her sister, he uses language that repeats Lélia's earlier formulations. "But God set me higher or lower than the rest of them" (L, 225). The fifth part of the novel makes the equivalence between Sténio and Lélia even clearer. Sténio, too, is physically impotent; he rejects his model Don Juan, the way Lélia had repudiated romantic love, as we have already seen. He has also become an outsider; even as he shares the orgies with his supposed friends, they mock him. Like Lélia, Sténio has become "sceptical and cold" (L, 258). Unable to find any meaning in his life, Sténio commits suicide.
Lélia joins him in the grotto where his body has been laid out, another of the enclosed spaces dear to Sand's imagination. There, she is called "the corpse's worthy fiancée" (L, 313); further on in the text, she imagines their reunion with God at some future point and says, "Perhaps then we will be equals, perhaps we will be lovers and siblings" (L, 320). Their imagined union is incestuous, as was overtly stated by Lélia after Sténio's night with Pulchérie: "Be just my brother and my son, and let the thought of any marriage appear incestuous and bizarre" (L, 233). Their union takes place sooner than Lélia dreams, for Magnus, now mad with remorse over Sténio's death and with desire for Lélia, strangles her. Although Magnus clearly represents many things in the novel, he most symbolizes physical desire and is in many ways a foil for Lélia, who also desires but in a more metaphysical way, without achieving satisfaction. Here, Magnus incarnates the forbidden, wild desire that allows Lélia and Sténio to come together. Their marriage in death is made concrete in the image of the two meteors that Trenmor sees on the surface of the lake: "He spent the entire night watching those inseparable lights, which sought and followed each other like two souls in love" (L, 325).
Lélia and Sténio's union is that of two androgynes, rather than the marriage of a woman and a man; if Lélia is shown as androgynous, so is Sténio depicted as a young girl as well as a young man, at the beginning, where Trenmor describes Sténio as a child, feminine in appearance, and at the end, where Magnus takes the cadaver, dressed in a white winding-sheet and wearing a crown of flowers, like a bride, for that ofa woman. Lélia prefers this nonvirile Sténio to the sexually avid, demanding lover he became at times.
Lélia se rappela les jours où elle l'avait aimé le plus. C'était lorsqu'il était plutôt poète qu'amant. Dans ces premiers temps de leur affection, la passion de Sténio avait quelque chose de romanesque et d'angélique. . . . Plus tard, son oeil s'était animé d'un feu plus viril, sa lèvre plus avide avait cherché et demandé le baiser, sa poésie avait exprimé des transports plus sauvages; c'est alors que l'impuissante Lélia s'était sentie effrayée, fatiguée et presque dégoûtée de cet amour qu'elle ne partageait pas.
Lélia remembered when she had loved him most. It was when he was poet rather than lover. In those first days of their affection, Sténio's passion had a romantic, angelic quality. . . . Later his eyes would grow animated with a more virile fire. His greedy lips would seek and demand kisses. His poetry would express more savage outbursts of feeling. Then the impotent Lélia had felt frightened, fatigued, and nearly disgusted with this love she did not share.
Lélia's fear of the kind of brutal virility described in Part III as well as here leads to a desire for a more maternal, less threatening relationship with Sténio and perhaps sheds some light on Sand's own penchant for younger men whose pattern of sexual behavior was not yet fixed, and thus open to modification by her.
The final couple in Lélia is thus similar to those of Indiana and Valentine. Both partners are equals and, furthermore, they resemble each other. The man is not the patriarchal father figure, but a gentle, kind friend. In Indiana, Ralph and Indiana were an explicitly oedipal couple whose incestuous bonds were alluded to throughout the novel. The case in Lélia is much more subtle and, as in Valentine, relies on internal, structural evidence. Yet in addition to the triangular relationships I have defined as oedipal, Lélia seems obsessed with secrets and with the dead to such a degree that this theme must be taken into account when dealing with the novel's oedipal content.
We have already looked at Lélia's evocation of monsters and cadavers as forming the basis of the dreams of poets. With an admirable prescience, Sand distinguishes between two categories of dreams: those which are healthy and allow the soul to renew itself through sleep, and those nightmares which reveal troubles with which the dreamer cannot cope, the "secret remorse" (L, 113) of the unconscious that surfaces in sleep.
"Mes rêves ont un effroyable caractère de vérité; les spectres de toutes mes déceptions y repassent sans cesse, plus lamentables, plus hideux chaque nuit. Chaque fantôme, chaque monstre évoqué par le cauchemar est une allégorie claire et saisissante qui répond à quelque profonde et secrète souffrance de mon âme."
"Instead, my dreams have a frightful character of truth. The ghosts of all my disappointments pass continually back and forth. Each phantom evoked by nightmare is a clear, gripping allegory that responds to some deep, secret suffering in my soul."
She then recounts a dream of her own, in which she pursues her sister, whom she thinks dead (this is before her meeting with Pulchérie); as she follows what she thinks is her sister's form, another ghost appears, described as "some hideous object, an ironic demon, a bloody cadaver, a temptation or a remorse" (L, 129). There is again set up a triangular situation with the two women and this horrible phantom, seen as both temptation and guilt.
Cadavers and the "living dead" reappear constantly in Lélia. Lélia's account of her year spent in the deserted abbey gives two very revealing examples of Lélia's contact with the dead. In the first, she talks about her desires and need for action. "Stretched out on the tombstones, I gave in to the fury of my imagination. I dreamed of the embraces of an unknown demon; I felt his hot breath burn my breast, and I dug my nails into my shoulders, thinking I felt the bite of his teeth" (L, 185). Her position on top of the tombstones, like a gisante, is a reminiscence of the more frenetic Gothic literature, but in the context of Sand's own psychology it implies much more, particularly when the second instance of Lélia's communication with the dead is examined.
In an underground chapel, whose entrance has been blocked by debris, Lélia finds a monk on his knees in an attitude of prayer. At first, she thinks he is alive, but then she realizes that he has been dead for thirty years and preserved in the airless cave. Or rather, his clothes have remained and become dust when Lélia touches them, revealing a skeleton underneath. "It was both frightening and sublime to see for the first time this monk's head whose tufts of grey hair were still stirred by the wind and whose beard was entwined in the emaciated fingers of his hands folded under his chin" (L, 189). This scene is not ghoulish, as was the earlier one, but rather touching, particularly as Lélia goes on to make the dead monk her friend.
"J'enveloppai d'un nouveau vêtement la dépouille sacrée du prêtre. Je m'agenouillai chaque jour auprès d'elle. Souvent je lui parlai à haute voix dans les agitations de ma souffrance, comme à un compagnon d'exil et de douleur. Je me pris d'une sainte et folle affection pour ce cadavre. Je me confessai à lui: je lui racontai les angoisses de mon âme; je lui demandai de se placer entre le ciel et moi pour nous réconcilier; et souvent, dans mes rêves, je le vis passer devant mon grabat comme l'esprit des visions de Job et je l'entendis murmurer d'une voix faible comme la brise des paroles de terreur ou d'espoir."
"I covered the priest's remains with new clothing. Each day I knelt down beside him. He became the companion of my exile and sadness, to whom I spoke out loud of my suffering. I developed a saintly and crazy affection for this cadaver. I confessed to him. I told him of my spiritual anguish. I asked that he place himself as intermediary between heaven and me. And often in my dreams I saw him pass before my pallet like a spirit out of Job's visions, and I heard him murmur words of terror or hope in a voice as feeble as the breeze."
What is particularly interesting about this monk's return from the dead, so to speak, is that the scene recalls one told by George Sand in Histoire de ma vie about her and Deschartres's visit to her father's grave when it was opened to receive her grandmother's body. "'You are going to see him who was your father . . . I've seen the skeleton. The head has already detached itself. I lifted it, I kissed it.' .. . We entered the crypt and I performed piously this act of devotion, as had Deschartres" (Oa I, 1106-1107). Lélia's friend from beyond the grave is identifiable with Sand's father, with whom, she communicated in spirit, as she does here with the monk.
The special affinity between Lélia and Sand's private scenarios is made clear in Histoire de ma vie, where Sand ascribes the novel to what she calls the "school of Corambé."
Il portait trop le caractère du rêve, il était trop de l'école de Corambé pour être goûté par de nombreux lecteurs. Je ne me pressais donc pas, et j'éloignais de moi, à dessein, la préoccupation du public, éprouvant une sorte de soulagement triste à céder a l'imprévu de ma rêverie, et m'isolant même de la réalité du monde actuel, pour tracer la synthèse du doute et de la souffrance, à mesure qu'elle se présentait à moi sous une forme quelconque.
(Oa II, 196)
It bore too strongly the character of a dream, it was too much of the school of Corambé to be appreciated by many readers. I was therefore not in a hurry, and I deliberately did not take the public into account, feeling a sort of sad satisfaction in giving in to the unforeseen train of my reverie, and isolating myself from the reality of contemporary life to trace the synthesis of doubt and suffering, as it presented itself to me in whatever form it liked.
The same vocabulary of reverie that characterizes Aurore Dudevant's childish creations, the evocation of Corambé and the intimation that Lélia is the product of a kind of automatic writing inspired by her innermost feelings, links the novel's content with that of Sand's other oedipal fantasies. Unlike Corambé, the childhood stories, the convent romance, or the last two novels, however, Lélia is not a positive, nurturing, and life-affirming creation. Rather, it is the inverse of what came before, the surfacing of the underside of Sand's usually benign vision.
Lélia links narrative, society, and personal psychology, as did Indiana and Valentine, but in a negative way. Just as Sand describes two kinds of dreams, two kinds of collective unconscious, one dark, the other healthy, so does Lélia express what the previous works had not, at least not to the same extent: the guilt, the despair, the fear occasioned both by her secret dreams and by her condition as author, which was so dependent on these imaginings. Written in a period of depression, when nothing seemed to go right and when the suicidal urges present in her mind for the past ten years were strongest, Lélia decries the very impulses that made Sand's strength and defined her character, precisely because that force and identity were ill received by others, in the professional and personal spheres. Having been repudiated by society, she turns that criticism upon herself but makes it obvious that it was society that rejected her first.
Temptations, remorse, skeletons from the past, monsters within and without, Lélia is clearly not the kind of novel that is usually associated with Sand. Intensely personal and original, Lélia has no parallel in Sand's oeuvre, partly because, as Sainte-Beuve noted, Lélia "is a work one only writes once" (L, 594), which served as a kind of purgative, and partly because the book was so badly received, even by its defenders. It is perhaps the final irony that the novel was condemned for its negativity and scandalous frankness, just as its heroine had been refused a place in the world. Ultimately, the criticism leveled against Lélia concerned its unremitting pessimism and its lack of constructive suggestions for change. "The general tone of the book is one of anger in the mouth of Lé3lia, and one only has Trenmor's cold stoicism to relieve it, to refresh oneself from this bitter and contrary wind" (L, 592), wrote Sainte-Beuve. In La France Littéraire, Alfred Désessarts concluded: "Must I admit my whole opinion: this book strikes me as dangerous, not because it destroys some modern prevailing ideas (what is the importance of today's system?), but because it prepares nothing" (L, 589). Past literary renderings of the mal du siècle had contained some glimmer of hope and consolation; at the end of René's story, Father Souël and Chactas reprove the young man's hypersensitivity. If, as D. G. Charlton points out, the romans de l'individu "are above all dialogues, not monologues from a single character or the author himself," preaching "moral affirmation," then Lélia clearly does not fit the paradigm on either score;13 although dialogic in form, the combat is largely conducted between Lélia and Sténio, similar characters who become identified at the end. Furthermore, the two characters who are satisfied with their lives, the reformed criminal and the courtesan, have no secret formula to share with others, no hints to communicate to those who would emulate them, and are by definition social outcasts. Chateaubriand's faith in religion is not shared by Sand, who has no other palliative to offer. On the contrary, she demonstrates that for a woman, the Catholic church, at least as constituted in her time, is an impossible refuge. While she does not present Lélia as a model, any more than René was a model, Sand does intend her and the novel as a condemnation of the society that rejects her, and thereby goes beyond the individual to the general.
Sand's open expression of the despair of the woman artist was censured leading to her own self-censorship. Sand took these criticisms of Lélia to heart and returned in her next works to the forms, style, and themes previously elaborated. She did not let the reactions to Lélia in the press go without protest, however. In her 1834 preface to a new edition of Romans et nouvelles, she states: "For the last several months, the attacks aimed at the author of Lélia have taken on such a coarse and personal nature, that a public response has become necessary."14 What follows is less a justification of Lélia than a serious discussion of the inconsistences of critics, who take back their praise of an author when a new work does not suit their tastes or ideas. Still chafing from the calumnies, in her 1842 preface to the Perrotin edition of the Oeuvres complètes she again mentions the fury of the critics and serenely asserts her right as an author to raise in her novel the questions she deems essential. After Lélia, though, Sand's female voice went underground again and just a few years later she undertook to revise, indeed denature, the novel, which (re)appeared in 1839; as Jules Janin had recommended, she became a man once more in her fiction. She continued to express her own ideals and explore her particular themes, but more covertly, as in Indiana and Valentine, Significantly, her next openly "feminist" project, the one-sided fictional correspondence related in form to Lélia, the Lettres à Marcie (1837), aroused the antagonism of Lamennais, in whose journal Le Monde it appeared; because it advocated divorce, it was eventually censored by him.
Although Lelia, like René, Obermann, and similar novels that express the mal du siècle, is much less readable today than it was one hundred and fifty years ago, and the supposedly scandalous passages have lost most of their shock value, it is still a novel that was worth daring, to use Sainte-Beuve's phrase. It remains a searingly honest cry of a woman artist's soul, an indictment of, and a curse upon, a society in which she had no place.
1Le Journal des Dames et des Modes 46 (20 août 1833), p. 362.
2 Annarosa Poli, "George Sand devant la critique," in Simone Vierne, ed., George Sand: Colloque de Cerisy (Paris: CDU-Sedes, 1983), p. 98, describes Musset's unpublished article.
3 Félix Decori, ed., Correspondance de George Sand et d'Alfred de Musset, nouvelle éd. (Bruxelles: E. Deman, 1904), p. 11.
4 Poli, "George Sand," p. 98.
5 Jules Janin, "George Sand," in L'Artiste 12, 13e livraison (1836): 153-54.
6 Shelley I. Temchin, "Straining the Structures of Romanticism: George Sand's Lélia Reconsidered" (Ph. D. diss., Tufts 1981), p. 140.
7 Peter L. Thorslev, Jr., The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962), p. 189.
8 D. G. Charlton's essay "Prose Fiction" includes Delphine and Corinne in his list of novels that describe the mal du siècle. See D. G. Charlton, ed., The French Romantics (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), vol. I, pp. 167-80.
9 I cannot agree with Eileen Boyd Sivert, who asserts that "Lélia does not know how to question masculine society or its discourse." Lélia knows how to question and criticize; what she does not know is how to change masculine society. See "Lelia and Feminism," Yale French Studies 62 (1981): 54.
10 See Sidney D. Braun, The "Courtisane" in the French Theater from Hugo to Becque (1831-1885), The Johns Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages, Extra Volume XXII (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1947), for a consideration of the courtesan in French literature.
11 Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979).
12 See Joseph Barry, Infamous Woman: The Life of George Sand (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1978), p. 157.
13 Charlton, "Prose Fiction," pp. 174, 178.
14 George Sand, "A propos de Lélia et de Valentine (Préface de Romans et nouvelles)" in Questions d'art et de littérature (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1878), p. 44.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8245
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 conference at Georgetown University on "The Representation of the Other." My paper dealt with the representation of men in women's writing and my examples were drawn from the fictions of several major French women writers, among them George Sand, whose novel Indiana I discussed in some detail. When I sat down after having delivered my talk a fellow panelist, a respected male professor at a major ivy-league institution, leaned over and whispered confidentially in my ear: "that was very nice Naomi, but you still haven't convinced me to read Indiana." I begin with this comical but unfunny episode because it has everything to do with the reasons that I have undertaken to write a critical study of George Sand. Boldly stated: in 1986, sixteen years after Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, thirty-seven years after Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, fifty-seven years after Virginia Woolf s A Room of One's Own, to cite some of the landmarks of feminist criticism and theory, many if not most of my colleagues still believed that it was incumbent upon us—and when I say "us," I refer in general to we feminist critics, in particular to we Sand scholars—to convince them that Sand (but also many other major women writers) are worth reading. Ours is of necessity a rhetoric of persuasion.
We may respond to this challenge in a number of ways: disbelief, derision, dismissal, deconstruction, but the question of the canon remains and it will not go away, for as Leslie Fiedler has observed: "we all know in our hearts that literature is effectively what we teach in departments of English; or conversely, what we teach in departments of English is literature."1 If we assume for the moment that we can simply substitute French for English—no small assumption—then the situation becomes quite clear: as long as works by Sand are not included routinely in surveys of nineteenth-century French literature, on reading lists for prelims and orals, on the program for the Agrégation, etc., however many colloquia we may hold on Sand, however many studies we may devote to her oeuvre, however many texts of hers we may reedit, she will remain beyond the pale of literature, in its strong institutional sense. Two possibly controversial assumptions ground that statement. First, that the task, rather one of the tasks of feminist criticism is to infiltrate and remodel the existing canon. My quarrel here is with the position provocatively argued by Lillian S. Robinson in her anthologized article, "Treason our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon." Robinson's claim is that upgrading women writers already marginally in the canon from second to first rank is a misguided feminist enterprise, as it leaves the criteria for canonization in place: "the case here consists in showing that an already recognized woman has been denied her rightful place, presumably because of the general devaluation of female efforts and subjects. . . . Obviously, no challenge is presented to the particular notions of literary quality, timelessness, universality, and other qualities that constitute the rationale for canonicity."2 My effort here is to show that on the contrary a reflection on the particular circumstances of a decanonization can produce results that exceed the case of an "already recognized woman" and do call into question the value system grounding the canon.
Second, that Sand deserves a place in the new, revised French canon of nineteenth-century literature. More precisely, Sand deserves to recover the eminent place she occupied in the old, unrevised French canon established by the Sorbonne between 1871 and 1914, during a period of intense national reaffirmation following the humiliating defeat of 1871. As Elaine Showalter has remarked: "it is a curious fact of literary history that canon formation has been particularly aggressive following wars, when nationalist feeling runs high and there is a strong wish to define a tradition."3 The ideological constraints that presided over the formation of the French canon at the turn of the century are clearly at work in the promotion of Sand's so-called rustic fiction that went hand in hand with her canonization. It is after all as a novelist of the terroir, or countryside, the author of such classics of French children's literature as Fanchon the Cricket, The Country Waif, and the adult's favorite, The Bag-Pipers, that Sand was initially inscribed into the canon.4 Somewhere around 1890 a consensus was reached regarding the canonicity of Sand's pastoral mode. Already in 1887, Emile Faguet had written: "hers was the genius of the idyll." According to him it is the works written in what he terms Sand's "third manner," the peasant idylls sited in her home region, the Berry, that are destined for immortality: "she found there her superior works, the ones that will endure, Fadette, Le Champí, Jeanne, and above all, La Mare au Diable and Les Maîtres sonneurs."5 And, in an important and thoughtful assessment of Sand's literary achievement, Georges Pellissier asserts in 1890: "What will remain of George Sand are her pastorals, a few simple and touching love stories set in a natural framework. . . . She is par excellence a painter of the fields . . ."6 To recanonize Sand, then, cannot be merely to reinstate her earlier position and positioning, it must entail a reexamination of the premises of her earlier canonization, as well as a recognition of new ideological pressures. For if Sand is reinscribed into the canon at the turn of the twentieth-century it will almost certainly be as the exemplary feminist author of such novels as, Indiana, Valentine, and Lélia.
But, above all, to recanonize Sand must involve a better understanding than we now have of the conditions of Sand's decanonization. For Sand's fall from aesthetic grace has been spectacular. Writing in 1949, Van Tieghem declares: "Sand's fictional oeuvre has singularly declined. It is difficult to imagine the glory and the esteem that surrounded her."7 Indeed, a writer of international stature in her lifetime, Sand was widely read, admired, and imitated by such far-flung readers as Margaret Fuller, the Brontë sisters, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as by the greatest of her French contemporaries. Allowing for the season in purgatory all French writers endure in the immediate aftermath of their deaths, after 1876 (the date of Sand's death), Sand's place in the pantheon of great nineteenth-century French authors, as noted above, appeared secure. In the introduction to selected passages from her writings published in 1924 in a series called Pages Choisies des Grands Ecrivains, the editor writes: "the century which witnessed the birth and death of George Sand is scarcely over, and already she takes her place among our classics."8 And yet, already in 1890, Pellisier concludes his exceptionally intelligent and sympathetic assessment of her achievement, by saying: "George Sand is hardly read any longer."9 And, by 1938, Virginia Woolf speaks of Sand, as a "half-forgotten author."10 Unread in 1890, half-forgotten in 1938, what happened to George Sand?
The steady decline of Sand's artistic stock in the course of the twentieth century is inextricably bound up with a major remapping of the topography of the nineteenth-century French novel. For, in the critical tradition instituted and widely disseminated by the Sorbonne, Sand's works are classified under a rubric which has since disappeared, seemingly without leaving a trace: the idealist novel.
In the nineteenth-century, following Kant's formulations in The Critique of Judgment, realism was yoked to idealism. Initially, realism appeared as idealism's binary opposite, as in G. H. Lewes's characteristic formulation: "of late years there has been a reaction against conventionalism which called itself Idealism, in favour of detailism which calls itself Realism."11
Realism in the nineteenth century signified only in relation to idealism, so much so that to consider one term in isolation from the other is to deplete, even distort its significance. Because the opposition between idealism and realism is viewed as an immanent mental structure, it is a commonplace of nineteenth-century literary criticism. Pellisier's account of the evolution of the novel is in this respect typical. After passing through a lyrical, then a historicist stage, the novel, he writes:
Leaving behind history for contemporary society . . . in the end divided itself, without exceeding this very framework, into two very distinct genres corresponding to two irreducible tendencies of the human spirit: some, viewing real life through their imaginations enamored of beauty, truth, happiness, produced a portrait always idealised in its very truth; the others, fortified with a wise and penetrating analysis, directed their energies at seeing reality as it is and at representing it as they had seen it.
And yet so massive, so crushing has been the triumph of realism that at least in the field of literature—in painting where the opposition first arose, the story is quite different—idealism has all but vanished from our critical consciousness, taking with it the literary reputation of its most eminent French representative, George Sand.13
There is, then, a general recognition among Sand's posthumous promoters that her declining literary fortunes are linked to the triumph of Balzacian realism over the idealism associated with Sand's name:
For the last twelve or fifteen years her success diminished, though her talent had not flagged; it is just that fashion had shifted elsewhere. The positivist and scientific spirit has taken over literature; today a more exact imitation of things, characters more like those one encounters daily, absolutely precise descriptions recorded on the spot, in short a detailed, literal and micrographic copy of reality are what is wanted. The novel is in the hands of Balzac's successors.14
Consequently, all hopes for and predictions of Sand's return to favor are tied to a return to or of idealism, a turning away from a spent realism. In his 1910 Cours de littérature, Félix Hémon announces that that double return is imminent:
.. . since Balzac, we have for so long savoured the humiliating pleasure of contemplating our portraits as we are, that we are seized by a violent desire to be flattered, idealized, fooled if need be about our poor human nature. And that is why favor is returning to this mixed oeuvre, within which one nevertheless asks to pick and chose.
My thesis then, is this, Sand's spectacular aesthetic devaluation cannot be ascribed in any simple terms to her gender; it is not because Sand was a woman, rather because (like so many other woman authors) she is associated with a discredited and discarded representational mode that she is no longer ranked among the canonic authors.
The question then becomes: what is the relationship if any between femininity and idealism? A brief comparison of the literary fates of "the two Georges" (Sand and Eliot) should serve to dispel at the outset any notion of the essential femininity of idealism as a literary practice. Speculating on the reasons for George Eliot's easy superiority over the other George, whom she read so admiringly and to whom she owed so much, Patricia Thomson writes: "in the long run, George Eliot has easily outdistanced the other George to whom she was indebted for so many insights and such a great enlargement of her horizons. It is not simply that the idealist, optimist and romantic has less of value to communicate than the writer with a deep and realistic sense of the irony and tragedy of life—although for modern readers this is surely a vital distinction."16
The difference in the literary fates of "the two Georges," while not reducible to the opposition idealism-realism, does overlap with it in interesting ways. For Eliot's poetics was, it will be recalled, explicitly antiidealist, classically realist. In chapter seventeen of Adam Bede, entitled, "In which the story pauses a little," Eliot stops to explain why, deliberately frustrating her implied readers' desire, she chooses not, "to represent things as they never have been and never will be," not to "touch" up the world with a "tasteful pencil", not "make things better than they were."17 She prefers instead to offend her "idealistic friend" (233) by the representation of the vulgar details that inhere in the representation of the commonplace and the homely. As Eliot writes in "The Natural History of German Life," "the unreality" of the representation of the common people is a "grave evil," for it directly prevents "the extension of our sympathies" that is art's "greatest benefit": "appeals founded on generalizations and statistics require a sympathy ready-made, a moral sentiment already in activity; but a piece of human life such as a great artist can give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention to what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of moral sentiment."18 For Eliot the superiority of realism over idealism is then moral; only a deidealized portrayal of the people can enable the sympathy for the Other that great art can uniquely inspire.
There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can't afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my everyday fellowmen, especially for the few in the foregound of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch, for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy. .. . It is more needful that I should have a fibre of sympathy with that vulgar citizen who weighs out my sugar in a vilely assorted cravat and waistcoat, than with the handsome rascal in red scarf and green feathers. . . .
The opposition between Eliot's realism and Sand's idealism is, however, neither simple nor neat: as many commentators have noted, Eliot is in her own way an idealist, thus the very figure of the common working man, Adam Bede—who has been compared to Sand's Meunier d'Angibault—is itself heavily idealized, and Sand's idealism is in turn informed by some of the same moral and social imperatives that animate Eliot's realism.19 But finally, the question of the differences between Eliot and Sand is mooted by the realization that the triumph of realism over idealism owes less to moral than to aesthetic considerations. Or rather, that the triumph of realism over idealism makes visible the interpenetration of the ethical and the aesthetic. If realism has triumphed over idealism, and Eliot and Balzac over Sand, it is in large measure because the aesthetic legacy linking referential illusion and political efficacy with the detailed representation of a blemished reality has remained with us in the age of the simulacrum. Even in those works, structuralist and poststructuralist, which have in recent years subjected the "order of mimesis" (Prendergast) to a radical critique, some of the underlying assumptions of classical realist aesthetics remain undisturbed. As Barthes observes in S/Z: "beauty . . . cannot be induced through catachresis other than from some great cultural model (written or pictorial): it is stated, not described. Contrariwise, ugliness can be abundantly described: it alone is 'realistic', confronting the referent without an immediate code (whence the notion that realism, in art, is concerned solely with ugliness)."20 To recanonize Sand must of necessity entail a critical rethinking of both the aesthetic and ethical valorization of the ugly and the consensual equation of the real with the unsightly, for as we shall see, it is on these linked assumptions that her decanonization rests.
So far we have relied on a vague and commonsense understanding of idealism to ground our discussion. If we are to advance and to avoid the pitfalls that result from an indiscriminate use of the term idealism, at this point some understanding of how it was used in nineteenth-century aesthetic discourse becomes necessary. It is in a section of the French philosopher Hippolyte Taine's immensely popular and influential lectures on aesthetics, Philosophie de l'Art, entitled De l'Idéal dans l'Art, that we find the elements of a specifically late nineteenth-century theory of the ideal in art, and an indigenous French one to boot. Now, admittedly there is something circular about bringing the aesthetics of one of her most ardent admirers to bear on Sand's literary practice. Indeed it is difficult to separate Taine's theory from Sand's practice: for no one was more keenly aware of the necessity to devise a poetics of idealism specially adapted to the idealist text to allow readers with a realist horizon of expectations to read Sand with pleasure: "to take pleasure in them [Sand's fictions]," writes Taine, "we have to adopt their point of view, take an interest in the depiction of a more beautiful and better humanity."21 Taine develops his notion of the ideal in two key chapters of his aesthetics: "the degree of importance of the character" ["Le degré d'importance du caractère"] and "The degree of goodness of the character" ["Le degrè de bienfaisance du caractère"]. What then does Taine mean by "character"? Character, as he explains in the inaugural section of his aesthetics, is an essential, salient feature of an object:
This character is what the philosophers call the essence of things; and, because of that, they say that the purpose of art is to make manifest the essence of things. We will leave aside this word essence which is technical, and we shall simply say that the purpose of art is to make manifest the central character, some salient and notable quality, an important point of view, a principal manner of being of the object.22
Despite his positivist trappings—Taine grounds his hierarchy of distinctive features in the realm of art on the notion of variability in the life sciences—in "Le degré d'importance du caractère" Taine does little but reinscribe the main tenets of neoclassical aesthetics: The notable character that is the marker of the ideal is essential, unchanging, universal. The supreme work of art is installed in what modern historians call la longue durée; it is built on the bedrock upon which the superficial and transitory products of the moment merely glide. As an example of such a perennial masterpiece, Taine cites l'abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut; so "durable" is the "type" created by Prévost that Manon has been repeatedly rewritten and adapted in response to the changing times. It is here that Sand makes her first appearance in De l'idéal dans l'art, for in her novel Leone Leoni she rewrites Manon reversing the roles.
Based on this section of Taine's work it would appear difficult to make the case for Sand as an idealist author, for it cannot be claimed that Sand ever created in her own right the sort of universal type Taine has in mind. It is only when we turn to the second major section in Taine's text, "Le degré de bienfaisance du caractère", that we can begin to grasp the sense in which Sand could be described as an idealist novelist. In these pages Taine establishes a new hierarchy, one ordained not by scientific principles of durability, but rather by moral principles of goodness. Following this second classificatory system, the highest ranked works of art are not those featuring universal types, but rather those representing heroes and heroines: "all things being equal, the work which expresses a benevolent character is superior to the work which expresses a malevolent character" (2, 289). It is according to this ethical scale of values that Sand is promoted as an artist of the ideal for, writes Taine, along with Corneille and Richardson she undertakes deliberately ["de parti pris"] to represent "noble feelings and superior souls." Taine singles out for particular praise several of Sand's fictions, including Mauprat and A Country Waif for their depictions of "native generosity" (2, 295).
What Taine's lectures make apparent in a way distinct from that of a long line of theoreticians of the ideal in art stretching all the way back to Plato, is the necessary slippage between the heightening of the essential and the promotion of the higher good that constitutes idealism in the realm of aesthetics. Only in the light of Taine's double definition of aesthetic idealism does Balzac's celebrated statement to Sand regarding their differences become fully intelligible. Writing of her poetics of idealization in her autobiography, Story of My Life, Sand attributes the following remarks to Balzac:
You seek man as he should be; I take him as he is. Believe me, we are both right. Our paths meet in the end. I love exceptional people too; I am one. Besides, I need them—to set off my vulgar people—and I never sacrifice them needlessly. But these vulgar people interest me more than they do you. I magnify and idealize them in reverse, in their ugliness or folly. I give their deformities frightening or grotesque proportions. That you could never do, and you do well not to gaze too closely on the beings who give you nightmares. Idealize only toward the lovely and the beautiful: that is woman's work.23
Initially Balzac casts his formulation of the difference between himself and Sand in terms all too familiar to generations of French lyçéens: Balzac is to Sand as Racine is to Corneille. Theirs is but a replay of the paradigmatic French confrontation between realist and idealist writer. Almost immediately, however, Balzac undercuts this neat antithesis, arguing instead for an underlying commonality of purpose and method. In keeping with Taine's first definition of the term, both Sand and Balzac are idealist novelists; idealization is here taken to be synonymous with hyperbolization, a form of excess in writing that strains at the limits of verisimilitude. Enunciating her theory of writing earlier in the same section of her autobiography, Sand explicitly links idealization and implausibility:
According to it [this theory], the novel is a work of poetry as much as analysis. Authentic, even real, characters and situations are required, ranged about a figure who must exemplify the chief feeling or idea of the book. This figure usually represents passionate love. . . . This love must be idealized . . . the author should not fear to give it exceptional importance, unusual power, and charms and sufferings beyond the common run of human things, and even beyond the bounds of probability.
The difference between Sand and Balzac's idealizations is in the end one of quality not quantity, it is of a thematic rather than a rhetorical order. The conflation in Sand's writing practice of hyperbolizing and meliorative idealization are what, in Taine's eyes, make her the paradigmatic idealist novelist, whereas Balzac, for all his larger than life character types, remains mired in the lower ethical spheres of realism. Seen in this unfamiliar perspective, realism appears as a lesser, even a failed idealism; it is idealism, not realism that is the more inclusive term. The perceptible drift in this passage toward a stunning hierarchical reversal is, however, checked when in the last sentence Balzac suddenly aligns idealization with gender. Earlier we asked what was the relationship, if any, between idealism and femininity. Balzac's statement offers the elements of an answer. Idealism in the novel is a priori sex-blind; the feminization of the idealist mode of representation is bought about by aligning sexual difference with a difference within idealism. This alignment produces a splitting: associated with masculinity, negative idealization becomes the positively valorized term, henceforth known as realism, while positive idealization, linked up with femininity, becomes the negatively valorized term, a diminished and trivialized idealism.
The gendering of poetics inevitably results in their degeneration into stereotype. Thus, responding to a letter from the novelist Mme Riccoboni, critical of his seductive portrayal of the evil Mme de Merteuil in Les Liaisons dangereuses, Laclos writes:
... to women alone belongs this precious sensitivity, this easy and cheerful imagination which embellishes everything it touches, and creates objects as they should be, but . . . men, who are condemned to a harsher labor, have always acquitted themselves well when they have rendered nature exactly and faithfully.24
The division of literary labor along gender lines rests on a series of highly questionable assumptions: mimesis is man's work; the faithful representation of "nature," a sort of Adamic curse visited on male writers, condemns them to a literary life of referential servitude. Women writers, congenitally unable to view the world without the benefit of rose-colored glasses, are essentially idealists. Hierarchy insinuates itself into this paradigm less through its blatant naturalization of women's weakness, than through its more insidious and far-reaching assumption that aesthetic value resides in the (virile) depiction of the horrors of unembellished nature. What is at stake here is, finally, woman's relationship to truth. Thus Zola, a preeminent representative of the school of Balzac, attributes Sand's failure in her peasant novels to, "her idealist temperament which prevented her from seeing true truth and above all from reproducing it."25 The woman writer in rose-colored glasses stands as the necessary antithesis to that figure of the philosopher's imaginary, woman-as-truth. For the logic of misogyny is a no-win logic where whatever is connoted as feminine—e.g., an excessive proximity to or distance from truth—is devalorized. Thus, the stereotypical association of woman artists and the ideal is the obverse of an equally long and powerful tradition that condemns woman to the servile imitation of the nature with which she is so closely identified, that views her as congenitally incapable of transcending immanence to attain the ideal.26 For James, whose generally sympathetic account of Sand in French Poets and Novelists is a tissue of sexual stereotypes, Sand's disregard for truth is doubly determined by her sex and her nationality; like the heroine in the song, the French woman writer is one who sees "la vie en rose":
Women, we are told, do not value truth for its own sake, but only for some personal use they make of it. My present criticism involves an assent to this somewhat cynical dogma. Add to this that woman, if she happens to be French, has an extraordinary taste for investing objects with a graceful drapery of her own contrivance, and it will be found that George Sand's cast of mind includes both the generic and the specific idiosyncrasy.
The essay concludes with an enlisting of a by now familiar color code, although in this instance the rosiness has been transferred from the lens of vision to reality itself:
George Sand's optimism, her idealism, are very beautiful, and the source of that impression of largeness, luminosity and liberality which she makes upon us. But we suspect that something even better in a novelist is the tender appreciation of actuality which makes even the application of a single coat of rose-colour seem an act of violence.
Though we may today smugly mock the innocent sexism of a Laclos, a Balzac, or a James, the valorization of realism—the masculine mode—remains largely unexamined in contemporary theories of representation and the canonic hierarchies they serve to secure, for the theory of realism from Lukács to Barthes is essentially a theory of a single fictional practice, Balzac's. In other words, the ongoing critique of representation stops well short of questioning the realist paradigm (and Balzac's status as the paradigmatic realist) and its underlying sexism. Even those critics who have most acutely exposed the complicity of realism with bourgeois ideology, countering realism's claims to a specular objectivity by demonstrating the active part mimesis plays in legitimizing the apparatus of the Law, the network of disciplinary mechanisms that repress all exceptions to the norm, the sexual fix, even these critics have continued to be fascinated by the canonic figures, especially Balzac.27 To begin to grasp the not so subtle ways in which idealism has been feminized and hence devalorized is to begin to ask what it might mean to read "otherwise," to ask specifically what poetics would have to be elaborated to take into account the Sandian text, to bring it into the pale of the readable, and more important the rereadable, for as James devastatingly remarks: "all the world can read George Sand once and not find it in the least hard. But it is not easy to return to her. . . . George Sand invites reperusal less than any other mind of equal eminence" (181). Once again Taine points the way when in his late essay on Sand he characterizes idealist prose in ways that interestingly renew earlier normative idealist aesthetics: "It is," he writes,
an ideal world and to maintain the illusion, the writer erases, attenuates and often sketches a general outline, instead of depicting an individual figure. He does not emphasize the detail, he scarcely indicates it in passing, he avoids going into it; he follows the great poetic line of the passion he pleads or the situation he describes, without stopping over the irregularities which would break the harmony. This summary way of painting is the property of all idealist art.
In this postrealist definition of idealism, idealism appears as a signifying practice of lack. Whereas prerealist idealism, by which I mean the idealism promoted and practiced before the emergence of the specifically nineteenth-century literary movement known as Realism, prescribed idealization as selection—the construction of the ideal through the combination of ideal parts abstracted from imperfect wholes—Sandian idealism is an art of deliberate erasure. For Sand was keenly aware of the link between details and realism, defining realism as a "science of details."28 To be erased, passed over lightly, the detail must then be there to be erased; it is a case of emphasis subtracted. The idealist effect is produced by the evacuation of those very superfluous details that create the illusion of the real (Barthes). To read idealist fiction necessarily entails a painful renunciation of the pleasure of the detail and the illusion of referential plenitude it provides. Other renunciations, similarly painful (at least in my own experience), follow: for just as the idealist text eschews the redundant descriptive detail, it refuses the booby-trapped hermeneutic code that propels the classical realist text forward, even as it undoes conventions of characterization.29
The difficulties posed by the modern idealist novel are not, of course, unique to Sand—except insofar as her sex exacerbates them. They are notably intrinsic to the field of nineteenth-century German fiction. The great tradition of realist fiction so grandly embodied elsewhere in Europe is, as is well known, strikingly absent in the history of German prose fiction. In his chapter devoted to German literature, "Miller the Musician," Auerbach speculates at some length on the reasons why a "contemporary realism" (as opposed to the realism bound up with Historicism) failed to develop in Germany despite what he calls a "favorable aesthetic situation":
Contemporary conditions in Germany did not easily lend themselves to broad realistic treatment. The social picture was heterogeneous; the general life was conducted in the confused setting of a host of "historical territories," units which had come into existenceti through dynastic and political contingencies. In each of ol them the oppressive and at times choking atmosphere was counterbalanced by a certain pious submission and the sense of historical solidity, all of which was more conducive to speculation, introspection, contemplation, and the development of local idiosyncrasies than to coming to grips with the practical and the real ina spirit of determination and with an awareness of greater contexts and more extensive territories.30
Whether or not one accepts Auerbach's definition of realism and his explanation for "the problem of nineteenth-century German realism" the connection he makes between representational modes and sociopolitical circumstances is one with interesting implications for our study of Sand. We will want to ask how Sand's politics inflected her idealism: is there, for example, any connection between Sand's regionalism and her idealism? Is there a politics of idealism? Is idealism the representational mode of choice of an aristocrat with populist blood and leanings?
If in Balzac's formulation realism is but a subcategory of idealism, albeit the most prestigious, Sand's idealism must nonetheless be understood as a response to what was to become known as Balzacian realism. For, if idealism is not (any more than its opposite, detailism) an essentially female representational mode, the practice of an aesthetics of idealism was unquestionably for Sand a strategy for bodying forth her difference, and that difference is in part sexual. Feminist critics have traditionally emphasized transhistorical specificities of women's writing, but I would argue that female specificity in writing is (also) contextual, local, a microspecificity that shifts opportunistically in response to changing historical and literary historical circumstances. Writing in her autobiography of her literary beginnings, Sand makes it quite clear that to begin writing is to take one's place on a scene of competing representational modes (and all represented by men):
... in those days writers wrote the oddest things. The eccentricities of the young Victor Hugo had excited the younger generation, who were bored with the threadbare ideas of the Restoration. Chateaubriand was no longer sufficiently romantic, and even the new master, Hugo, was barely romantic enough for the fierce appetites he had whetted. The brats of his own school . . . wanted to "sink" him by outdoing him.
Sand's choice of idealism was surely overdetermined—her motivations were political as well as psychological (the idealization of her dead father)—but what is significant is that it was a choice, albeit a difficult one. Traces of the difficult emergence of Sandian idealism from the matrix of Balzacian realism can be clearly made out in Indiana, the very novel Sand was working on at the moment of her conversations with Balzac. The celebrated double response of Sand's mentor Latouche to his star pupil's first solo novelistic venture accurately reflects the text's straddling of representational modes. After quickly scanning the opening pages of Indiana, Latouche is said to have exclaimed: "come now, this is a pastiche, School of Balzac! Pastiche! what do you mean by it?" However, having spent the night reading the entire novel, the very next morning Latouche saluted Sand's achievement in the following terms: "your book is a masterpiece. I stayed up all night to read it. No woman alive can sustain the insolence of a comparison with you . . . Balzac and Mérimée lie dead under Indiana."31
The emergence of Sand's distinctive writing mode from that of her genial friend takes two forms to which I can only allude here in passing: first, the movement from the conventionally realistic inaugural section to the controversial epilogue which so spectacularly exceeds the bounds of bourgeois realism. Second, the elimination in the 1833 edition of the interventions designed to persuade the reader of the original 1832 edition of the narrator's allegiance to the main tenets of the realist credo and his rejection of competing novelistic trends, notably idealism:
The current fashion is to depict a fictional hero so ideal, so superior to the common run that he only yawns where others enjoy themselves. . . . These heroes bore you, I'm sure, because they are not like you, and that in the long run lifting your head up to watch them float above you makes you dizzy. I place mine firmly on the ground and living the same life as you do.32
And yet, the double-edged irony of this passage suggests that even within these digressions designed to guarantee the author's realist credentials and hence his legitimacy, another aesthetic is being promoted.
In what sense, then, can we speak of Indiana as an idealist novel? Indeed is it one at all? No less a Sand scholar than Pierre Salomon, author of a general introduction to Sand's life and works and editor of several of her novels, states categorically that Indiana is not an idealist novel, basing himself on the deidealized representations of the male figures, notably Raymon, the vile seductor allegedly modeled on Sand's lover, Aurélien de Sèze: "if sometimes George Sand appears to be an idealist writer, it is certainly not here. The analysis is cruel, and one may well wonder at so much harshness directed against a man once beloved."33 If, however, we recall Sand's own definition of idealism in the novel, it becomes immediately apparent that the ideal in this novel resides in the figure of its heroine and not its hero, for it is Indiana whose passionate love story exhibits the implausible extremes Sand identifies as constitutive of the fictional ideal. And yet, as useful as is Sand's explicitation of her idealizing techniques, it does not fully account for the idealism in Indiana. To do so we must bring into play Taine's theory of the biaxiality of the ideal in art, for what sets Indiana apart from other sadomasochistic female protagonists in nineteenth-century French fiction, notably Emma Bovary, her most illustrious descendant, is that in her story the quest for the love ideal is inseparable from an aspiration towards an ideal world. For all her reading of silly women's novels; when Indiana fantasizes, it is not as Emma later will of the beautiful people and Paris, rather of freedom for herself and for all her fellow slaves:
A day will come when everything in my life will be changed, when I shall do good to others, when someone will love me, when I shall give my whole heart to the man who gives me his; meanwhile, I will suffer in silence and keep my love as a reward for him who shall set me free.34
In keeping with Taine's theory, idealism in Sand's inaugural fiction consists, then, in a distinctive concatenation of the erotic and the moral, not to say the political. Moreover, and this returns us to the question of the gender specificities of idealism, Sand's idealism bespeaks a yearning to be delivered both from the base desire for carnal possession characteristic of male sexuality and the injustices of a man-made system of laws that enables the enslavement of both women and blacks. Balzac's feminizing of positive idealization, though wrong-headed, is finally not entirely wrong: idealism, as appropriated by Sand, signifies her refusal to reproduce mimetically and hence legitimate a social order inimical to the disenfranchized, among them women. Idealism for Sand is finally the only alternative representational mode available to those who do not enjoy the privileges of subjecthood in the real. To recanonize Sand will then require nothing less than a reconsideration of realism as it constructs and supports the phallo- and ethnocentric social order we so often confuse with reality. Finally, to recanonize Sand will call for the elaboration of a poetics of the ethical.
1 Leslie Fiedler as quoted by Elizabeth A. Meese, "Sexual Politics and Critical Judgment," in Gregory S. Jay and David L. Miller, ed., After Strange Texts: The Role of Theory in the Study of Literature (University of Alabama Press, 1985), 86.
2 In Elaine Showalter, ed., The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 109.
3 Showalter, "Introduction," The New Feminist Criticism, 11.
4 And it is as an author of rustic fiction that she survives in those ultimate repositories of the French canon, the "manuels" (e.g., the Lagarde et Michard) destined for high-school students preparing for the Baccalauréat examination. In a recent survey of women as they are represented in textbooks, the author of the section on literature notes: "her oeuvre is generally reduced to her rustic novels, whereas her production is very diversified," in Brigitte Crabbé et al., Les Femmes dans les livres scolaires (Brussels: Pierre Mardaga, 1985), 57. All translations are mine except where otherwise noted. According to the same author (Evelyne Wilwerth) women writers are subject to two strategies of exclusion: "occultation and reduction caracterize the treatment of women's writing" (57). As one of the two "monuments" of nineteenth-century French literature—the other being, of course, Mme de Staël—, Sand's contribution cannot be elided, hence the "reduction" of her immense oeuvre to her country fiction.
5 Emile Faguet, Dix-Neuvième Siècle: Etudes Littéraires (Paris: Boivin & Cie, 1887), 395 and 398.
6 Georges Pellissier, Le Mouvement littéraire au xixe siècle (Paris: Hachette, 1890), 243-44.
7 Philippe Van Tieghem, Histoire de la littérature française (Paris: Fayard, 1949), 468.
8 George Sand, Pages Choisies des Grands Ecrivains (Paris: Armand Colin, 1924), np.
9 Pellissier, 243.
10 Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (New York: Harvest, HBJ Books, 1966), 188, n.49.
11 G. H. Lewes, The Principles of Literary Success in Literature (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1891), 83. Lewes is in many ways a crucial figure in this realm of aesthetics: a significant interpreter and disseminator of Hegel's idealist philosophy, an insightful supporter of women novelists (Brontë, Sand, and of course, Eliot), Lewes emerges as one of the prime theoreticians of realism/idealism in Victorian criticism. In fact, for Lewes who espoused what one commentator has called a "modified Realism", idealism and realism were not incompatible, not true opposites; for him, writes Alice Kaminsky, "idealism is simply a special kind of realism." Thus Lewes writes: "realism is . . . the basis of all Art, and its antithesis is not idealism but Falsism." Alice R. Kaminsky, George Henry Lewes as Literary Critic (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1968), 45. For Lewes on Sand, see "Balzac and George Sand," Foreign Language Quarterly 33 (1844): 265-98, and "George Sand's Recent Novels," Foreign Language Quarterly 37 (1846): 21-36.
12 Cf., Christopher Robinson, French Literature in the Nineteenth Century (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1978), whose survey of nineteenth-century French literature is informed by the opposition between "idealists" and "pragmatiste," an eternal opposition given renewed impetus in the nineteenth century, "not only because of the crisis of values caused by the social cataclysm of the end of the previous century, but also because continued progress in the sciences undermined belief in accepted notions of reality itself (8). Curiously, Robinson's generalization of the category of idealism to include most major developments in nineteenth-century French literature does not correspond to a reevaluation of Sand's fiction. Of the writer who was arguably the preeminent idealist of her time, he writes: "even a thinker so congenitally feeble as poor George Sand could see this [that during the July monarchy "problems of social inequality were substantially moral too"]. It is the very core of her revolt against society in those novels compounded from a jumble of absurd Utopian and spiritualist theories, e.g., Consuelo; it underlies such ludicrous idealizations of the peasantry as Petite Fadette or François le Champi. Even in her early novels, with their grotesquely melodramatic stylizations of adultery at its most clichéd, Indiana or Jacques ( . . . ) , the moral corrosion effected by the social structure is constantly felt as a primary cause of individual inadequacy" (105-06).
13 More accurately, Sand and idealism are forever linked in the half-life of the literary manuals, where the pace of change is inscribed in the longest of "durées"; like a fossil preserved in amber, the Sandian idealist novel remains embalmed in the unscientific sample of manuals and introductions to French literature I have consulted.
14 Hippolyte Taine, Derniers Essais de critique et d'Histoire (Paris: Hachette, 1894), 130-31. Cf., Henry James who, in his essay on George Sand, included in French Poets and Novelists (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964), explicitly indebted to Taine's, also links Sand's falling out of fashion with the dissemination of realism: "During the last half of her career, her books went out of fashion among the new literary generation. 'Realism' had been invented, or rather propagated; and in the light of 'Madame Bovary' her own facile fictions began to be regarded as the work of a sort of superior Mrs. Radcliffe" (168).
15 Cf., Rocheblave who explicitly links Sand's literary fortunes to a long deferred return to the ideal: "while waiting that the public, at last done with a sad realism, come back fully to idealist literature" (np). James, in his aforementioned piece, is far less sanguine about the prospects for a return to Sandian idealism, imagining instead that in a future "world . . . given over to a 'realism' that we have not as yet begun faintly to foreshadow, George Sand's novels will have, for the children of the twenty-first century, something of the same charm which Spenser's 'Fairy Queen' [sic] has for those of the nineteenth" (180-81). Though it may be argued, as does Katherine Hume in Fantasy and Mimesis (New York: Methuen, 1984), that Realism was a short-lived movement and that postmodernism marks a return of the fantasy repressed by realism. The return of fantasy is not the same as the return of idealism, though there is a definite connection between the two. The Sand that has returned to favor, at least in the United States, is the feminist Sand. Sand's idealism has not been revalorized by contemporary feminist readings.
16 Patricia Thomson, George Sand and the Victorians (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), 183, emphasis added.
17 George Eliot, Adam Bede (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980), 221, 222, and 223. All subsequent references to this novel are incorporated in the text.
18 George Eliot, Essays of George Eliot, ed. Thomas Pinney (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 270.
19 At the conclusion of his reading of chapter 17 of Adam Bede—which I read after having drafted this essay—J. Hillis Miller makes the point that the very difference Eliot seeks to promote between the arts of "irrealism" and "realism" tends finally to collapse. See J. Hillis Miller, The Ethics of Reading (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), especially 66-70 and 78-80.
20 Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), 59.
21 Taine, Derniers Essais de Critique et d'Histoire, 132.
22 Hippolyte Taine, Philosophie de l'art, I-II (Paris: Ressources, 1980), 33.
23 George Sand, My Life, trans. Dan Hofstadter (New York: Harper, 1980), 218. Cf., the recasting of this dialogue in the "Notice" of Le Compagnon du Tour de France, 1 (Paris: Michel Lévy, 1869), 1-2.
24 Chloderlos de Laclos, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Maurice Allem (Paris: Gallimard, Pléiade, 1951), 688.
25 Emile Zola, Oeuvres complètes, (Paris: Cercle du Livre Précieux, 1968), vol. 11, 772.
26 For more on the detail-woman association, see my Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (New York: Methuen, 1987). Interestingly, in Eliot, according to Miller, the gendering of the realism/idealism paradigm is reversed: "The impulse toward falsehood is given an implicit male gender, the gender of the narrator himself [in an idiosyncratic strategic gesture Miller insists on referring to Eliot throughout as "he"] whereas the faithful representing of commonplace things is therefore implicitly female" (68). If Miller is right, then we can perhaps identify Eliot's writing as inaugurating the transvaluation of the traditionally negative association of femininity and detailism pursued by modern feminist writers and critics who have often (re)claimed the realistic representation of (female) experience as the hallmark of women's writing.
27 I am thinking here of the work of what might be thought of as the English or Cambridge school of critics (Tanner, Heath, McCabe, Prendergast) who, working in the wake of Barthes, are engaged in rethinking realism. Significantly, however scathing their critique of realism, it has remained completely divorced from a critique of the canon. The work of Prendergast is in this respect symptomatic: while recognizing fleetingly that the laws of verisimilitude repress "feminine desire" with a particular vengeance, Prendergast's corpus is resolutely male. The surprising annexation of Nerval's Sylvie to the standard works in the library of realism only serves to point up the critic's blind spot; indeed, one almost suspects that Sylvie is appropriated in lieu of a text by a woman. The references here are to: Tony Tanner, Adultery in the Novel (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); Christopher Prendergast, The Order of Mimesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Colin McCabe, Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1985); Stephen Heath, "Realism, modernism, and 'language-consciousness'," in ed., Boyle, Nicholas and Martin Swales, Realism in European Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 103-22. This is perhaps (also) the place to make explicit what is implicit throughout this essay: to say that Balzac is the paradigmatic realist (or Sand, the paradigmatic idealist) is not to endorse the reductionism of the canon. Balzac's representational versatility, his own practice of (Sandian) idealism are not the issue here. What is at issue here is that the same criteria of canonicity (derived from and confirmed by Balzac's realist fiction) that serve to decanonize Sand serve to decanonize Balzac's (and other writers) nonrealist fiction.
28 George Sand, 'L'Education sentimentale par Gustave Flaubert," in Questions d'art et de littérature (Paris: Calmami Lévy, 1878), 421.
29 On the breakdown in Sand's fiction of the difference between characters that grounds psychological realism, see my "Female Fetishism: The Case of George Sand," The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Approaches, ed. Susan Suleiman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 363-72.
30 Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 445. See also Martin Swales, "The Problem of Nineteenth-Century Realism," in Realism in European Literature, 68-84. Sand's well-known debt to Goethe—Jacques, for example rewrites the Elective Affinities—appears here in a new light, because for Auerbach, Goethe's aesthetic choices, his aristocratic rejection of realism decisively inflected the history of German literature. It is because Goethe is the central canonic figure of German literature and because Goethe eschewed bourgeois realism that realism failed to take hold in Germany.
31 George Sand, Histoire de ma vie in Oeuvres autobiographiques, (Paris: Gallimard, Pléiade, 1971), vol. 2, 173 and 1342-43, n.l. The translation is by Nancy Κ. Miller as it appears in "Arachnologies: The Woman, The Text, and the Critic," in Nancy K. Miller, ed. The Poetics of Gender (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 281.
32 George Sand, "Notes et Variantes" in Béatrice Didier, ed. Indiana (Paris: Folio, 1984), 380, n. 13.
33 Pierre Salomon, George Sand (Paris: Hatier-Borcier, 1953), 29.
34 George Sand, Indiana, trans. George Burnham Ives (New York: Academy Press Limited, 1978), 46.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9918
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, nightingales in shady groves, gentlemen as brave as lions, gentle as lambs, virtuous as no one ever was, always well-dressed, and weeping like fountains.
Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Valentine opens, as do many French nineteenth-century novels, with the fiction of a traveler arriving from Paris who, as a stand-in for the reader, is invited to ponder the semiotics of a provincial topography. But the intertextual power of that ironizing convention fades after this inaugural move, for the fictional world of the Black Valley, unlike Stendhal's Verrières or Balzac's Saumur, is located not under the sign of history and its agitations but under that of pastoral—"the absolute repose of. . . unknown regions" (l:3/2).2 "Luxury has not found its way thither, nor the arts, nor the mania for scientific investigation, nor the hundred-armed monster called industry. Revolutions are hardly perceptible there. . . . The principal virtue of that race of tillers of the soil is heedlessness in the matter of antiquities" (1:4/2). And yet, despite the narrator's insistence upon a profound, peasant indifference to revolution and historical event, the story of the novel is not located in a timeless moment. This "delicious pastoral scene" [nature suave et pastorale] (1:3/1) is grounded precisely in the history of a domain sold "as national property during the Revolution, and redeemed under the Empire" (9:73/78). Indeed, the before of the novel is constructed by a marriage uniting "ancient names"—Raimbault—with "newly made fortunes" (9:74/79), and its after is posited on a chiastic reinscription of that same formula: "It was worth but little to be a landowner if one were not a noble" (39:335/361). Nor can the lovers whose destiny is plotted in the novel properly be identified outside this space in time: Valentine is the rightful heiress of the Château de Raimbault; Benédict, who becomes her lover in the novel, is a peasant whose uncle leases the farm Grangeneuve from the aristocratic owners of the château.
I want to consider here the specific ways in which these places, the château and the farm, are (a) originally opposed as materially and symbolically discrete spaces; (b) subsequently mediated by an architectural construction—a third real and fantasmatic place—a pavilion; and (c) finally collapsed into a single signifying space, the château. At the same time, because the pavilion in Valentine, as a place which is meant to fix desire outside possession, penultimately locates the plot of Sand's novel of adultery as a fiction of female sublimation, we will want to see to what extent this particular topographical organization of an erotics can tell us something not only about the representation of female pleasure in the French novel but also about how to read what else that representation figures. What might women want beyond what can be figured as desire? What story cannot be told? If, for example, the pavilion in Valentine must be read intertextually with the pavilion in The Princess of Clèves—by way of a detour through Julie's garden in Rousseau's The New Eloise—what can these privileged places tell us about reading for female plot?
By female plot I mean quite simply that organization of narrative event which delimits a heroine's psychological, moral, and social development within a sexual fate (a fate I linked in "Emphasis Added" to maxims about the inevitable "truths" of heterosexuality). Female plot thus is both what the culture has always already inscribed for woman and its reinscription in the linear time of fiction. It is generally mapped by the heroine's engagement with the codes of the dominant ideology, her obligatory insertion within the institutions which in society and in novels name her—marriage, for example. These are the bare bones of a narratology that is most commonly plotted in scenarios of courtship leading (at least in theory) to marriage in the eighteenth-century novel, and stories of marriage gone wrong in the nineteenth. It comes to us, of course, from male as well as from female imaginations—Pamela, say, or Madame Bovary. But female-authored literature generally questions the costs and overdetermination of this particular narrative economy with an insistence such that the fictions engendered provide an internal, dissenting commentary on female plot itself. They thereby solicit a reading that takes into account the ideology at work in this map of female experience. (This is also what I describe throughout the book as the grounds of "female signature.")
Valentine begins with a double-courtship plot. Under the heterogenous and comedic emblem of a fête champêtre, two entirely appropriate marriages are announced. Both assure homogeneity and the proper transmission of property. Valentine, whose dowry includes both the Château de Raimbault and eventually the farm at Grangeneuve, is betrothed to a count. Bénédict is engaged to marry the heiress to the farm. Betrothed to others, Valentine and Bénédict meet at the ball on the first of May. The ritual of the local dance—the bourrée—requires and authorizes Bénédict to kiss his partner Valentine under public scrutiny. But despite the blushing and laughter that punctuate the event, what matters in this scene is not so much the predictable erotics of social difference as an insistence on the heroine's refusal of the erotic plot: "Valentine did not dream of passion. . . . She promised herself that she would steer clear of those ardent fantasies which made other women miserable before her eyes." More like the Princess of Clèves on the eve of her marriage, Valentine fully embraces that woman's destiny "which society imposed upon her like a duty." Although Valentine does not perceive this "reserve" "as a law," the law comes nevertheless to consolidate her identity within its discourse (5:41/42).
In the weeks before the marriages, however, Valentine and Bénédict, while playing innocent games on the banks of the river, become subject to the laws of female plot. Valentine gazes at Bénédict gazing with rapt admiration at her image in the water: "Absorbed herself in a reverie which had no definite subject she yielded to that hazardous curiosity which analyzes and compares. She discovered that there was a vast difference between Bénédict and Monsieur de Lansac. . . . Bénédict at that moment was a man: a man of the fields and a man of nature" (13:111/118). But the discovery through the lure of the male gaze of that difference—the awakening, essentially, to desire as a differentiation within what was all the same—does not lead Valentine directly to a heroine's fiction. Rather, in what will become a characteristic gesture of deferral, Valentine postpones the consequences of her new knowledge. Thus, though in the name of true love Bénédict will break his engagement to the fanner's daughter, at the end of the second part of this novel in four parts two marriages are nevertheless celebrated. Valentine marries the count of Lansac; Bénédict's former betrothed, Athénaïs, despite her very real disappointment, weds another suitor from the village. When the peasant wedding party comes to the grounds of the château for a joint celebration, the novel again flirts with the possibilities of a comedic equivalence between (the) brides. But the euphoric poetics of celebration cannot resist the dysphoric tension that underwrites the two contracts: the proper circulation of women breaks down, revealing the price—or the ideology—ofthat economy.3
Thus, between the public, verbal consecration of the marriages and the private ritual of the wedding night, Sand opens a gap by revising the expected chronotope,4 and the novel breaks with the familiar conventions of representation, Pamela, for example, married in the morning, is still writing in her closet at eleven o'clock that night. She anxiously asks her husband for permission to continue for another quarter-hour. She writes, "two glasses of champaign, and, afterwards, a glass of sack . . . kindly forced upon [her]": "so sweetly terrible did he appear to my apprehensions"; and in her very last virginal inscription to her parents, trusting herself to God, she invokes "this happy, yet awful moment" (371-72). The denouement is announced in the next entry, dated the following evening: "O how this dear excellent man indulges me in every thing!" Pamela's rhetoric of elision comes to undo the oxymorons of her feminine anguish (thus giving rise to the maxim, which Richardson later attempted to refute, that a reformed rake makes the best husband—if his wife, of course, like Pamela, vows to "obey . . . in every thing").
If we look in the French nineteenth-century novel for an intertext to this rhetoric of elision which figures respect for the sacred unsaid of marriage, we find this silence in Madame Bovary:
Charles, who was anything but quick-witted, did not shine at the wedding. He answered feebly to the puns, doubles entendres, compliments and the customary pleasantries that were dutifully aimed at him as soon as the soup appeared.
The next day, on the other hand, he seemed another man. It was he who might rather have been taken for the virgin of the evening before, whilst she gave no sign that revealed anything. The shrewdest did not know what to make of it, and they looked at her when she passed near them with an unbounded concentration of mind. But Charles concealed nothing. He called her "my wife," addressed her by the familiar "tu," asked for her of everyone, looked for her everywhere. . . .
Although here in the elision that takes us from the soup course to the morning after, Flaubert on the whole respects what I take to be an unwritten law of the dominant narratology until the twentieth century (where it reverses itself, at least in popular fiction), that the sacred penetration remains sacred by virtue of its ineffability, he also unsettles it slightly by reversing the gender of the performers: the transformation implicit in penetration is incarnated in the male; Charles, deflowered, as it were, becomes a new man. Emma, however, remains no less woman in that unknowable. Emma's "self-control" lets nothing show. By showing nothing, Flaubert leaves the enigma intact. Thus it is curious to note that in this novel—and in Emma's body—where the institution of marriage is relentlessly desacralized to the point where even adultery can't save it, this founding physical moment of the social contract which makes two people "man and wife" is left veiled. We might usefully recall here Terry Eagleton's remark that "ideology is not simply a matter of plentitude but also of elision" (153-54).
What, then, does Sand do with the representation of an event that even in Flaubert turns away from representation? To begin with, the novel insists that we witness the acts of the night through the perspective of a male gaze. In Sand's female plot, the heroine, having been allowed to postpone her husband's enjoyment of the first night, spends it "a lifeless statue" (22:191/205), drugged with opium according to her wishes. She is not, however, alone. Bénédict has managed to lock himself into the room with his beloved in order to deliver her, as he puts it, from "this legitimate degradation .. . the vilest degradation inflicted on woman . . . rape" (22:184/198). The wedding night begins with Bénédict's fascinated contemplation of Valentine, and in this sense seems simply to reinscribe the specular economy of desire whose power we saw in the mirroring that took place on the banks of the river. There Bénédict had earlier "adored [Valentine's] reflection in the water" [son image répétée dans l'eau] (23:193/208). Though now in the absence of witnesses the gaze could with impunity become an act of carnal knowledge, the modality of desire valorized in this scene will be that of a renewed deferral.
This is the time of stasis (of ecstasy); the moment of sublimated perfection toward which the novel strains and which necessarily it never maintains: "Bénédict imagined that the night would never end, that Valentine would never wake, and that he would live out his eternity of happiness in that room" (23:194/209). This longing for a state of bliss that would defy change and therefore bypass all negotiations with reality is a model typically associated with the heroine for whom happily-ever-after has no form, no shape in time, only an intensity of affect. We could then ask whether by this inversion—like the one undergone by Charles—Sand renews the cliché in a feminist script.
Literarily the case is complicated, for this lover's discourse has indeed been written from the masculine. By Rousseau, for example. And for the reader familiar with The New Eloise (as the French nineteenth-century reader would have been), it is difficult to enter Sand's staging of hysterical adoration without feeling interference from the Rousseauist intertext.5
Saint-Preux, before Bénédict, writes his fetishistic pleasure from a place whose doors open and close within patriarchal authority. "Writing to the moment," from within Julie's closet, he records and, as he says, "moderates his ecstasy by describing it." As he awaits Julie's arrival in the flesh (a reunion planned under the sign of danger, the death that might result from the legitimate double penetration of the father from his entrance into the room and the thrust of his sword), Saint-Preux both anticipates the fulfillment of his desires and fulfills them in anticipation. For the privilege of living out an hour—the hour of possession—he willingly "gives up the rest of his life to nature's severity." Now the hour of possession, unlike the hour of anticipation, necessarily can be accounted for only after the fact. (Even Valmont must take a break from writing to perform with the "woman as desk.")6 And in the aftermath, a reevaluation of pleasure takes place. Although Saint-Preux, from whose perspective "that inconceivable night" is recounted, begins the next letter in the correspondence with an insistence on the plenitude of the experience—"Oh let us die, my sweet friend! Let us die, beloved of my heart! What shall we do henceforward with an insipid youth now that we have exhausted all of its delights?"—when he reviews the events of the night, he revises their hierarchy of pleasure. Indeed, what he wants to preserve, what he wants returned to him after the fact (of consummation), is what Julie had earlier claimed in her economy to be superior to possession: "Come to swear, even in the midst of pleasures, that from the union of hearts they draw their greatest charm." Saint-Preux now accedes to her language, a discourse of desire which dematerializes possession: "Give me back that intimate union of souls you had told me of and which you have made me enjoy so well [si bien goûter]." By revising in this sense, Saint-Preux condemns his previous (masculinist) difference from Julie—"I wish to enjoy [jouir] and you wish to love; I have ecstasies and you have passions"—and laments his distance from the other's self-sufficiency: "that charming state which is enough in itself!" "The charm of possession," Saint-Preux now writes, "was in the soul, no longer momentary but eternal." The key to the revalorized temporality thus is a time of feminized permanence that preserves pleasure from history: "il durait toujours."
But how to fix jouissance? How to make the fleeting monumental? Saint-Preux selects the hour after possession as the privileged moment: "It is of all the hours of my life the one which is most dear to me, and the only one I should have wished to prolong eternally." This crucial lesson was acquired, however, through the fullness of temporal possession. An authorial footnote—glossing the word eternally—makes the point: "Too compliant woman, do you wish to know if you are loved? Examine your lover as he leaves your arms. Oh love! If I miss the age at which you are enjoyed [goûter] it is not for the hour of possession: it is for the hour which follows it."
This passage permits us, I think, to differentiate among three chronotopic modes of desire in a sexual and textual economy: masculinist (in its extreme, libertine) discourse, which prizes the time of possession (and possession as penetration); feminizing discourse, which seeks a loving negotiation with the feminine (Saint-Preux enamored in the hour after; ultimately, Roland Barthes); and finally a feminist discourse which in these novels indirectly or directly valorizes the hour that precedes and essentially precludes possession (though not enjoyment, which then becomes jouissance minus penetration). This last figure is the timing of desire achieved in The Princess of Clèves and ultimately muffed in Valentine.
In Valentine's chamber, Bénédict contemplates his sleeping beauty, who suddenly stirring from a euphoric, opium-induced dream and "hovering between reality and illusion . . . innocently revealed all her secrets to him" (23:195/210). Her secret is a variant of Julie's fantasy before "that inconceivable night": pursued by her husband, "with drawn sword, she threw herself on Bénédict's breast and exclaimed as she put her arms about his neck: 'Let us both die!'" Bénédict, like Saint-Preux, welcomes such a death but inserts a condition: "Be mine and let us die!" But Valentine returns to her dreams, and Bénédict struggles against his desire to make Valentine his: "He raised her thick tresses and filled his mouth with them to prevent himself from crying out; he wept with love and frenzy. At last in a moment of indescribable anguish, he bit the round, white shoulder which she uncovered before him" (23:196/211). This last has the effect of arousing Valentine: she deliriously imagines that Bénédict is her husband and welcomes him as such to her bed. The wedding night in its representation thus becomes the scene of its own subversion through the fantasized substitution of the violation for the law, the forbidden for the contractual. Bénédict (whose fantasy this also is) in response "threw himself upon her in desperation and, on the point of yielding to the violence of agonizing desires, . . . uttered nervous, heart rending cries" (23:197/212). The literal violation of the marriage bed, however, is here postponed a second time—neither the husband nor the lover—by a key turning in the lock and an opening of the door.
Returned to his senses, so to speak, Bénédict determines to leave and kill himself, but not before supplying a text of his passage in a letter to Valentine. He explains the contradiction of her position after this exceptional wedding night: on the one hand, she is still, he assures her, "pure and unprofaned": on the other, and not only by virtue of his timing, Valentine is "more entirely in his power than [she] ever will be in [her] husband's." Bénédict has taken her virginity symbolically; he has glued his lips to the "unsubstantial garment which hardly covers [her]" and thus "possessed her in his thoughts" (23:199-200/214; emphasis added). Thus in a way he has had what he wanted, but not quite. In her dreams, Valentine has only almost returned his caresses (23:199/214).7 The novel will struggle with the status of this almost—the story of Bénédict's "lack" and Valentine's submerged desire—until the plot finds the terms of its closure.8 In these romantic representations of a contradictory feminine "desire to be blindly ravished, to melt, and the desire to be spiritually adored, saved from the humiliation of dependence and sexual passivity through the agency of a protective male who will somehow make reparation to the woman he loves for her powerlessness" (Snitow, 261), Sand, we might say, is writing nineteenth-century mass-market romance.
Let us return to our earlier question, what does Sand bring to the traditional representations of the wedding night? Most simply, she insists that marriage is always irreducibly referential for women. "Woman,"9 for the feminist writer is more than a site for elaborating the signifiers of Otherness; woman's body, as I argue in the "Text's Heroine," is also a grounded space of material implications. When Sand fleshes out the elision that masks and respects the ineffability of the marriage transaction, she literalizes the phantasmagoria of penetration.10
At this point in Sand's novel, however, the rights of possession and their place in a narrative economy remain unchallenged. For Bénédict, we have just seen, believes that Valentine belongs to him; and at the same time according to the law, the husband through his possession is nonetheless entitled to the orderly transfer of property to his name.11 What thus remains subject to resolution and remains so until the quirky twists of Sand's ending is the matter of inheritance. It is in this displacement within marriage, this deferral which beyond the inscription of a nonconsummated union (a topos of feminist protest in itself) threatens the simplicities of legitimate descent—that a rewriting of the marriage plot in the novel should be located.
This emphasis in Sand's novel upon the material grounds of marriage takes the form of what we might call deictic elision: a "supplied," or supplemented ellipsis which adds emphasis to the plenitude of its own unsaid with such insistence that ellipsis turns to periphrasis.12 A more familiar example of this figure might be the remarkable wedding night scene in Daniel Deronda: Gwendolen Grandcourt's fit of "hysterical violence" on the threshold of her wifely career. Ellen Moers comments on the metaphorical power of the diamonds that have come to commemorate this liminal moment: "There is . . . nothing that could remotely be called pornographic in George Eliot's treatment of Gwendolen's deflowering by her husband . . . ; the matter is not even mentioned, directly. But indirectly, by means of the jewel case . . . Eliot conveys all that need be told about Gwendolen's hysterical, virginal frigidity; about Grandcourt's sadistic tastes; and about, in addition, mercenary marriages, wedding night customs, and sexual hypocrisy" (253) in the nineteenth-century thinking about women.
The wedding night (and its ornaments) is of course not the only locus for the woman novelist's protest against the hegemony of male desire supported by the law. I want to turn now to a topical attempt to erect an alternative to the house of marriage and its grounds in fiction: a literal space that would in its own metaphors of representation exist outside the law and outside history, Valentine's pavilion.
When the count leaves the château for his embassy appointment in Russia, Valentine becomes, we are told, the "sovereign mistress of her château of Raimbault" (26:222/240). This ostensible freedom and authority, however, are in fact restricted in several important ways, since the objects of her affection—Benedict and Valentine's sister Louise—literally are out of place in the château. Louise, the mother of an illegitimate fifteen-year-old adolescent boy named Valentin, who has been banished from the family grounds as a consequence of her female plot, refuses to enter the château as an intruder bearing her father's name—which is also to say her own. In response, Valentine takes over the pavilion in the park—originally designed to serve as a guesthouse (indeed Lansac had his room there during the engagement period)—and converts it into a space in theory subject to her authority alone.13 She brings her books and easel to the pavilion, which is thus legitimized as a "sort of study" (26:223/241). A piano soon follows. Louise brings Bénédict to the pavilion in the evenings. (Louise has been nursing Bénédict—after his suicide attempt—in his hermitage, as it is called, his "hut in the ravine," situated in the space separating the farm from the Château de Raimbault). They make music: "During the summer evenings Valentine adopted the custom of having no light, so that Bénédict might not detect the violent emotion which often took possession of her" (27:231/249). Like the princess of Clèves before her, Valentine entertains the illusion that if her desire remains invisible, if her lover remains, precisely, in the dark as to the power of her feeling, the maxims of sexual plot can be eluded indefinitely. But the music melts the lovers, and once Bénédict sees her by her tears that Valentine is "yielding to one of the most irresistible fascinations that ever woman faced" (27:232/250), the next step becomes inevitable. The danger of the relation, already in place, plays itself out in the familiar topographical codes of moral disaster inherited from eighteenth-century fiction: "Valentine felt that she was on the brink of the abyss into which her sister had fallen" (28:239/257).
At this point in the narrative, as the novel begins to move toward closure, the plot seems to find its moral and psychological center. In much the way that Julie's garden, Elysium, can be read as the emblem of virtue in The New Eloise, Valentine's pavilion becomes the novel's repository of value. As an effect of its presence, the relations among the characters are reorganized spatially in relation first to the pavilion and second to Bénédict's cottage. Symbolically, economically, and in the play of signifiers, the cottage should be opposed to the château (chaumière/château). But that polarization, like the original one opposing the farm to the château, is mediated and displaced by the pavilion. Though the pavilion claims for itself an identity which supersedes origins and social difference, because it is in fact an aristocratic space, its claims are always vulnerable to the hegemony of the château:
Valentine caused a fence to be built around that part of the park where the pavilion stood. That little reservation was very thickly planted and very dark. On its borders they planted clumps of climbing plants, ramparts of wild vine and birth-wort, and hedges of young cypresses of the sort that are trimmed like a curtain and form a barrier impenetrable to the eye. Amid all this verdure, and behind those trustworthy barriers of shade, the pavilion stood in a delightful situation, near a spring, from which a bubbling stream escaped among the rocks, maintaining an incessant cool murmur about that mysterious and dreamy retreat. . . .
Thus the pavilion was a place of rest and pleasure to all at the close of day. Valentine admitted no profane interloper to the sanctuary, and allowed no communication with the people of the château. Catherine alone was allowed to enter, to take care of the place. It was Valentine's Elysium, the world of her poetic fancy, her golden life. At the château all was ennui, slavery, depression; her invalid grandmother, unwelcome visitors, painful reflections, and her oratory with its remorse-laden atmosphere; at the pavilion, happiness, friends, pleasant reveries, fears forgotten, and the pure delights of a chaste love. It was like an enchanted island in the midst of real life, like an oasis in the desert
The repetitions that mark the end of the description—"like an enchanted island in the midst of real life, like an oasis in the desert"—underline by their metaphorics the contiguity of the two spaces. The pavilion, moreover, is totally dependent upon the financial viability of the château for its right to exist as property—an exclusive property—and this dependence is crucial to the status of the fantasy. But if like the pavilion in Lafayette's novel and the garden in Rousseau's, Valentine's pavilion is the fantasized space of an u-topic retreat within privilege, it is also, in its desire for a sublimated ideal, opposed to the license of privilege and the "law of conventionalities and prejudices" (29:249/268). This desire to figure a place that would guarantee happiness against the penetration of history, the attempt to withdraw from the sphere of the public gaze, can also be read as a variant of the topographical model Tony Tanner has described as housing the play of desire in the novel of adultery: the polarization of fictional places that maps the split occasioned by the irruption of forbidden desires.
The attempt to exclude the social in the name of the natural (or rather the natural supervised by virtue) is of course at work in the eighteenth-century intertext. And the reader of The New Eloise will not wonder long whether Sand's rewriting will also reinscribe the earlier failure to sustain what Tanner calls a "genuine outside" (23). For if in antiquity the Elysian fields derive their tranquil beauty from their intimate relation to death, this is no less true of Rousseau's self-conscious quotation. Julie explains to Saint-Preux: "In truth, my friend . . . days spent this way suggest the happiness of the next life, and it is not without reason that in thinking of it I have given the name Elysium to this place."14 The golden life at Valentine's pavilion lasts, we are told, for fifteen months: "Fifteen months of tranquility and happiness in the lives of five persons is almost supernatural. Yet so it was" (30:254/274).
The silence that surrounds these remarkable months not only points to the unsaid of a woman's pleasure that may or may not take place in the blanks; it codes the paradox of a female pastoral where women's verbs—predicates of doing—are disguised as states of being, the better to pass unnoticed. Indeed, Sand's transformation of an essentially frivolous place (in eighteenth-century France this sort of construction was called a folie) into a scene of artistic and intellectual production is the crucial piece to my reading of the pavilion as a feminist appropriation of the pastoral matrix. Thus, Valentine, who has chosen to pursue painting over music—her "natural" vocation, but one that "puts a woman too much in evidence" (6:50/52)—imagines that this talent will help her to "support herself in society" if one day her patrimony again becomes state property. Located in the pavilion of an asocial (artistic) productivity that would bring an active identity and autonomy to woman in society, this fantasy, I think, is no less the anguished alibi of the woman who would justify her passage to writing.15
Can the fable survive its insertion within the structure of the novel? Bénédict and Valentine seem to wish to remain outside literature, through they are perpetually cast into the standard plots of sexual destiny. To Bénédict, who like Saint-Preux before him claims to prefer virtue to beauty, mind to body, Valentine replies that she, like Julie, has learned through his teaching that the "non-material alliance" they have formed is "preferable to all earthly ties" (30:258/278). Can one contract a nonmaterial alliance [une alliance immatérielle?] While an "alliance" can be understood in nonmaterial terms (theologically, for example), the more common and more compelling sense of the word in this context is of course that of the social bonds relating families through marriage. And as Valentine should know but refuses to acknowledge, such an alliance, for example her own with Lansac, is nothing but material: grounded in the quantifiable, the concrete, the real.
The husband's unexpected return—he arrives to sell the very property that supports his wife's fantasy—brings Valentine abruptly up against the reality of her relation to Bénédict as well. After (blindly) signing papers that will dispossess her of all property and fortune, Valentine, on the eve of her husband's departure, determines to implore his assistance in her vain struggle to avoid the abyss she sees before her: "a sublime and romantic project," the narrator underlines, "which has tempted more than one wife at the moment of committing her first error" (33:281/305). Like the princess of Clèves before her, Valentine confesses: "There is still time to save me. Do not let me succumb to my destiny; rescue me from the seduction that environs me and presses me close. .. . I am a poor weak woman, left alone, abandoned by everybody; help me!" (34:289/312). Unlike the prince of Clèves, the count of Lansac remains unmoved by this archaic rhetoric of pathos, and he replies in the wordly language of circulation that condemned the princess within her fiction: "All this is sublime, my dear, but it is absolutely ludicrous. You are very wrong; take a friend's advice: a woman should never take her husband for her confessor; that is asking of him more virtue than is consistent with his profession" (34:291/314). With this failed repetition of heroic female plot, Sand's novel swerves away from the fierce sublimation of Lafayette's solution and moves toward a dysphoric closure.16 Unlike the princess, Valentine, seduced by the discourse of a Rousseauist erotics, will finally succumb to a sexual fate. In the face of a Bénédict literally swooning from the struggle to repress his passionate nature, "Valentine, vanquished by pity, by love, and above all, by fear, did not again tear herself from his arms" (36:307/331). Thus, some two years after her marriage, and in the thirty-sixth chapter of thirty-nine, Valentine, who had sworn she would die "rather than belong to any man" (32:277/298), loses her virginity within the very walls of Raimbault, in the room said to be her own.
The timing and the language of the "fatal moment" (36:307/331) both score and underscore the Rousseauist intertext: Valentine's fall, her capitulation to the laws of "natural" desire, repeats Julie's virginal lapse, the filial transgression which in Rousseau's novel is repaired by a proper marriage docile to paternal authority. But unlike Rousseau, Sand writes the act of adultery only fantasized under the cover the incest in Julie into her plot. She thus takes her distance from Rousseau here—and by the same token from the erotics of the Lafayette text admired by Rousseau.17 However deferred, her novel finally inscribes the rights of the body driven from its own fictions, from Elysium. But the gesture cannot rewrite its own consequences: what is the proper space for adulterous love?
No reader of nineteenth-century fiction would expect to see this union integrated legitimately within the novel. Nor is it. Valentine must leave the château, which has become the property of a usurer, and she takes refuge with the Lhéry family at the farm within whose walls the novel opened. With the evacuation of the primary signifiers of the spatial oppositions—the pavilion as the scene of chaste love outside time, the château as the incarnation of the historical confirmation of social difference—how is desire to be figured?
The husband dies, killed according to the hazards of his class, in a duel. And Bénédict renews his claim for pastoral union:
Do you not remember that one day you regretted that you were not a farmer's daughter, that you could not escape the slavery of a life of opulence, to live like a simple village maiden beneath a thatched roof? Well, now your longing is gratified. You shall be queen in the cottage in the ravine; you shall raise your own flowers, and sleep without fear or anxiety on a peasant's breast.
(38:327/353; emphasis added)
In this play with the codes of social difference—"queen in the cottage"—Bénédict seeks to will into existence through language the collapse of referential polarities that have structured the novel throughout. But the power of narrative overrides the iconography of his poetic representations.
Bénédict is killed by his old rival with the weapons of their class—by the thrust of a pitchfork—and dies on Valentine's breast. Valentine dies a week later. Bénédict's murderer dies exactly one year later, having drunkenly mistaken a river for a road. Athénaïs, the farmer's daughter to whom Bénédict originally was engaged, now widowed, through an inheritance buys the Château de Raimbault; her father exchanges his land for the remaining estates. And closure?
The final chapter of the novel—two pages that serve as an epilogue to the flurry of events—opens with the return to the Black Valley (from Paris) of Louise and her son Valentin, who has become, with the passage of time, a "man"—and a doctor. They are housed by the Lhérys in the pavilion, returned to its original function as a guesthouse. It was "a sad consolation for them," the narrator comments, "to live in the pavilion."18 What is at stake in the melancholy of this penultimate destination must be understood, I think, in its relation to the tradition into which Sand inserts herself. To the extent that one can claim that the French novel after the Princess of Clèves always looks back nostalgically to the universe figured there as one which "reconciles fantasy with reality" for the last time, one can also argue that the dominant desire of that tradition is for an aristocratic universe within which the only destabilizing difference is sexual (Rustin, 222).19 That "reality" is a homogeneous aristocracy defined by wars with a national Other—like the Homeric universe; it is a "consoling" universe. By the 1750s the model of an "aristocratic Eden" has become an ironic point of reference for novelists, the golden age irrevocably past. Rousseau, in 1761, fantasized a modern rewriting, relocating Elysium in Switzerland. But the dream cannot resist the dysphoric encroachment of bourgeois reality.20
In the case of Sand after the Revolution, closure looks back out of time. The Raimbault name returns to the property. Valentin—returning without the suffixal e of the feminine to compensate nevertheless for the feminine loss of the inheritance—through a detour becomes the heir Valentine had always and earlier wished him to be.21 And through the descendance of a second mésalliance, the second alliance of old names and new money (Valentin Raimbault and Athénaïs Blutty), a second Valentine continues in the image of the Other. In some sense the child legitimately inscribes the outlawed love of Bénédict and Valentine. She could thus be read as the sign of historical difference come to interrupt the pastoral continuity of the Black Valley. But little Valentine is not the direct issue of rebellion. She is, rather, its doubled displacement through docile reproduction. Therefore we must wonder whether the perpetuation of "the beloved name of Valentine" (39:336/363) is the mark of social transformation or the sign of circularity—Valentine/Valentin/Valentine—an empty repetition that might also be called a "defunct ideological sign, incapable of constituting an arena for the confrontation of living social inflections" (Voloshinov, 44), something like the fate of the feminist pavilion.
Sand's novel takes as the site of its closure the place marked off for death in the architecture of social life.22 And the last sentence of the novel takes up again the perspective of the traveler with which it began: "The traveler, as he passes the village cemetery, frequently sees the lovely child playing at Louise's feet, and plucking the cowslips that grow on the double grave of Valentine and Bénédict" (39:336/363). Here the traveler observes a scene empty of any local meaning, for the flowers, which by their name—primevère—signal youth and renewal, growing as they do on a tombstone, overcode the already formulaic conjunction of life and death achieved by placing a beautiful, fair-haired child in a cemetery. The novel thus marks in its closing moves the shift of emphasis away from the natural setting of pastoral "onto the child" that Empson has located in the nineteenth century (254). But if this shift, like the emergence of the graveyard within the pastoral dominion—following the familiar iconography of the memento mori—confirms in the end the staying power of the pastoral code, is there a feminist inscription to be read there as well? Is the little girl Valentine the figure of liminal difference, of a rewriting to come? Or does her presence at this site reinscribe the power of repetition?
If by not marrying the duke of Nemours, the princess of Clèves forestalls what she feels to be a certain destiny of unhappiness, she also forecloses another form of repetition. Unlike her mother—who may have been in the world of the court the only woman to have enjoyed the love of a husband and a lover without being found out, but who nonetheless like other women has a child—the princess is a final daughter.23 As such, she makes an end in her person to the continuation of female plot. Whatever his admiration for Lafayette, Rousseau after Lafayette returns to the reproduction of daughters, and "continues" his Julie through her cousin Claire's Henriette. Joan DeJean argues convincingly that "at the close of Corinne, Staël evokes Rousseau's family novel, the most important eighteenth-century forerunner of the nineteenth-century genealogical fictions that seek to confine woman to a subordinate role in the time of generations." But in Staël's evocation of the male precursor, there is also, DeJean notes, "an act of revenge on the paternal literary order" (87). Corinne's text will be continued by Juliette. In Sand's play of intertexts, we have to wonder which text she revises. It is clear that the fate of the dead heroine's living image is proposed as the figure to the answer, but it is equally clear that the answer is withheld. After unveiling the feminine past, the veil of narrative covers up the tropes of a feminine future.
It is not altogether surprising that Sand proposes no clues to the story to come, no more than Eliot, say, writes a future for Gwendolen Grandcourt on the verge of a new life at the end of Daniel Deronda. Sand writes in 1842 in preface to a new edition of her first novel Indiana that for years she had sought to resolve an "insoluble problem": "to reconcile the happiness and dignity of individuals oppressed by society without modifying the constitution of society itself (16; Sand's emphasis). The Sandian solution in the face of this radical insolubility is to stage a protest against what she describes in this same text as "the injustice and barbarity of laws governing women's existence in marriage, family and society." The protest takes the form of a not so subtle attack on what we have been calling female plot: "Marriage, society, all existing institutions, I hate you!" is Bénédict's silent cry (22:182/198). And the narrative of Valentine's wedding night in itself represents the refusal of a mythified female destiny. But is that an end to repetition? It is impossible, I think, to know whether little Valentine will in her turn become the eponymous heroine of a novel about marriage and desire that ends in a graveyard. But it is also the case that this hermeneutic impasse is largely overdetermined: Sand's antiproleptic closure is her vision for the future, or at least its metaphor.
I want now to move away from the dead end of the cemetery and back to the pavilion for the elements of a conclusion.
When the count returns to Raimbault with his creditor, he asks the man what the pavilion is worth: "Almost nothing," was the reply. "These luxuries and fancy buildings are worth nothing on a country estate. .. . In a city it's different. But when there's a field .. . around this building, or .. . a meadow, we'll say, what will it be good for? Just to tear down for the stone and lumber that are in it" (31:269/290). The disparity between the man's marketplace evaluation of the pavilion and Valentine's private one—"the secret hiding-place of pure and modest happiness" (31:270/290)—is the measure of the founding incompatibility between a new fictional female plot and the "laws governing woman's existence in marriage, family and society," to reinvoke the terms of Sand's analysis. Thus necessarily Valentine's aristocratic fantasy of a female-controlled stasis that could withstand both the telic pressure of male desire and the contiguities of the dominant narratology is written off by the laws of economic circulation and back into an older plot.
Nonetheless, the desire for another temporality—a night that never ends—and another topography in which to live it has been written. That the time of perpetual deferral and its space in the end are subsumed by the necessities of fictional closure does not erase the inscription, just as the narrator's ambiguous injunction at the end of Villette to "picture union and a happy succeeding life" does not erase our sense that Monsieur Emmanuel has drowned, nor—more to the point—that Lucy Snowe has found her voice. Although in the end Sand's fiction pulls back before the radical solution put in place by Lafayette—the refusal of male sexuality as a plot, and a patriarchal plot destined to repetition—it revises the Rousseauist fascination with the filial by placing Elysium outside the paternal sphere. Valentine is female plot in Restoration France: mired in nostalgia for what can never be again, hesitating on the threshold of what might yet be.
2 Both Le Rouge et le Noir (1830) and Eugénie Grandet (1833) depend for the economy of their fiction on a figured relation between the local history of the provinces in its intersections with a recognizable event and the story of its (local) characters. The Vallée-Noire, which is Sand's invented toponym, derives its importance here from another system of connotation: that of genre. The Berri, we are told, is picturesque. On the possible implications of Sand's topographics, see Ellen Moers's all too brief, provocative chapter on female landscape, "Metaphors: A Postlude," in Literary Women (243-64).
Unlike Indiana and Lélia, Valentine is not available in a scholarly (Garnier) edition. An 1869 edition (Paris: Lévy) and a 1976 edition (Paris: Aujourd'hui) exist: the latter is the reedition of an 1843 edition. I will be quoting from the English translation by George Burnham Ives (Chicago: Cassandra, 1978), which is a reprint of a 1902 edition. References to chapter and page are noted parenthetically; the French pagination corresponds to the 1976 edition.
3 1 allude to the circulation of daughters at the heart of the social contract as described by Claude Lévi-Strauss.
In an episode that embodies the cost of repression, Blutty, the jealous groom, provokes Bénédict, taunting him about his feelings for Valentine. The fallout of their quarrel has Blutty, in a rage, throw a glass of wine at Bénédict which misses its object and instead covers "the bride's lovely dress with indelible stains" (21:177/190). Bénédict catches the glass, however, thereby saving Athénaïs from bodily injury; but the consummation of the marriage is momentarily suspended. (At the end of the novel, Blutty corrects his aim and succeeds for the wrong reasons.)
4 1 borrow the term "chronotope" from Mikhail Bakhtin. "We will give the name chronotope (literally "time space") to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature. . . . In the literary artistic chronotope . . . time, as it were thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise space becomes charged and responsive to moments of time, plot and history. . . . The chronotope as a formally constitutive category determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature as well. The image of man is always intrinsically chronotopic" (The Dialogic Imagination, 84-85).
5 Peggy Kamuf has provided a compelling, psychoanalytic account of the Rousseau material in "Inside Julie's Closet."
I will be quoting from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse: Julie, or the New Eloise, part 1, letters 54 and 55, pp. 122-24. The corresponding French pages in the Garnier, 121-25.
6 I'm referring to Valmont's troping of "to the moment" in letter 47 and 48 of Choderlos Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses, where he writes literally on one to another: "But I must leave you for a moment to calm an excitement which mounts with every moment, and which is fast becoming more than I can control" (111). The confusion of presence and absence whereby one woman's circulating body allows the desire for the Other to be sustained will ultimately confound the libertine—but too late.
7 Tanner brings useful etymologies from Vico: "The second solemnity is the requirement that the woman be veiled in token of that sense of shame that gave rise to the first marriages in the world. This custom has been preserved by all nations; among the Latins it is reflected in the very name 'nuptials,' for nuptiae is from nubendo, which means 'to cover.' . . . The third solemnity—also preserved by the Romans—was a certain show of force in taking a wife, recalling the real violence with which the giants dragged the first wives into their caves" (59).
8 Tony Tanner identifies a similar construction in Goethe's Elective Affinities: "The kiss [between Charlotte and the Captain] is almost returned . . . In that almost lies all the felt constraints of the marriage vows, the restraining pauses that law can put on passion" (198).
9 On what did or didn't happen and the relation of Valentine's virginity to Jacques Derrida's trope of the hymen see "La Double Séance" in La Dissémination. Parts of Derrida's analysis follow: "The hymen is located between the inside and the outside of woman, consequently, between desire and fulfillment. It is neither desire nor pleasure but between the two. The hymen only takes place when it doesn't take place, when nothing really happens" (41). In the course of her analysis of the famous scene of interrupted defloration in Salammbô, Naomi Schor provocatively interrogates the Derridean discussion of the hymen (Breaking the Chain, 118-19). Although the neither/nor of the hymen allows Flaubert to play with what may or may not be known, Sand insists that we (do) know. Leslie Rabine takes Derrida's "The Double Session" as a scene in which to reconsider the relation between feminism and deconstruction in "The Unhappy Hymen Between Feminism and Deconstruction." She identifies what remains undeconstructed in Derrida's metaphorics: "the lexical network that marks the hymen not as what belongs to woman, but as what makes woman into the property of man, and that comes into play whether acknowledged or not." The hymen, she pointedly observes, is "an organ of the male imagination through which man has related to woman as to something to be owned." In this sense, we might say, Valentine's wedding night also allows us to deconstruct deconstruction through feminism.
10 This project interests women writers other than Sand. Daniel Stern (Marie d'Agoult), George Sand's contemporary, provides an unambiguously dysphoric account of a wedding night (seen from the heroine's perspective) in her novella Valentia (1847). The heroine is given bouillon which produced a drugged stupor: Then he approached me. I wanted to speak but I felt it inconceivably difficult to move my lips. My head suddenly felt very heavy; my mind became jumbled, and my eyelids drooped. In vain I tried to open them. The wall coverings seemed to leap off the walls, come toward me, envelop me. . . . My limbs grew numb. Soon after, I felt nothing at all but my heavy breath in my throat . . . and I fell into a deep sleep." The next morning the heroine observes the disorder of her hair and the pallor of her complexion and draws the "humiliating" conclusions. Leslie Rabine, who cites this passage in her interesting essay "Feminist Writers in French Romanticism," comments on the disparity between the Gothic code "which evokes supernatural and extraordinary experiences, and, on the other hand, a common, ordinary experience (of the bride on her wedding night), familiar to many readers but which is never talked about and which is extraordinary .. . as the subject of a literary passage" (499-500).
Colette supplies a brief, barely oblique description of a wedding night in Claudine en ménage (1902): Claudine bravely claims not to be afraid and insists on undressing herself; then, embarrassed by Renaud's gaze, she throws herself on the still-made bed: "He joins me there. He holds me there so tightly that I can hear his muscles trembling. Completely dressed, he embraces me, keeps me there,—Good Lord, what is he waiting for to get undressed too?—and his mouth and his hands keep me there, without his body touching me, from my quivering rebellion up to my frantic consent, up to the shameful moans of pleasure that I wanted to hold back out of pride." That night, though Renaud ultimately undresses, the bed remains made, and Renaud "asks me for nothing, except for the freedom to give me as many caresses as I need to sleep, at daybreak" (13-14).
This kind of writing becomes possible only in the twentieth century, but it should not be seen as the whole story either. There is also Colette's invocation of the room that awaits the newly married couple in "La Noce," La Maison de Claudine (1922): "the massive shutters, the door, all the exits of this stifling little tomb will be closed upon them" (70); and Isak Dinesen's story "The Blank Page" tells a tale of silence, of framed virginities.
11 In a further indictment of bourgeois marriage, in Sand's plot, once the count assures the payment of his considerable debts by taking possession of his wife's property (what she thinks of as her patrimony), the contractual enjoyment of her person becomes a matter of complete indifference. As a husband, Lansac "insists" no further; classically, he finds his pleasure elsewhere. On the other hand, when, as a result of the altercation between Bénédict and Blutty, Athénaïs wants to remain with her father, the necessity of possessing a wife's body is made clear. The father exclaims: "Ί am still at liberty to shut the door on you and to keep my daughter. The marriage is not consummated yet. Athénaïs, step behind me'. . . . And she clung with all her strength to her father's neck. Pierre Blutty, whose title as his father-in-law's heir was not assured as yet by any legal document, was struck by the force of these arguments" (21:179/192-93). The variants are a matter of class.
12 In this opposition of ellipsis to periphrasis, I am following the categories of Pierre Fontanier in Les Figures du discours. Ellipsis is a figure of understatement, periphrasis, of emphasis.
13 Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Carolyn Heilbrun has reminded me, figures a similar refuge: "The 'pigeon-house' stood behind a locked gate, and a shallow parterre that had been somewhat neglected. There was a small front porch, upon which a long window and the front door opened. The door opened directly into the parlor; there was no side entry. Back in the yard was a room for servants, in which old Celestine had been ensconced" (99).
14 Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse, 11:313. See Tanner's section on Elysium, Adultery in the Novel, 143-65. In this same letter, Saint-Preux comments on two hours he spent dreaming in Julie's garden, "two hours to which I prefer no other time in my life" (emphasis added). And he characterizes these extraordinary feelings as being due to "the enjoyment of virtue" [lajouissance de la vertu.] It is interesting to consider the intersection between this privileged moment of pleasure in Julie's virtuous space and the hour "after" we discussed above.
15 The scorn heaped upon a woman who merely wishes to think is scored by Sand when she has Lansac comment on the activities in the pavilion: "Tell me, are you in search of the philosopher's stone, or the most perfect form of government? I see that we are wasting time out in the world cudgelling our brains over the destiny of empires; it is all pondered and arranged in the pavilion in your park" (31:268/289).
Colette ends her pastoral novel Break of Day on the word oasis: a space of production that reshapes the sexual into a book, open and without limits [livre sans bornes ouvert.] What is the space of the female self who would imagine?
16 It could also be argued, of course, that while the prince is moved by his wife's plea to be saved from the telos of her desire—after all, he was the one who had encouraged her to do so—he no less leaves her to find her own (re)solution. In this sense, the "good" husband can't be distinguished from the "bad."
17 "I am not afraid to compare the Fourth Part [of Julie] with the Princesse de Clèves" (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, book 11, 505).
18 For altogether mysterious reasons, this line, "Ce fut une triste consolation pour eux que d'habiter le pavillon," which should be the second line of the second paragraph, is deleted in the English translation.
19 Sylvère Lotringer has argued the point in his article "La Structuration romanesque."
20 Jacques Rustin ends the argument of LeVice à la mode on that failure, reading in Rousseau "the instinctive refusal of the very future he outlines, the passionate denial of the great bourgeois dream that his dear Robinson had concretized in his flourishing desert island: the absurd and wonderful, naive and diabolical dream of a profitable paradise" (242).
21 To a B énédict worried—for her—that Valentine will foolishly sign away her wealth, Valentine explains the symbolic project animating her: "It is true that, for my own part, I would be content with this pavilion and a few acres of land. . . . But this property of which my sister was defrauded, this, at all events, I propose to bequeath to her son after my death: Valentin will be my heir. I propose that he shall be Comte de Raimbault some day. That is the object of my life" (32:276/297).
22 The inaugural paragraph of the narrative had already proposed, after a brief tour of the scene, "a cemetery a few rods square, enclosed by a quick-set hedge, five elms arranged in a quincunx and a ruined tower" as the exemplary social space of a bourg (1:3/2).
23 In "A Mother's Discourse," Marianne Hirsch speculates interestingly about reading the exceptional woman at the court as the mother and the effect this positioning might have had on the daughter (85-86). I continue to see the daughter's repositioning as going beyond the mother's discourse. Beth McGroarty, in the course of a seminar on the "Female Protagonist" at Barnard, helped me see the subversive power in the trope of the "final daughter."
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. Ed. Barbara H. Solomon. New York: Signet, 1976.
Colette, Sidonie Gabrielle. La Maison de Claudine. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1960.
—. Claudine en ménage. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1963.
Derrida, Jacques. La Dissémination. Paris: Seuil, 1972.
Fontanier, Pierre. Les Figures du discours. Paris: Flammarion, 1977.
Hirsch, Marianne. "A Mother's Discourse: Incorporation and Repetition in La Princesse de Cléves." Yale French Studies (1981), 62:67-87.
Kamuf, Peggy. "Inside Julie's Closet." Romanic Review (November 1978), 69(4):296-306.
Laclos, Choderlos de. Les Liaisons dangereuses. Trans. P.W.K. Stone. New York: Penguin, 1961.
Lafayette, Marie-Madeleine, comtesse de. La Princesse de Clèves. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1966. The Princesse de Clèves. Trans. Nancy Mitford. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
Moers, Ellen. Literary Women: The Great Writers. New York: Doubleday, 1976.
Rabin, Leslie. The Unhappy Hymen Between Feminism and Deconstruction." In The Other Perspective on Gender and Culture, ed. Juliet Flower MacCannell. Forthcoming.
Rustin, Jacques. Le Vice à la mode: Etude sur le roman du XVIIIe si écle de Manon Lescaut à l'apparition de la Nouvelle Héloïse (1731-1761). Paris: Ophrys, 1979.
Schor, Naomi. Breaking the Chain: Women, Theory, and French Realist Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
—"Female Fetishism: The Case of George Sand." In The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
—"Reading Double: Sand's Difference." In The Poetics of Gender, ed. Nancy K. Miller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.
Tanner, Tony. Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10854
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 Hugo called it, created a myth of the Gargantuan male writer, whose voluminous creation was synonymous with the greatness of his inspiration and the magnitude of his writing. To these Frenchmen, "ces formidables bûcherons" ("those masterful woodcutters") to use André Fermigier's words in his excellent preface to François le champi,1 we could add other nineteenth-century European writers—George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Henry James, Anthony Trollope. More than merely the consequence of what has come to be defined as the economics of serialization, their sheer productivity is above all a sign of the exuberance of their century.
Significantly, the very element that marks the greatness of Balzac, the "forçat" condemned to the hard labor of the Comédie humaine, or is equated with virility in Hugo, that "force of nature [which] has the sap of trees in his blood,"2 as Flaubert called him, has all too often been offered as a sign of failure in the case of George Sand. Her critics have repeatedly refused to see her astounding productivity as a virtue.3 Instead her voluminous output is educed to refute her genius, and to deny the seriousness of her writing. In spite of Sand's own comments regarding her staggering capacity for literary work, comments that have largely been ignored, clichés concerning her oeuvre still tend to equate her facility of style with artlessness. The same metaphor of the literary "forçat" applied to Balzac and others can also be found in Sand's writings, as Francine Mallet notes, citing the following images: "un âne," "un pauvre âne," "une bête," "un nègre," "un vieux nègre," "un boeuf du Berry," "un manoeuvre," "un esclave," "un galérien," "un cheval de pressoir" ("a donkey," "a poor donkey," "a beast of burden," "a Negro," "an old Negro," "an ox from the Berry," "a laborer," "a slave," "a galley slave," "a workhorse").4 In sharp contrast to the resolutely masculine references with which Sand alludes to her craft, critics have preferred to substitute derogatory feminine images of creativity. Noble potency in Balzac or in Hugo is transmuted as bovine fecundity in Sand. The virile ox is metamorphosed into a common cow. Sand as the milking cow of literature certainly constitutes a negative version of the Gargantuan myth of the writer. Nietzsche called her "that terrible writing cow," Jules Renard "the milk cow of literature" ("la vache bretonne de la littérature").5 Sand's literary production is identified with lactic fluids; her creative mind reduced to a milk-producing organ. If both male myth and female antimyth highlight the phenomenon of writing facility, the former sees in it a true sign of inspiration, divine or at the very least cerebral; the latter associates it with an uncontrollable and slightly repulsive natural body function.
Théophile Gautier expanded on the idea of lack of control in the very process of Sand's writing. He saw her as a kind of monster whose presence unwittingly generated alarming mounds of paper: "She cannot sit down in a room without there popping up quill pens, blue ink, cigarette paper, Turkish tobacco, and lined writing paper."6 Yet the comic vignette conjured up by Gautier does not do justice to Sand's attested dedication to her craft, a dedication voiced with particular intensity throughout the correspondence. As early as 1831, in a letter to Jules Boucoiran, she describes writing as a "violent and almost indestructible" vocation: "my existence is from now on filled with purpose. I have a goal, a task . . . a passion" (Corr., 1:817-818). In 1846 she complains to Pauline Viardot of being "clouée à mon encrier de 7 heures du matin à 5 heures du soir" ("chained to my inkwell from 7 A.M. till 5 P.M."; 3 June 1846; Corr., 7:369). In 1851 she repeats "I am working, I am working day and night" (Corr., 10:381). And the hours pay off: ten chapters of Consuelo in eleven days, La Mare au diable finished in four nights;7 the mammoth Histoire de ma vie composed in record time. In the memoirs we find the same refrain: "For several years, I allowed myself only four hours of sleep. .. . I fought against atrocious migraines to the point of fainting over my work" (HV, 2:406). But the critical discourse has paid little attention to statements such as these, preferring to describe her writing as an irrepressible, almost physical need. The young Flaubert represents this school of thought in an obscene comment he made to Louise Colet. This was years before he met and came to admire Sand in 1866. Not only did he suggest that Colet could reach the height of her talent only by shedding her gender, but he used Sand as a countermodel: "her writing oozes, and the idea seeps out between the words as from between flabby thighs"8 (16 Nov. 1852). In our time, the malicious Guillemin has also gone beyond the boundaries of decency when he discusses Sand's style:
George Sand's style crushes me. .. . I experience a physical repugnance before this outpouring . . . waves and waves of dirty water pushing along . . . handfuls of big words; the whole reminding me much less of the gushing of a mountain torrent than the unstoppable overflow of a septic tank.9
Baudelaire's misogynist evaluation of Sand's style emphasizes what he calls her "style coulant" ("flowing style") which is "dear to the bourgeois." Interestingly, the liquid metaphor is counterbalanced by another, since in his opinion only holy water can exorcize the unholy flow of "that woman Sand":
. . . she is stupid, clumsy, she babbles; she has the same profundity in her opinions on moral issues and the same delicacy of feeling as a concierge or a courtisan. . . . She is above all . . . a stupid goose. .. . I cannot think of this stupid creature without a shiver of horror. If I were to meet her, I would not be able to stop myself from emptying a font of holy water on her head.10
The derogatory myth of Sand's writing, then, incorporates three major points of attack. The first is its very liquidity, metonymized by milk or murky water. The second is the dubious nature of this liquid, seen as the very antithesis of pure spring water, that standard image for a divinely inspired prose or poetry. The third is the uncontrollable nature of the writing which emerges without shape or style.
No doubt Sand herself contributed to her own myth. She seemed to enjoy the pretense of dashing things off and made it a point to appear as if she did not take her writing occupation very seriously. Was this modesty or a certain understated elegance? In a letter to Charles Duvernet, for instance, she explained that she really wrote for the money it provided: "For me . . . the writer's trade is an income of three thousand pounds" (Corr., 2:88). She seemed amused by the idea that her writing was just another domestic task: "Ce ne sont pas . . . les travaux de l'esprit qui me fatiguent," she writes to her friend Emile Regnault on 13 August 1832. "J'y suis tellement habituée à présent que j'écris avec autant de facilité que je ferais un ourlet" (Corr., 2:135-136; "It is not the . . . mental exertion that tires me out. I am so used to it now that I write as easily as I would sew a hem"). Rather than taking her statements at face value, I detect an underhanded form of bravado in them, which is remarkable in such a young writer (after all, she had only just finished Indiana when she wrote this). Her remark highlights her painless entrance into the literary cénacle and reinforces our sense that, already as a young novice, she had mastered her craft and internalized its exigencies so that the discipline of composing for hours on end had become second nature.
This attitude of apparent frivolity toward her work only intensified with the passing of time. During the composition of Histoire de ma vie, Sand continued to further her own myth by insisting that she ascribed so little weight to her own literary output that she actually forgot what she had written:
cet oubli où mon cerveau enterre immédiatement les produits de mon travail n'a fait que croître et embellir. Si je n'avais pas mes ouvrages sur un rayon, j'oublierais jusqu'à leur titre. .. . On peut me lire un demi-volume de certains romans que je n'ai pas eu à revoir en épreuves depuis quelques semaines sans que .. . je devine qu'ils sont de moi.
(Histoire de ma vie, in Oeuvres autobiographiques, ed. Lubin, 2:168)
(This forgetting where my brain immediately buries what it has produced has only intensified with time. If I did not have my works on a shelf, I would forget even their titles. . . . You can read me half a volume of some novels I have not had to revise in proof for several weeks . . . without my realizing that they are by me.)
As late as 1867, in a letter to Flaubert, she insisted: "Consuelo, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, qu'est-ce que c'est que ça? Est-ce que c'est de moi? Je ne m'en rappelle pas un traître mot" "Consuelo, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, what is that? Is it by me? I do not remember one blessed word of it").11 She also maintained that she never revised: "Excepté un ou deux [livres] je n'ai jamais pu rien y refaire" ("Except for one or two [books], I have never been able to rewrite anything"; HV, 2:168). That Sand deliberately misrepresents her case is made clear in Georges Lubin's lucid commentary to Histoire de ma vie where he notes that many of Sand's novels were written twice, sometimes in radically different versions (Indiana, Leone Leoni, Mauprat, and Spiridion) and that at times she totally reworked her text (Lettres d'un voyageur and, as we know, Lélia are striking examples).12
Why, we may wonder, did Sand enjoy misrepresenting and damaging her case? A possible answer lies in a letter she wrote to the critic Fortoul in 1835, just after he had published a laudatory article about Lélia in Le Droit:
les chemins des vallées et les fleurs des montagnes ont plus d'attrait que toute la littérature du monde, et il faut avoir divorcé avec la nature pour se vouer exclusivement à la muse. .. . Il y a, sur cette terre, mille choses qui valent mieux, la maternité, l'amour, l'amitié, le beau temps, les chats et mille autres choses encore.
(late Dec. 1836; Correspondance, ed. G. Lubin, 3:196)
(the paths of the valleys and the wild flowers of the mountains are more appealing than all the literature in the world, and one has to be divorced from nature in order to devote oneself exclusively to the muse. . . . There are on this earth, so many more worthy things: motherhood, love, friendship, fine weather, cats, and a thousand other things.)
Sand seems to be articulating her firm sense of priorities here. Unlike Flaubert, she was never willing to remove herself from life so as to devote all of her energies to art. Sand, for her part, claimed never to have "buried" herself in literature.13 In opposition to Flaubert, whom she describes as "confiné dans la solitude en artiste enragé, dédaigneux de tous les plaisirs de ce monde" ("confined in the solitude of a frenzied artist, disdainful of all the pleasures of this world"),14 she insisted on maintaining an equilibrium between the delights of the world and the exigencies of her art (which she spelled with a small a, in opposition to Flaubert's capitalization). When she compared her art to the sewing of a hem, she was not so much reducing the artistic to the domestic as attempting to incorporate it into a vital and rich system in which the values of life were praised, its exuberant flow accepted generously and enjoyed. Not only had she integrated life and art in her massive ten-volume Histoire de ma vie, she could not absent herself from her milieu. In the 1851 preface to her complete works, for example, she firmly stated: "Quel est donc l'artiste qui peut s'abstraire des choses divines et humaines, se passer du reflet des croyances de son époque, et vivre étranger au milieu où il respire?" ("What kind of artist can distance him- or herself from divine and human affairs, pay no heed to the aura of beliefs which the period has articulated, and live estranged from the milieu in which he or she lives?")15 This affirmation of integrating one's writing career into a harmonious whole is a reiterated Sandian principle.
In addition, there is much material in Sand's works themselves to disclaim her own statements. A set of coherent and deeply thought-out reflections on her art can be extracted from a number of texts. Through a careful study of documents relating to the formulation of an ars poetica, the reader becomes firmly convinced that Sand articulated the guidelines for a genuine "prosaics" of the novel. It was not always in agreement with the fashion of the time, and often at a significant remove from what today we so narrowly call nineteenth-century Realism. It corresponded instead to a personal cri du coeur and posited the author's responsibility to both the reader and the social order. Sand displayed a fundamentally dialogic attitude vis-à-vis her sphere of readers. Her considerable attention to her lecteur or lectrice is a sign of her propensity to see in the act of writing a turning outward. Very little of her output was wittingly destined for the drawer. And so the ideal reader occupies a prominent place in her fictional universe—witness the numerous cases of direct address in the novels ("madame la lectrice," Consuelo; "messieurs," Lettres d'un voyageur; "lecteur bénévole," Indiana, orig. ed.; "vous," Horace) and outside the novelistic frame itself (the large number of prefaces).
Furthermore, the evidence of genuine reflection on art in Sand's works is extensive and compelling. Over thirty prefaces to her novels; numerous reflections on her craft in her autobiographical works, both Histoire de ma vie and Lettres d'un voyageur; numerous critical articles about her fellow-writers; a rich correspondence with many of her literary contemporaries in which she does not shy away from discussions of literature and its aims, as the letters to Latouche, Balzac, Fromentin, and Hugo, for example, attest.16 Her correspondence with Flaubert especially gives the reader a privileged entrance into the novelist's "creative laboratory." Sand took literature seriously but she never used it as a pretext to take herself seriously. As a result, there is never the slightest hint of pomposity or self-satisfaction in any of her literary discussions.
La Mare au diable
One of the fundamental principles of Sand's poetics, already discussed in Chapter 2, is the principle of a spatial imagination, representative of what Albert Sonnenfeld has called "a vision-crazed nineteenth century." The "Notice"17 and the first two chapters of La mare au diable perhaps constitute the clearest synopsis of Sand's ars poetica in miniature. This text, written in four nights at the end of September 1845, was first published two months later in Leroux's Revue sociale. The simple and slender story, for all its delicate charm, takes on full meaning only when considered in relation to the critical and scholarly metatexts surrounding the core plot. The beginning pages are made up of a "Notice," a first chapter entitled "L'Auteur au lecteur" ("From the Author to the Reader"), and a second chapter "Le Labour" ("Plowing"). The end of the story is rounded out by a four-chapter appendix entitled "Les Noces de campagne" ("A Country Wedding"). The beginning betrays an aesthetic preoccupation just as the ending demonstrates Sand's ethnographic or sociological concerns. Both metatexts, which are situated in the margins of the actual plot, employ similar novelistic devices. The characters remain anonymous for the most part. Chapter 2 describes an "old laborer," "a young man," "a child six or seven years old," who in the actual story will come to be identified as Père Maurice, Germain, and Petit Pierre. The participants in the peasant wedding (of Germain and Marie), described in the appendix, tend to be defined by their function rather than by their name. The dialogue between the two anonymous peasant-poets—the "fossoyeur" (the gravedigger) and the "chanvreur" (the hemp-dresser)—is characteristic in this respect. Furthermore, both metatexts are situated outside history, as well as outside the narrative. Time is portrayed as primitive and cyclical, marked only by the passing of seasons and annual festivities. The laborer's circular vision of time constitutes an agricultural chronotope, where the passage of time is divided up by natural cycles and by the modest festivities of a peasant society—weddings, baptisms, funerals, and religious holidays. Significantly, the beginning of La Mare au diable deploys a specific moment in the agricultural cycle, the plowing of the fields in readiness for planting, while the appendix lingers on the festivities surrounding the wedding feast. Thus a locus—the pastoral landscape—and a class—the peasantry—are privileged. Both figure as exceptions in the predominantly urban and middle-class novel of the nineteenth century. Although in the "Notice" Sand denies any attempt on her part to depict a new subject matter or to propose a new novelistic chronotope—"Je n'ai voulu ni faire une nouvelle langue, ni me chercher une nouvelle maniè e" (La Mare, 27; "I never wanted either to fashion a new language, or to forge for myself a new style")—this is precisely what she does.
Lazarus's Dung Heap
Leaving the appendix to the sociologists, I want to concentrate on the critical texts of the beginning. The epigraph, a quatrain in old French, is the somber commentary to a woodcut by Holbein the younger from the series entitled Les Simulachres de la mort (The Dance of Death). The woodcut of "Le Laboureur," which Sand describes in detail in the incipit, constitutes plate 38 in Holbein's series:
La gravure représente un laboureur conduisant sa charrue au milieu d'un champ. Une vaste campagne s'étend au loin, on y voit de pauvres cabanes; le soleil se couche derrière la colline. C'est la fin d'une rude journée de travail. Le paysan est vieux, trapu, couvert de haillons. L'attelage de quatre chevaux qu'il pousse en avant est maigre, exténué; le soc s'enfonce dans un fonds raboteux et rebelle. Un seul être est allègre et ingambe dans cette scène de sueur et usaige. C'est un personnage fantastique, un squelette armé d'un fouet, qui court dans le sillon à côté des chevaux effrayés et les frappe, servant ainsi de valet de charrue au vieux laboureur. C'est la mort . . .
(La Mare, 29-30)
(The engraving represents a laborer steering his plow in the middle of a field. A vast countryside stretches out in the distance, dotted by modest cottages; the sun is setting behind the hill. It is the end of a hard day's work. The peasant is old, thick-set, dressed in tatters. The team of four horses he drives in front of him is thin, wornout. The plowshare catches the coarse and obdurate ground. One single being is lightfooted and carefree in this scene of sweat and toil. He is a spectral character, a skeleton armed with a whip, who is running in the furrow next to the frightened horses and whipping them, thereby playing the plowboy to the old plowman. He is death . . . )
She continues to ponder on Holbein's woodcuts, remarking that the figure of death is absent18 only in the one illustrating the parable from Luke about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. This woodcut (no. 47) shows him, as she puts it, lying "on a dung heap" at the rich man's door.19 Although this is a standard iconographic representation of Lazarus (as it is of Job), this image of the dung heap becomes under Sand's pen a metaphor for a certain kind of contemporary writing, the first element in what will constitute for her an opposition of two different kinds of fictional representation. The series of woodcuts taken together, Sand tells us, constitutes "the painful satire, the true painting of the society that Holbein had before his eyes" (La Mare, 30-31). With this pivotal remark Sand turns to concentrate on the present epoch and its representational repertoire: "Mais nous, artistes d'un autre siècle, que peindrons-nous? Chercherons-nous dans la pensée de la mort la rémunération de l'humanité présente?" (La Mare, 31; "But we, artists of another century, what will we paint? Will we look for the recompense of contemporary humanity in the meditation of death?") Holbein's woodcut, with its dystopian vision of the world, is used here as an exemplification of certain modern tendencies in art. Some of her contemporaries continue to depict reality through the prism of gloom and decay, and she finds their vision to be wanting: "Certains artistes de notre temps, jetant un regard sérieux sur ce qui les entoure, s'attachent à peindre la douleur, l'abjection de la misère, le fumier de Lazare" (emphasis added; La Mare, 31; "Certain artists of our time, taking a serious look at what surrounds them, dedicate themselves to painting the pain, the wretchedness of poverty, the dung heap of Lazarus").
To counteract this literature of gloom, she proposes a "utopian" vision of literature which denounces the perverse enjoyment of those writers who linger on the misery of Lazarus (Eugène Sue is Sand's main unnamed target). The laborer must no longer be seen through Holbein's eyes as eeking out an existence on the brink of starvation and despair, but must be depicted as an optimistic and productive contributor to the social good. I use the term Utopian in the Baudelairian sense of the absolute power of poetry to put the world on its head. In L 'Art romantique, he had praised the power of literature to "contradict the fact":
The destiny of poetry is a great one! Joyous or painful, it always bears within it the divine utopian character. It endlessly contradicts fact. .. . In the prison cell, it becomes a revolt; at the hospital window, it is the ardent hope of cure; in the broken-down and dirty attic room, it decks itself out, like a fairy, with luxury and elegance; not only does it take notice, it repairs. Everywhere it makes itself the negation of iniquity.20
In keeping with Baudelaire's call for literature to transform claustration into liberation and illness into health, Sand proclaims the necessity for Lazarus to get off his dung heap. The will to life must overcome the death instinct so often expressed in modern literature:
nous n'avons plus affaire à la mort, mais à la vie. .. . Il faut que Lazare quitte son fumier, afin que le pauvre ne se réjouisse plus de la mort du riche. Il faut que tous soient heureux, afin que le bonheur de quelques-uns ne soit pas criminel et maudit de Dieu. Il faut que le laboureur, en semant son blé, sache qu'il travaille à l'oeuvre de vie, et non qu'il se réjouisse de ce que la mort marche à ses côtés.
(La Mare, 31)
(we are no longer dealing with death but with life. . . . Lazarus must leave his dung heap, so that the poor man no longer rejoices in the rich man's death. Everyone must be happy, so that the happiness of some is not criminal and accursed by God. The plowman must know, when sowing his wheat, that he is contributing to the work of life, and not rejoice that death is walking at his side.)
Counteracting the realists' tendency to insist on the ugly, repugnant, filthy aspects of life, Sand proposes the eudaemonistic mission of art, and its duty to construct the Utopian possibilities of the future. Here, unlike Baudelaire, Sand is not merely content to identify the utopian powers of literature which separate it from real life, she wants literature's direct impact on the quotidian, its aid in bringing about the metamorphosis of society. As her vision parts ways with Baudelairian art for art's sake, Sand pronounces her now famous literary credo:
Nous croyons que la mission de l'art est une mission de sentiment et d'amour, que le roman d'aujourd'hui devrait remplacer la parabole et l'apologue des temps naïfs, et que l'artiste a une tâche plus large et plus poétique que celle de proposer quelques mesures de prudence et de conciliation pour atténuer l'effroi qu'inspirent ses peintures. Son but devrait être de faire aimer les objets de sa sollicitude, et au besoin, je ne lui ferais pas un reproche de les embellir un peu.
(La Mare, 33)
(We believe that the mission of art is one of feeling and of love, that the novel of today should replace the parable and the fable of a more primitive time, and that artists have a broader and more poetic task than that of proposing prudent and conciliatory measures to attenuate the fright that their paintings elicit. Their goal should be to inspire love for the objects of their concern, and if pressed, I would not reproach the artists for embellishing them a little.)
The allowance for embellishment, just like the allowance for simplifying, is not purely in the service of making art more attractive or more accessible. Both are deliberate stratagems in the author's determination to give a meaning to literary representations beyond the narrowly aesthetic, above the purely entertaining. Literature for Sand is not only for the consumption of other poets; it must also inspire generalized audiences to visualize better worlds, to conjure up the Utopian parameters of future societies. It is in this light that her famous line—"l'art n'est pas une étude de la réalité positive; c'est une recherche de la vérité idéale" (La Mare, 33; "art is not a study of positive reality; it is a search for the ideal truth")—must be understood. For Sand art is not pure escape or reversal of reality, as it is in Baudelaire's quote, nor is it the systematic search for the most despicable aspects of life as it is for certain contemporary novelists. It is the quest for a language that can elevate its readers temporarily and inspire them, as they return to their daily round, to put the vision into action.
The Fertile Furrow
Having stated her position, Sand sets out to illustrate her point in the following chapter. "Le Labour" represents a putting into action of her theory of literature's quest for "ideal truth." The narrator is transformed from a theoretician to a promeneur. The masculine "I" has just put the Holbein woodcut aside and is now strolling in the fields, meditating on the implications of the German artist's message. Putting in opposition what Sand calls "the man of leisure," who has both the education and the free time to write but lacks the poetic inclination, and "the man of the fields," who has neither the time nor the ability to write, in spite of the poetic atmosphere surrounding him, the narrator remarks:
le plus heureux des hommes serait celui qui, possédant la science de son labeur, et travaillant de ses mains, puisant le bien-être et la liberté dans l'exercice de sa force intelligente, aurait le temps de vivre par le coeur et par le cerveau, de comprendre son oeuvre et d'aimer celle de Dieu.
(La Mare, 36)
(He would be the happiest of men who, possessing the knowledge of his labor, and working with his hands, deriving well-being and freedom from the exertion of his intelligent strength, would have the time to live according to his heart and his head, to understand his work and to love the work of God.)
Sand's dream here is to establish a harmony between manual labor and poetic toil, between the laborer's privileged knowledge of life and the artist's deep understanding. In this Utopian view of the writer, such a "holy harmony" would ensure the substitution of life for death: "au lieu de la piteuse et affreuse mort, marchant dans son sillon, le peintre d'allégories pourrait placer à ses côtés un ange radieux, semant à pleines mains le blé béni sur le sillon fumant" (La Mare, 36-37; "instead of pitiful and horrible death, walking in his furrow, the allegorical painter could place at the laborer's side a radiant angel, sowing with both hands the blessed wheat onto the steaming furrow").
Sand is about to become this painter of allegories. The sinister furrow of Holbein's woodcut, with its rocky and steriled bed, is about to be replaced with a "sillon fumant" which is the metonymic representation of the new writing preconized by the author. Setting up against Holbein's "desolation making"21 the principle of "ideal truth," she proceeds to create a landscape, a pastoral vision which, by its epiphanic quality, is equivalent to a natural tableau. The narrator constructs a Utopian antithesis to the woodcut that quite literally deconstructs the Holbein image in the reader's mind. Her visual counterpoint has poetic ramifications and a central meaning. Moving from the Holbein woodcut to her own privileged landscape, she attempts to paint a master image that will mask the other. Acting like a palimpsest, her own text superimposes itself, thus rubbing out all traces of the woodcut. The panorama, she reminds us, is as vast as Holbein's; the season is the same. But whereas bleakness dominated the woodcut, here a synthetic sense of well-being permeates the text: "La journée était claire et tiède, et la terre, fraîchement ouverte par le tranchant des charrues, exhalait une vapeur lé ère" ("The day was clear and warm, and the earth freshly opened by the passage of the plows, exhaled wisps of steam"). Holbein's peasant is replaced by a more prosperous and noble figure:
Dans le haut du champ un vieillard, dont le dos large et la figure sévère rappelaient celui d'Holbein, mais dont les vêtements n'annoncaient pas la misère, poussait gravement son areau de forme antique, traîné par deux boeufs tranquilles, á la robe jaune pâle, véritables patriarches de la prairie.
(emphasis added; La Mare 38)
(On the high ground, an old man, whose broad back and severe face recalled that of Holbein, but whose clothes did not suggest wretchedness, solemnly pushed along his old-fashioned plow, drawn by two quiet yellow-coated oxen, true patriarchs of the prairie.)
Not content to simply replace Holbein's dismal peasant with a more prosperous-looking laborer, Sand turns her attention to the old man's son, who now draws four oxen. And in a movement of apotheosis, she dwells at length on yet another and even younger laborer, whose team is now made up of eight oxen. The amplification from two to eight animals is significant and emphasizes the seme of fertility and épanouissement which Sand is purposefully constructing:
Mais ce qui attira ensuite mon attention était véritablement un beau spectacle, un noble sujet pour un peintre. A l'autre extrémité de la plaine labourable, un jeune homme du bonne mine conduisait un attelage magnifique: quatre paires de jeunes animaux à robe sombre mêlée de noir fauve à reflets de feu, avec ces têtes courtes et frisées qui sentent encore le taureau sauvage.
(La Mare, 39)
(But what then drew my attention was a truly beautiful sight, a noble subject for a painter. At the other end of the field, a robust young man was driving a magnificent team: four pairs of young oxen with dark coats of tawny black mottled with glints of fire, their short and curly haired heads recalling wild bulls.)
To deconstruct the hideous allegory of death of Holbein's text, Sand introduces an angelic child, "his shoulders covered . . . with a sheepskin," who is reminiscent of the "little Saint John the Baptist of Renaissance painters" (39-40). The small boy who walks alongside the bulls, encouraging them on with a long pole, thus represents one artistic figuration taking over for another. Finally, the young father's song replaces the sinister quatrain that commented on the Holbein scene.
Thus, the series of substitutions is complete: "Il se trouvait donc que j'avais sous les yeux un tableau qui contrastait avec celui d'Holbein, quoique ce fut une scène pareille" (42; "And so it happened that I had before my eyes a painting that contrasted with Holbein's, although it was the same scene"). The miserable peasant has been replaced by a young man in the bloom of health; the exhausted and ragged horses are exchanged for eight robust oxen; a cherubic boy takes the place of Death; the picture of despair and destruction is canceled out in favor of a vision of energy and prosperity. Sand has drawn a symbolic landscape in which she rejects naturalistic realism and creates a viable poetic vision. True to her own credo, in the tableau that she has depicted, life replaces death, beauty and happiness displace the macabre desperation of the woodcut.
In a final paragraph, Sand proposes a countermetaphor to that of the realists, in order to displace or banish permanently "Lazarus's dung heap." Wishing to mark the transition between her theoretical prologue and the story she wants to tell, she comments that Germain's tale was "une histoire aussi simple, aussi droite et aussi peu ornée que le sillon qu'il traçait avec sa charrue" (44; "a story as simple, straightforward, and plain as the furrow he was marking with his plow"). The word "furrow" takes on metaphoric resonance as it gradually becomes synonymous with the word "story." The linguistic slide from sillon meaning furrow to sillon meaning story is marked by the repetition of the word:
L'année prochaine, ce sillon sera comblé et couvert par un sillon nouveau. Ainsi s'imprime et disparaît la trace de la plupart des hommes dans le champ de l'humanité. Un peu de terre l'efface, et les sillons que nous avons creusés se succèdent les uns aux autres comme les tombes dans le cimetière. Le sillon du laboureur ne vaut-il pas celui de l'oisif. .. . Eh bien! arrachons, s'il se peut, au néant de l'oubli, le sillon de Germain, le fin laboureur.
(emphasis added; La Mare, 44-45)
(Next year, this furrow will be filled in and covered by a new furrow. Similarly, the traces of most men in the fields of mankind are laid down and then disappear. A little earth will cover it, and the furrows that we have dug succeed one another like tombs in a cemetery. Is not the plowman's furrow worth that of a man of leisure? . . . Well then! let us pull up, if possible, from the nothingness of oblivion, the furrow of Germain, the skillful plowman.)
Using an agricultural code for the act of writing, the "furrow" becomes the product of Sand's prosaics. "The furrow of Germain" refers to the story about to be related to us by Sand. The furrow, metonymically associated with fecundity, thus replaces the dung heap of putrid hopelessness and sterility. Germain, as the peasant hero of the tale, is the new Lazarus who has risen from his dung heap. By associating plowing with writing, and the furrow that results from the laborer's work with the story issuing from the writer's pen, Sand also reconciles the link between the laborer and the poet. Her Utopian desire that expresses the hope for a peasant-artist ("A day will come when a plowman can also be an artist," La Mare, 37) is not entirely realized. But the artist, by becoming a kind of laborer, a plower of words, temporarily at least, bridges the gap between "the man of leisure" and "the man of labor."
Elsewhere Sand proclaimed the right of authors to contemplate the world and to write about what they saw: "Qu'il soit donc permis à chacun et à tous de voir avec les yeux qu'ils ont" ("May each one and all therefore be allowed to see with the eyes they have").22 That Flaubert could have accused her of looking at the world "à travers une couleur d'or" ("through a golden haze") demonstrates that he had not sufficiently understood her propensity not so much for embellishing what she saw, but for choosing to dwell on and describe the privileged visions she considered to be of inspirational value for her readers.23
Creating a New Pastoral Language
The pastoral novel is a fertile vein in Sand's oeuvre, making its early entrance into her fictional world with her second novel. If Valentine as a precursor pastoral novel, witnessed the uneasy cohabitation of the nobility with the peasantry, the roman champêtre developed into a veritable roman paysan, in which the peasant class came to occupy entirely and dominate the fictional stage. Sand then concentrated her efforts on the elaboration of a new hero and the articulation of a new language.
We can follow this evolution in Sand's prefaces to her pastoral novels. The margins of these deceptively simple stories have a significant bearing on her vision of literature. In the "Notice" to Le Compagnon du tour de France she clarified once and for all her literary position by contrasting it, albeit somewhat schematically, to Balzac's:
Depuis quand le roman est-il forcément la peinture de ce qui est, la dure et froide réalité des hommes et des choses contemporaines? Il en peut être ainsi, je le sais, et Balzac, un maître devant lequel je me suis toujours incliné, a fait la Comédie humaine. Mais, tout en étant lié d'amitié avec cet homme illustre, je voyais les choses humaines sous un tout autre aspect, et je me souviens de lui avoir dit . . .—Vous faites la Comédie humaine. Ce titre est modeste; vous pourriez aussi bien dire le drame, la tragédie humaine.—Oui, me répondit-il, et vous, vous faites l'épopée humaine.—Cette fois, repris-je, le titre serait trop relevé. Mais je voudrais faire l'églogue humaine, le poëme, le roman humain. En somme, vous voulez et savez peindre l'homme tel qu'il est sous vos yeux .. . ! Moi, je me sens porté à le peindre tel que je souhaite qu'il soit . . . 24
(Since when is the novel necessarily a depiction of what is, the cold and hard reality of contemporary people and things? It may be this, I know; after all Balzac, a master whom I have always greatly esteemed, produced the Human Comedy. But even while I had a friendship with this famous man, I saw human concerns from a completely different angle, and I remember telling him . . . —You are writing the Human Comedy. Your title is overly modest; you could equally well say the drama, the human tragedy.—Yes, he replied, and you are writing the human epic.—That title, I said, would be too grand. But I would like to write the human eclogue, the human poem, the human novel. In sum, you want to and know how to paint man as you see him before you .. . I feel impelled to paint him as I wish he were . . . )
Thus two antithetical visions are expressed, the idealist and the realist, representing two poles of the nineteenth-century French novel. Sand's idealizing portrayal of characters as she wishes they were, as opposed to Balzac's way of depicting his heroes as they really are, conjures up the traditional antithesis drawn between Racine and Corneille (and subsequently taught to generations of French school children). In opposition to Racine's depiction of human passion and failings, Corneille had constructed a heroic and moral universe in which the character's choice always elevated him or her above baser instincts. If the two novelists repeated the great opposition articulated by the two classical tragedians, then Balzac explored Racine's way, while Sand went the way of Corneille.
It was precisely the pastoral mode that allowed Sand to travel the road of idealization. Sensing her predilection for what she called "bergeries," that is to say, romances in the style of Daphnis and Chloë, she identified in them the yearning for the Ideal:
J'ai vu et j'ai senti par moi-même . . . que la vie primitive était le rêve, l'idéal de tous les hommes et de tous les temps. Depuis les bergers de Longus jusqu'à ceux de Trianon, la vie pastorale est un Eden parfumé où les âmes tourmentées et lassées du tumulte du monde ont essayé de se réfugier. L'art, ce grand flatteur, ce chercheur complaisant de consolations .. . a traversé une suite ininterrompue de bergeries. Et sous ce titre: Histoire des bergeries, j'ai souvent désiré faire un livre .. . où j'aurais passé en revue tous ces différents rêves champêtres.
("Avant-Propos," Francois le Champi, 48)
(I have seen and I have myself experienced that the primitive life was the dream, the ideal of all men and of all times. From the shepherds of Longus to those of Trianon, the pastoral life is a perfumed Eden where souls tormented and wearied by the world's tumult have tried to find refuge. Art, that great flatterer, that obliging seeker of consolation . . . has passed through an uninterrupted series of pastorals. And under the title Histoire des bergeries I have often wished to write a book . . . wherein I would review all these different pastoral dreams in turn.)
While she never accomplished this desire to make a catalogue of shepherd's tales, she did explore the pastoral dream in several of her novels. In Jeanne, for instance, where the visual inspiration for the main character seems to have stepped out of a Holbein painting of the Virgin, Sand's emphasis lies precisely in the exploration of pastoral simplicity in a modern setting, with the resulting clash collapsing into tragedy. "Cette femme primitive, cette vierge de l'âge d'or, où la trouver dans la société moderne?" ("This primitive woman, this virgin of the golden age, where is she to be found in modern society?") the narrator asks in the preface. While this model is finally found in a peasant woman of the Berry region, Sand experiences a linguistic discomfort, a kind of gap between the narrative's modern idiom, which is at once literary, urban, and bourgeois, and the world she is trying to depict. Although she wanted to make her reader "forget the modern world and the present life," she senses that her language creates a barrier between form and content: "Mon propre style, ma phrase me gênait .. . il me semblait que je barbouillais d'huile .. . les peintures sèches . . . naïves et plates des maîtres primitifs . . . que je profanais le nu antique avec des draperies modernes" (Jeanne, 29; "My own style, my phrasing bothered me .. . it semed to me that I was dabbing with oils .. . the matte, naive, and flat paintings of the primitive masters . . . that I was profaning the nude of antiquity with modern clothing"). She felt her linguistic repertoire inadequate to the subject she was trying to depict. She likened herself to a primitive painter using the wrong kind of paint; the medium did not suit the message.
The problem of increasing concern to her is language. Several years later, in the preface to François le champi, the narrator and François Rollinat are depicted strolling through the countryside, discussing the problem of peasant representation in the nineteenth-century novel. Rollinat asks the writer to identify the missing link between his own overly active intelligence and the peasant's quiescent mind: "quel est le rapport possible . . . entre deux états opposés de l'existence des choses et des êtres, entre le palais et la chaumière, entre l'artiste et la création, entre le poète et le laboureur . . . entre la langue que parlent cette nature, cette vie primitive . . . et [la langue] que parlent l'art, la science, la connaissance, en un mot" ("what is the possible relationship . . . between two opposite states of things and of living beings, between the palace and the cottage, between the artist and the creation, between the poet and the plowman . . . between the language of nature, of this primitive life .. . and that spoken by art, science, knowledge, in short"). The opposition already articulated in La Mare au diable between the laborer and the man of leisure, that is, between primitive life and "la vie factice," appears again here. The architectural gap between the palace and the peasant cottage ("la chaumière") is identical to the linguistic gap between the two antithetical language systems. Rollinat identifies in the novelist's earlier pastoral novels precisely this lack of correspondence between a language that describes and a language that belongs to the world described: "ton langage fait avec [celui des personnages] un effet disparate . . . l'auteur y montre encore de temps en temps le bout de l'oreille" (François le champi, 51; "your language clashes with that of the characters . . . traces of the writer still poke through from time to time"). If it is true that the peasants' language necessitates a translation into French so as to be accessible to all, how shall the narrator speak at once "clairement pour le Parisien" and "naïvement pour le paysan" (François le champi, 53)? The question is formulated but the answer not provided. The impossible dream for a hybrid language that would incorporate both a popular and a cultivated idiom had already been proposed in Mauprat by the peasant-sage, Patience, when he talked about the need for an "idiome mélangé" ("mixed idiom") which would allow each one "sans dégrader sa raison, de peupler l'univers et de l'expliquer avec ses rêves" ("without degrading one's mind, to populate the universe and to make sense of it with one's own dreams").25 Patience did not specify the way this actually would be realized, but Sand's novels, especially in the pastoral period, can be viewed as a series of attempts to provide such a synthetic language.
Sand by her very interest in language shows her modernity. As we have seen, as early as Indiana, she was concerned with the issues concerning literary language. Having exorcized once and for all the temptation of a rhetoric of power such as it was represented by her character, Raymon de Ramière, she never ceased questioning the nature of literary language itself—what kind of discourse entered into literature, which discourse was marginalized, what verbal power could mean. She was very much a believer in the predominance of parole (the spoken word) over mot (the written word), and considered the former as the basis for any analysis of language. From a Bakhtinian perspective, one could equate Sand's value system with a predominance in her work of dialogical over monological structures. More precisely, her predilection for oral over written language emphasizes the primacy of spontaneity in her writing. This improvisatory quality must not be equated with literary sloppiness or indifference to style on her part, but rather can be ascribed to what she called the "delights of composition." Her friend Flaubert once claimed that art was not a matter of inspiration but of patience. Sand's vision, which she designates as a modern Abbaye de Thélème in Nouvelles lettres d'un voyageur, expresses just the opposite opinion. The idealized inhabitants of the Abbaye, most of them artists, have invented a language as rapid as thought ("aussi rapide que la pensée"), which they use to conceive "sublime books."26 Sand's ideal contradicts Flaubert's credo of artistic patience (etymologically linked with suffering) since it insists that the language of inspiration is essentially im-patient, that is, not linked to pain, but associated with joy and swiftness.
Sand's conviction that such a language must exist is inextricably linked to Corambé, the mythopoeic creation of her childhood psyche. This mysterious and androgynous deity is identified in Histoire de ma vie as the Godlike voice that she heard when she improvised her first stories (see ). Many years later, when Sand became a novelist, Corambé ceased to exist as a separate autonomous voice (see ). But by internalizing Corambé's voice and appropriating the deity's essence, Sand came to incorporate into her concept of literary craft certain crucial elements culled from Corambé—namely a privileging of orality and a confident attitude toward the act of creation. In a word, she chose as her model the bigendered discourse of a being who epitomized the elegant ease of literary composition and thus rejected the arduous and painstaking "agonies of style" characteristic of a writer such as Flaubert.
This set of priorities is evident in Sand as early as the autumn of 1831, when she was writing one of her first ébauches, La Marraine. More important than the actual work was the discovery of her literary temperament, her realization that she wrote very much as Corambé had improvised, with speed and with ease. "Je reconnus," she explains in Histoire de ma vie, "que j'écrivais vite, facilement, longtemps sans fatigue; que mes idées, engourdies dans mon cerveau, s'éveillaient et s'enchaînaient .. . au courant de la plume" (2:101; "I realized that I wrote quickly, easily and for long periods without tiring; that my ideas, which were sluggish in my brain, came alive and fell naturally into place under my pen").
What Ann Berger has called Sand's "phonocentrism,"27 that is, her faith in the voice as instrument and source of truth, explains at once the writer's elevation of language to divine status, and our sense as readers that Sand's fiction is based on a dialogue between her inner voices and an idealized reality. In the novel André (1835), for example, the heroine's sudden understanding of the rapport between the inner "impressions of the mind" and the outer "beauties of nature" provokes a moment of epiphany. Geneviève's vertigo upon discovering that the feeling for art is a form of religious experience expresses itself in an image of poetic sublimatio: "elle s'éleva au-dessus d'ellemême et de toutes les choses réelles qui l'entouraient pour vouer un culte enthousiaste au nouveau Dieu du nouvel univers déroulé devant elle" ("she rose above herself and all the real things surrounding her in order to declare an enthusiastic cult to the new God and the new universe that unfolded before her").28 This scene can also be read as the expression of the writer's own artistic fervor. The hearing of voices and the feeling of spiritual elevation are Sand's two preferred metaphors for expressing artistic creation. In this sense, Corambé truly is the Sandian god of language.
Madame Dudevant, homme de lettres 29
Although it may be disappointing to some that Sand never articulated a feminine poetics per se, it is important to understand the extent to which androgyny was the fundamental basis upon which she constructed her fictional universe. Although her artistic theories can often be seen as the feminization of a traditionally male canon, up to the end of her long literary life, Sand resolutely refused to restrict herself to a single-gendered vision. When Flaubert wrote to her toward the end of her life that he possessed "both sexes," she promptly and unequivocally retorted that there was only one sex when it came to writing.30 One can witness the emergence of this androgynous Sandian vision especially in her novels from the 1840s on. But she was not a system maker and her theories were not systematized anywhere. Balzac was right when he claimed that Sand was the great eclectic of the century, eager to explore the divergent paths on the fictional map of possibilities, and daring to probe difficult literary problems and articulate innovative solutions.
With the exception of the black period, there is a basic "serenity of writing" in Sand. She knew that writing does not necessarily issue from indignation, although she acknowledged that Indiana, Valentine, and Lélia had been in part molded by feelings of anger. Her 1842 "Préface" to Indiana, for instance, stressed that she had written her novel "avec le sentiment non raisonné .. . de l'injustice et de la barbarie des lois qui régissent encore l'existence de la femme . . . j'ai cédé à un instinct puissant de plainte et de reproche" (emphasis added; Indiana, 46; "with an overwhelming and almost irrational feeling . . . of the injustice and barbarity of laws that still rule over women's lives .. . I yielded to a powerful instinct of lamentation and reproach"). Subsequently she discovered that one could write outside of the body, from a place of mental composure, beyond feelings of fury.
In the years when Sand was articulating her ars poetica, her writing expresses most a deep sense of equilibrium, whereby she stresses the harmony between the poet and his or her fictional world, and posits the possibility of a synthesis of nature and creativity, of ideology and style. This metaphysical search for a synthesis may appear surprising in a writer with such a diverse oeuvre. On the other hand, this search gives coherence to her eclectic fictional universe. One main theme running through her writings focuses on the bridging of chasms, the synthesis of opposites. How to find the common measure between the ailments of her age and the solutions to those personal and social ills; how to better integrate the individual and society; how to respond to both the demands of physical life and the search for the absolute; how, in a word, to effect the magical reunification of the various fragmented selves—psychological, social, philosophical. With the pastoral period, Sand reached full literary integration and her final words on her deathbed, "Laissez verdure," make clear the culminating force of this androgynous pastoral vision.
This serenity of writing and sense of harmony may in part be due to Sand's own facility of composition—we know that regularly she was capable of writing up to fifty pages a day—and also may stem, essentially, from her rejection of a formalist aesthetic. Whereas her friend Flaubert created highly structured and exhaustively organized texts, she was able to write without a plan, letting inspiration take her where it wished. This capacity for improvisation is especially manifest in her discussion of the Other, as she counteracts Flaubert's notion of "le mot juste" with the concept of multiplicity, of endless possibility. The delights of free-form composition replace his "affres du style:"
Vous m'étonnez toujours avec votre travail pénible. Est-ce une coquetterie? . . . Ce que je trouve difficile, moi, c'est de choisir entre mille combinaisons de l'action scénique qui peuvent varier à l'infini, la situation nette et saisissante qui ne soit pas brutale ou forcée. Quant au style, j'en fais meilleur marché que vous. Le vent joue de ma vieille harpe comme il lui plaît d'en jouer. Il a ses haut et ses bas, ses grosses notes et ses défaillances, au fond ça m'est égal pourvu que l'émotion vienne, mais je ne peux rien trouver en moi. C'est l'autre qui chante à son gré, mal ou bien.... Laissez donc le vent courir un peu dans vos cordes. Moi je crois que vous prenez plus de peine qu'il ne faut, et que vous devriez laisser faire l'autre plus souvent.31
(You always astonish me with your painstaking work; is it coquetry? . . . What I find difficult to choose from the thousand combinations of scenic action, which can vary infinitely, the clear and striking situation that is not brutal nor forced. As for style, I attach less importance to it than you do. The wind plays my old harp as it wishes. It has its high notes, its low notes, its heavy notes, and its faltering notes, in the end it is all the same to me provided the emotion comes, but I can find nothing in myself. It is the Other who sings at will, badly, or well. Let the wind blow a little over your strings. I think that you take more trouble than you need, and that you ought to let the Other do it more often.)
This is not the first time Sand has conjured up this "Other." Already in the item of juvenilia, "Nuit d'hiver" the writer had described the sensation of an inner doubling. Remarkably, Sand can still allude to its existence over forty years later in Nouvelles lettres d'un voyageur, where she gives as clear a definition of "l'autre" as one could ever hope to find. What artists call the Other, she explains, is a kind of "troisième âme." In the case of musical inspiration, the third soul "chante quand le compositeur écoute et . . . vibre quand le virtuose improvise" ("sings when the composer listens and . . . vibrates when the virtuoso improvises"). In the literary sphere the third soul "pense quand la main écrit et . . . fait quelquefois qu'on exprime audelà de ce que l'on songeait à exprimer"32 ("thinks when the hand writes and .. . is responsible that the writer sometimes expressed beyond what he or she tried to express"). The Other, then, designates in Sand's terms the inner voice of inspiration which she never ceased to hear.
Sand's remarks regarding the Other may explain her attitude of modesty about her own genius. She always defined artistic genius as a natural, unexceptional occurrence. Since genius was part of nature, there was no need for the writer to sever the bond between the artifice of the book and its inspirational source. Here is how she put it to Flaubert:
Nous sommes de la nature, dans la nature, par la nature et pour la nature. Le talent, la volonté, le génie, sont des phénomènes naturels comme le lac, le volcan, la montagne, le vent, l'astre, le nuage. Ce que l'homme tripote est gentil ou laid, ingénieux ou bête; ce qu'il reçoit de la nature est bon ou mauvais, mais cela est. Cela existe et subsiste. .. . La nature seule sait parler à l'intelligence, une langue impérissable, toujours la même, parce qu'elle ne sort pas du vrai éternel, de beau absolu.33
(We are of nature, in nature, by nature, and for nature. Talent, will, genius, are natural phenomena like the lake, the volcano, the mountain, the wind, the star, the cloud. What man dabbles in is pretty or ugly, ingenious or stupid; what he gets from nature is good or bad, but it is, it exists and subsists. . . . Nature alone knows how to speak to the intelligence in a language that is imperishable, always the same, because it does not depart from the eternally true, the absolutely beautiful).
This refusal to be alienated from nature, a stance already apparent in the 1835 letter to Fortoul cited earlier in this chapter, marks Sand's entire oeuvre with grace. It points to her extraordinary success in creating a genuinely coherent fictional world that was also socially fluid and free of gender biases.
Significantly, in a mature novel, Isidora (1846), Sand would coin a double metaphor, with which to express the trajectory of her own mental development and her increasing sense of harmony with the natural world. She grounded this double image in nature, using two antithetical landscapes to designate the two stages of life, youth and old age. The former, which she compares to "an admirable Alpine landscape," is primarily apprehended as the uneasy cohabitation of opposites, where gentle phenomena struggle against violent forces: "partout le précipice est au bord du sentier fleuri, le vertige et le danger accompagnent tous les pas du voyageur . . . nature . . . sublime aux prises avec d'effroyables cataclysmes"34 ("Everywhere the precipice stands on the edge of the flowered path, vertigo and danger accompany the voyageur's every step . . . sublime nature .. . in the throes of terrifying cataclysms"). In opposition stands "the beautiful, well-planted garden" (168) in which one can reap and enjoy the benefits of old age. Isidora's "jardin de vieillesse," stamped with the seal of equilibrium and serenity, perhaps also alludes to Sand's increasing self-discovery and psychic integration. The trajectory from the volcanic landscape of Histoire du rêveur to the "garden of old age" in Isidora can be understood as Sand's path toward harmony with herself. To follow her on her travels is to admire the itinerary from uncertainty and fear to self-assurance and self-knowledge. It is to follow in the footsteps of one of the most open-minded and free-spirited writers of her age.
1 André Fermigier, "Préface" François le Champi 7.
2 Cited by L éopold Mabilleau, Victor Hugo (Paris: Hachette, 1925), 145.
3 An important exception is Francine Mallet who aptly remarks: "Her greatest love is perhaps the love of work" (George Sand, 12).
4 Ibid., 107.
5 Cited by Fermigier, "Préface," 9. Per Nykrog uses the same image to discuss Balzac: "The current view of Balzac seems to be that he was a sort of brute force of Nature . . . a human machine for painting pictures of contemporary moeurs, rather in the manner that one considers a cow as a machine for producing milk" (La Pensée de Balzac, 5). The difference is that Balzac has since been exonerated of this accusation, while critics continue to make it about Sand. Her rehabilitation lags behind Balzac's by at least a generation.
6 Cited by Edmond et Jules de Goncourt, Journal des Goncourt, 3 vols. (Paris: Charpentier, 1888), 2:146. The rest of the passage reads: "Well, you know what happened. Something monstrous! One day she finished a novel at one in the morning . . . and she started right in on another that same night . . . churning out text is a function with Mme Sand."
7 Sand writes: "J'ai fini mon petit roman, je l'ai fait en quatre jours .. . et cela m'a remise en goût de travail" (Corr., 7:151).
8 Flaubert, Correspondance, ed. Jean Bruneau, 2 vols. (Paris: Pléiade, 1973-1980), 2:177.
9 Henri Guillemin, La Liaison Musset-Sand, 10-11.
10 Baudelaire, "Mon Coeur mis à nu," Oeuvre complètes, 1:686-687. See also Barbey d'Aurevilly whose misogynistic point of view incorporates all the attacks found in Baudelaire: as a woman who dares to write, Sand is a phenomenon contre nature; her "style coulant" makes of her a representative of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie. She lacks originality; her popularity makes her suspect; her style if vulgar and prosaic. Cf. Philippe Berthier, "L'Inquisiteur et la dépravatrice: Barbey d'Aurevilly et George Sand," Part I (1833-1850), Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 78 (1978):736-758; followed by Part II (1850-1889), Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 79 (1979):50-61.
11 15 Jan. 1867; Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 120.
12 See HV, 2:1342.
13 "Moi qui ne me suis jamais enterrée dans la littérature" (Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 205).
14 Ibid., 212-213.
15 "Préfaces générales," Questions d'art et de littérature, 8.
16 The following prefaces are especially noteworthy: the Préfaces générales of 1842 and 1851; the prefaces to Le Château des Désertes; Le Compagnon du Tour de France; Consuelo; Francois le champí; Indiana (1832, 1842, 1852); Iacques; Jean de la Roche; Jeanne; Lélia (1833 and 1839); Légendes ruestiques; Lettres a Marcie; Lettres d'un voyageur; Lucrezia Floriani; Mademoiselle la Quintinie; Les Maîtres sonneurs; Les Maîtres mosaïstes; La Mare au diable; Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine; La Petite Fadette; Valentine.
As for Sand's literary criticism, many articles can be found in three collections: (1) Questions d'art et de littérature, vol. 93 of the Oeuvres complétes (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1878), which includes articles on Senancour's Obermann; "popular poets" and proletarian poetry; Lamartine; Victor Hugo; Hamlet; Flaubert's Salammbô and L 'Education sentimentale; realism; theater. (2) Autour de la table, vol. 5 of the Oeuvres complétes (1876). Selected contents: the first two installments are entirely devoted to Hugo's Contemplations; also contains articles on "le drame fantastique" in Goethe, Byron, and Mickiewicz; Balzac; Béranger; Fenimore Cooper; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Eugéne Fromentin. (3) Impressions et souvenirs (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1904) includes many of her prefaces and writings about the theater. See also Souvenirs de 1848 (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1880) and Souvenirs et idées (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1904).
17 Albert Sonnenfeld, "George Sand: Music and Sexualities," Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 16/2-3 (spring/summer 1988): 313.
18 In fact, as Cellier notes, death is absent also from several other woodcuts. It is significant that Sand singles out the woodcut depicting Lazarus as the only one that deploys a "realistic," even naturalistic, set of artistic criteria. The figure of death is absent; only the hideous details of decay and filth are present.
19 See Luke 16:19-31. This Lazarus is not to be confused with the betterknown Lazarus whom Jesus rose from the dead and instructed to walk.
20 Emphasis added. Baudelaire, L'Art romantique, in Oeuvres complètes, 2:35.
21Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 511 ("faire de la désolation," letter dated 18-19 Dec. 1875).
22 George Sand, "Le réalisme," Questions d'art et de littérature, 293.
23Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 348 (letter dated 8 Sept. 1871).
24 Strangely the "Notice" is not included in the Editions des introuvables which I have used, but is in the old Calmann-Lévy edition (1900).
25 George Sand, Mauprat, ed. Claude Sicard (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1969), 119. Cited by Yvette Bozon-Scalzitti, "Mauprat, ou la Belle et la Bête," Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 10/1-2 (fall/winter 1981-1982): 15.
26 Sand, "De Marseille à Menton" Nouvelles lettres d'un voyageur, 156.
27 Ann Berger, "Ce que dit le ruisseau," in George Sand: Voyage et écriture, special issue of Etudes françaises 24/1 (1988): 102.
28 George Sand, André, ed. H. Burine and M. Gilot (Meylan: Editions de l'Aurore, 1987), 99.
29 Thus was George Sand listed in the Almanach général parisien in 1837; cited by Georges Lubin, Corr., 3:853.
30 "J'ai les deux sexes." "II n'y a qu'un sexe." Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 118, 121.
31Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 102-103, 29 Nov. 1866.
32 George Sand, "A propos de botanique," Nouvelles Lettres d'un voyageur, 188.
33Correspondance Flaubert-Sand, 476.
34 George Sand, Isidora (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1894), 167.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10409
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 name in our revolutionized and revolutionary society? A cipher for those who do nothing, a sign or an emblem for those who work of fight. The one I was given, I earned myself, after the event, by my own toil.
GEORGE SAND, Story of My Life
Inventing a Name and a Self
Like Stendhal's Vie de Henry Brulard, Sand's Histoire de ma vie (1855) was profoundly influenced by Rousseau's Confessions (1781). Though she admired Rousseau's autobiography, Sand nevertheless criticized his lack of integrity:
Forgive me, Jean-Jacques, for blaming you when I finished your admirable Confessions! In blaming you, I pay you greater tribute, because this blame does not obviate my respect and enthusiasm for the whole of your oeuvre.
Pardonne-moi, Jean-Jacques, de te blâmer en fermant ton admirable livre des Confessions! Je te blâme, et c'est te rendre hommage encore, puisque ce blâme ne détruit pas mon respect et mon enthousiasme pour l'ensemble de ton oeuvre.1
Sand's point is to tell "the story of her life," not, like Rousseau, by giving herself the freedom to invent and to lie, but by chronicling the most important events as precisely as possible. She begins by establishing her genealogy:
I was born the year Napoléon was crowned, Year Twelve of the French Republic (1804). My name is not Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Marquise de Dudevant, as several of my biographers have "discovered," but Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, and my husband, M. François Dudevant, claims no title.
Je suis née l'année du couronnement de Napoléon, l'an XII de la République française (1804). Mon nom n'est pas Marie-Aurore de Saxe, marquise de Dudevant, comme plusieurs de mes biographes l'ont découvert, mais Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, et mon mari, M. François Dudevant, ne s'attribue aucun titre.
(Story of My Life, 76/OA, 1:13)
Sand's dual origin makes her Maréchal de Saxe's great-grand-daughter on her father's side and a plebeian woman on her mother's side. This dual origin will have endless repercussions in her life and will provide the dramatic structure for her early novels. The family discrepancy between aristocrat and commoner will be replayed at her father's death by, respectively, her grandmother Madame Dupin (born Marie-Aurore de Saxe) and her mother Sophie Dupin (born Delaborde). Sand herself thinks that the confusion surrounding her name might be attributable to the confusion, on the part of her biographers, between two generations: "Marie-Aurore de Saxe was my grandmother; my husband's father was a colonel in the cavalry during the Empire" (Marie-Aurore de Saxe était ma grand-mère, le père de mon mari était colonel de cavalerie sous l'Empire) (Story of My Life, 76/OA, 1:14). In fact, this confusion is not accidental or a mere error on the part of her biographers; it is instead fundamental to understanding her identity. Aurore was always caught between two generations, her mother's and her grandmother's. Her life and her writing are constituted by that division, and, no less than for Rousseau, a certain fictionality is thus essential to Sand's self-understanding as well, since it was never a question of an authentic or irreducible self versus some fictive counterpart. For Sand the "story of her life" was always already a fiction.
My intention in this chapter is to show how Sand's dual maternal identification will be replayed in her first novels. I will examine how the choice between mother and grandmother is acted out in the recurrent feminine double who appears throughout Sand's early writing.
The question I will pose throughout my reading of Sand concerns the difficulties that confront any attempt to limit or restrict the nature of the conflict emerging around Sand's name, which, rather than being simply organized along a male-female axis, disrupts gender difference even as it constitutes it. Furthermore, Sand's conflicted identity spills beyond the question of gender and comes to determine her understanding of the relation between the isolated communities she depicts in her novels and civil society at large. Divided between two proper names, it was ultimately, of course, a third, masculine name, George Sand, that Aurore bequeathed to the world. Let us begin to reconstruct the paleography of this complex field of Sandean names and identities.
In Story of My Life, Sand explains that, first, her mother-in-law forbade her to use the family name Dudevant on "printed covers." Second, her literary collaboration with Jules Sandeau did not last. Abandoning her claim to authorial credit for their first effort, Rose et Blanche (1831), Aurore appears to have allowed Sandeau to take the credit and to sign under his pseudonym, Jules Sand, which, interestingly enough, he never used again. In a sense, then, she signs precisely by not signing, or rather, she signs within the very aberration of Sandeau's signature. She describes the emergence of her pseudonym in the following passage from Story of My Life:
I sketched out a first work that Jules Sandeau then entirely revised, and Delatouche put the name "Jules Sand" on it. This work attracted another publisher, who asked for another novel under the same pseudonym. I had written Indiana while at Nohant. I wanted to give it to the publisher under the pseudonym requested, but Jules Sandeau, out of modesty, did not wish to take credit for fathering a book which he knew nothing about. A name is a selling point, and as the little pseudonym had created a good demand, he really wanted to keep it. Delatouche was consulted and settled the question by a compromise: Sand would remain intact, and I would find another first name which would be uniquely mine. Without looking further, I quickly chose George, which seemed to me appropriate for someone from rural Berry.
Un premier ouvrage fut ébauché par moi, refait en entier ensuite par Jules Sandeau, à qui Delatouche fit le nom de Jules Sand. Cet ouvrage amena un autre éditeur qui demanda un autre roman sous le même pseudonyme. J'avais écrit Indiana à Nohant, je voulus le donner sous le pseudonyme demandé; mais Jules Sandeau, par modestie, ne voulut pas accepter la paternité d'un livre auquel il était complètement étranger. Le nom est tout pour la vente, et le petit pseudonyme s'étant bien écoulé, on tenait essentiellement à le conserver. Delatouche, consulté, trancha la question par un compromis: Sand resterait intact et je prendrai un autre prénom qui ne servirait qu'à moi. Je pris vite et sans chercher celui de George qui me paraissait synonyme de Berrichon.
(Story of My Life, 907/OA, 2:139)
Sand was evidently aware of acquiring, as she said, "half of the name of another writer," but she accepted it with good humor: "It was a whim of Delatouche which gave it to me" (Story of My Life, 908). Is this not Sand in a Rousseaustic moment of fictive reinvention, as she implies that the pseudonym is mere serendipity and not the leitmotif of her entire experience as a woman and as an artist?
The irreducible conflict within Aurore's experience of her name and identity was first forced upon her when her mother dressed her in a military uniform like that of her father and even introduced her as "my son" to the great Napoleonic general, Murat. While this disguise was meant to please Murat, Sand recalls it with horror: "But I felt hot under the fur, I felt smothered under the gold braiding, and I was very happy when we arrived at home and my mother again put on my Spanish costume of the time—the black silk dress, edged in white-mesh silk net starting at the knees and falling in fringes to the ankle" (Mais j'avais chaud sous cette fourrure, j'étais écrasée sous ces galons, et je me trouvai bien heureuse lorqu'en rentrant chez nous, ma mère me remettait le costume espagnol du temps, la robe de soie noire, bordée d'un grand réseau de soie, qui prenait au genou et tombait en franges sur la cheville (Story of My Life, 444/OA, 1:569). Though the instability of her gender identification was apparently difficult for the young Aurore (at least according to Sand's autobiography), we must also recall that Aurore (as George) would, as a young woman, come to adopt exactly such masculine attire:
I had already observed and experienced these things before I dreamed of settling in Paris, and had brought up the problem with my mother; how to make do with the cheapest mode of dress in this frightful climate, short of living confined to one's room seven days a week. She had replied to me, "At my age and with my habits, it's not hard; but when I was young and your father was short of money, he got the idea to dress me like a boy." At first mis idea seemed amusing to me, and then very ingenious. Having been dressed like a boy during my childhood, then having hunted in smock and gaiters with Descartes, I did not find it at all shocking again to put on a costume which was not new to me.
J'avais fait déjà ces remarques et ces expériences avant de songer à m'établir à Paris, et j'avais posé ce probléme à ma mère: comment suffire à la plus modeste toilette dans cet affreux climat, à moins de vivre enfermée dans sa chambre sept jours sur huit? Elle m'avait répondu: "C'est très possible à mon âge et avec mes habitudes; mais quand j'étais jeune et que ton père manquait d'argent, il avait imaginé de m'habiller en garçon." Cette idée me parut d'abord divertissante et puis très ingénieuse. Ayant été habillée en garçon durant mon enfance, ayant ensuite chassée en blouse et en guêtres avec Deschartres, je ne me trouvai pas étonnée du tout de reprendre un costume qui n'était pas nouveau pour moi.
(Story of My Life, 892-93/OA, 2:117)
Sand's masculine identification was further encouraged by financial difficulties, since masculine attire cost considerably less than the more complicated feminine wardrobe. "Idée divertissante," "ingénieuse"—such words indicate that for Sand the reinvention of gender, and more specifically cross-dressing, was from the beginning her privileged access to the experience of self-creation, not really of adopting or replicating an available identity but of fashioning a new one.
Sand's "Two Mothers"
In a letter dated 15 January, 1867, to Gustave Flaubert, George Sand makes the rather novel proposal that we should abolish the very notion whereby sexual difference is conventionally regarded in terms of anatomical difference. Sand is suggesting that, when considered more closely, apparent anatomical differences begin to dissolve and what appears is not two distinct sexes but one, though this one sex is still, we must remember, based on anatomical knowledge:
And still further, there is this for those strong in anatomy: there is only one sex. A man and a woman are so entirely the same thing, that one hardly understands the mass of distinctions and subtle reasons with which society is nourished concerning mis subject.
Et puis encore, il y a ceci pour les gens forts en anatomie: il n'y a qu'un sexe. Un homme et une femme c'est si bien la même chose que l'on ne comprend guère les tas de distinctions et de raisonnements subtils dont se sont nourries les sociétés sur ce chapitre-là.2
What is the relation between what are in effect Sand's "two mothers" and her notion here of "one sex"? Might it be that Sand's creative and highly idiosyncratic experience of self-fashioning revealed to her at a relatively early age that within and between the apparent anatomical distinctions between the sexes there was another element, another component that traversed these differences even as it marked them out? And is not this late notion of "one sex" finally a metaphor for the act of self-creation that Sand has always been heir to? In what follows, we shall try to find some indications, some preliminary outlines, of an answer.
Sand's father's premature death (Aurore was then four years old) confused her greatly, and like Stendhal, she was too young to understand death. She recalled asking her grandmother this cruel question: "But when my daddy is through being dead, he'll come back to see you, won't he?" (Mais quand mon papa aura fini d'être mort, il reviendra bien te voir?) (Story of My Life, 464/OA, 1:598). The death of the father also marked the end of normal family life, hence the impossible choice between her grandmother, who lived at Nohant, and her mother, who went to Paris. Sand's fiction is organized around family scenarios which try to find a remedy for the family impasse. Young Aurore's "novels" were fundamentally linked to the mother and were composed in order to please her: "I was composing aloud interminable stories which my mother referred to as my novels. I have no recollection whatever of those droll compositions which my mother spoke of to me a thousand times, long before I had any thought of writing" (Je composais à haute voix d'interminables contes que ma mère appleait mes romans. Je n'ai aucun souvenir de ces plaisantes compositions, ma mère m'en a parlé mille fois, et longtemps avant que j'eusse la pensée d'écrire) (Story of My Life, 426/OA, 1:542). The relation between Sand's mother and her writing warrants extensive development.
In this early literary context, let us now consider the divine and androgynous Corambé, Sand's desperate attempt at reconciling the masculine with the feminine. Even retrospectively, Sand is incapable of giving a meaning to Corambé: "I shall limit myself to recalling that I had started—at so early an age, I could not say exactly when—an unwritten novel made up of thousands of stories linked together through a main fantastic character called Corambé (a name without any significance, whose syllables put themselves together by chance in a dream)" (Je me bornerai à rappeler que j'avais commencè , dans un âge si enfantin que je ne pourrai le préciser, un roman composé de milliers de romans qui s'enchaînaient les uns aux autres par l'intervention d'un principal personnage fantastique appelé Corambé [nom sans signification aucune, dont les syllabes s'étaient rassemblées dans le hasard de quelque rêve]) (Story of My Life, 925/OA, 2:165). The function of the imaginary Corambé is to resituate the family drama. Since, according to Freud, dreams have childhood material at their command and since we know that material is for the most part blotted out in our consciousness, it is not surprising that Sand does not remember the meaning of the dream in which Corambé first appears. Nor is it surprising that many critics have sought to impose a meaning upon this mysterious name. My intention is to demonstrate why Sand's writings actually made it impossible for Corambé to survive.
Sand herself insists on the absence of sexual specificity of Corambé, and Corambé's presexual anticipation of the idea of "one sex" appears to undermine in advance any notion of sexual difference organized around normative anatomical notions:
And then, I also had to complement it at times with a woman's garb, because what I had loved best and understood best until then was a woman—my mother. Hence it often appeared to me with female features. In sum, it had no sex and put on many different guises.
Et puis, il me fallait le compléter en le vêtant en femme à l'occasion, car ce que j'avais le mieux aimé, le mieux compris jusqu'alors, c'était une femme, c'était ma mère. En somme, il n'avait pas de sexe et revêtait toutes sortes d'aspects différents.
(Story of My Life, 605/OA, 1:813)
Helene Deutsch's Freudian analysis of Corambé is relevant here, for even though it is clearly mistaken, Deutsch's remarks will help us to clarify the relation between Sand's notion of sexual difference and her experience of the dilemma of the proper name.
For Deutsch, Sand's "split personality" is "a clear example of a conflict between femininity and masculinity." She links Sand's experience of "bisexuality"3 to what she calls the "masculinity complex," and she argues that Sand takes this essentially defensive measure because of her father's early death and her abandonment by her mother to the care of her grandmother. By way of background here, we should recall that Sand's grandmother, in order to ensure that all links between Aurore and her mother were severed once and for all, told Aurore that her mother had been a prostitute, which was in fact the truth. Among the highly disruptive effects this had on Aurore was the shock it presented to her notion of her own legitimacy. Whose daughter might she actually be? This is an issue that, as we will see later, looms large in Sand's narrative imagination. But to return to the question of Corambé, which, as Deutsch interestingly remarks, disappeared during an interval following the revelations of Aurore's grandmother, Corambé is precisely a figure of the relation between writing and the maternal, a relation which, for Sand, is always unstable, threatened, vulnerable: "If my mother was detestable and hateful, then I, the fruit of her womb, was, too. Terrible harm had been done to me that could have been irreparable" (Si ma mère était méprisable et haïssable, moi, le fruit de ses entrailles, je l'étais aussi. On m'avait fait un mal affreux qui pouvait être irréparable) (Story of My Life, 634/OA, 1:858). For Sand, the major difficulty is to differentiate between two opposed maternal models which have been sublimated in Corambé's dreamlike parental union. Thinking back on her childhood following the revelations, Sand says that she herself became machinelike and that Corambé fell silent. The temporary death of Corambé might indicate that s/he was linked with the mother's fault and could not endure the damage done to the maternal representation, but also that, for the mature Sand, writing itself became in effect the sublation of Corambé, the dialectical negation, uplifting, and preservation of Corambé at a higher level of complexity. Deutsch, somewhat more narrowly, sees Corambé as marking the dominance of the masculine disposition which pursues Sand throughout her life and proves, in Deutsch's estimation, to be a limiting factor and ultimately the cause of Sand's repeated sexual failures: "This attachment to Corambé seems to have been a great obstacle to her feminine love life."4
Deutsch divides the name Corambé into coram, the Latin word for "in the presence of," and bé, "b," the second letter of the alphabet. When Aurore was still very young and her father was away, her mother tried to teach her the alphabet. Sand showed talent and application but had one curious difficulty: the letter "b" did not exist for her, and she obstinately omitted it from her list. Deutsch's argument is to demonstrate that the "b" repressed in her childhood is identical with the bé that later turned up as the suffix to coram: "The whole word could then mean, 'in the presence of b.' If the b repressed in childhood referred to the absent father whom she hardly knew at the time, then its turning up in Corambé would be quite understandable."5 If the massive repression resulted from her father's death, then the complete meaning of Corambé becomes "in the father's presence." When Sand transformed her father's demise into the comforting presence of an androgynous Corambé, she was also exposed to the gravest obstacle to her feminine nature. This explanation is, however, inadequate, since Corambé neither followed Sand, nor did Sand ever really abandon the name. It was, rather, as we have suggested, transformed, sublated, into something else, and as such remained the silent link conjoining Sand's life of writing to the constitutive division of the two mothers; Corambé names the very principle that traverses anatomical difference and makes "one sex" possible—a Utopian possibility, to be sure, and one that is crucial to understanding her future notion of the Utopian community, as we shall see later in this chapter. By Sand's own account, the disappearance of Corambé coincided with her sexual maturation.
The transformative disappearance of Corambé led Sand to, among other things, the writing of Indiana (1832). Writing will itself at once replace the androgynous Corambé and make his/her return (im)possible:
Meanwhile, my poor Corambé vanished as soon as I started to feel in a mood to persevere with a certain subject. He was of too tenuous an essence to bend to the demands of form. I had hardly finished my book when I wanted to regenerate my usual flow of reveries. Impossible! The characters of my manuscript, shut in a drawer, were happy to remain quiet. I hoped in vain to see Corambé reappear, and with him those thousands of beings who lulled me every day as pleasant day dreams.
Mais mon pauvre Corambé s'envola pour toujours, dès que j'eus commencé à me sentir dans cette veine de persévérance sur un sujet donné. II était d'une essence trop subtile pour se plier aux exigences de la forme. A peine eus-je fini mon livre, que je voulus retrouver le vague ordinaire de mes rêveries. Impossible! Les personnages de mon manuscrit, enfermés dans un tiroir, voulurent bien y rester tranquilles; mais j'espérai en vain voir reparaître Corambé et avec lui ces millers d'êtres qui me berçaient tous les jours de leurs agréables divagations.
(Story of My Life, 925/OA, 2:165)
The sublation of Corambé is an essential stage in Sand's reinvention of her identity and her art. Philippe Berthier has spoken of the frustration and the difficulties of this transition. He divides Corambé into cor (the heart) and ambo ("two," "the two of us"): "The name of Corambé would emblematize its function in the child's inner life: it would inscribe in her the sensibility perturbed by the family disequilibrium, the promise and already the presence of a pacified reunion in a euphoric shared love."6 In the idealized figure of Corambé, Aurore could project her need to love and be loved in the legitimacy of a true couple. Corambé is at the same time the fantasm of conjugal unity (her father is already dead) and the reconciliation dreamed of between her forbidding grandmother and her too-permissive mother.
The Coming to Writing: Indiana
Indiana describes the tragic effects of Colonel Delmare's tyranny upon his wife, Indiana, and Raymon's seduction of Noun. The novel reveals Sand's family tensions even while it transforms them. The female double Indiana/Noun, in conjunction with Noun's suicide, amounts to another symbolic killing of Corambé. As Berthier remarks: "This is a kind of hierogamy which is here celebrated: Aurore stages the imaginary wedding of her parents, including herself in it in a retro-projective way shaping both past and future according to her desire."7 While repeating this oscillation between her conflicted childhood and her sexual difficulties in adult life, Indiana also registers, in the guise of the Delmare couple, her bitter criticism of her failed marriage and of marriage in general.
As George Sand remarks in her 1842 preface to the novel, Indiana describes the catastrophic consequences of a bad marriage:
When I wrote Indiana, I was young; I acted in obedience to feelings of great strength and sincerity which overflowed thereafter in a series of novels, almost all of which were based on the same idea: the ill-defined relations between the sexes, attributable to the constitution of our society. These novels were all more or less inveighed against by the critics, as making unwise assaults upon the institution of marriage.
Lorsque j'écrivis le roman d'Indiana j'étais jeune, j'obéissais à des sentiments pleins de force et de sincérité, qui débordèrent de là dans une série de romans basés à peu près tous sur la même donnée: le rapport mal établi entre les sexes, par le fait de la société. Ces romans furent tous plus ou moins incriminés par la critique, comme portant d'imprudentes atteints à l'institution du mariage.8
It will be helpful here to summarize the plot of Indiana. It revolves around Indiana Delmare; she is married to old Colonel Delmare, who mistreats her. She falls in love with Raymon de Ramière, who tries in vain to seduce her. Leaving her husband in Bernica at the Ile Bourbon, Indiana returns to France and finds that de Ramière has married the rich Laure de Nangy. Destitute and dying, Indiana is saved by her cousin, Ralph Brown, who has spent his life with the Delmares. Ralph and Indiana decide to return to Bernica since M. Delmare is dead. Both Ralph and Indiana are unknown in the island:
In the year that had passed since the Nahandove brought Sir Ralph and his companion back to the colony, he had not been seen in the town three times; and, as for Madame Delmare, her seclusion had been so absolute that her existence was still a problematical matter to many of the people.
Depuis près d'un an que le navire la Nahandove avait ramené M. Brown et sa compagne à la colonie, on n'avait pas vu trois fois sir Ralph à la ville; et, quant à madame Delmare, sa retraite avait été si absolue, que son existence était encore une chose problématique pour beaucoup d'habitants.
Sand never identified herself with Indiana. It was Deutsch, among other critics, who forced Sand's identification with her heroines. In Indiana, autobiography and fiction are two separeate but inextricable elements. Sand's identification with her own text produces in Indiana a new development in her social criticism which revolves around the strangely haunting figure of the female double. Sand gives a strong indication of this in her astonishing confession in Story of My Life:
I have created many female characters and I think that when people have read the present account of the impressions and reflections of my life, they will clearly see that I never portrayed myself in feminine guise. If I had wanted to show myself in serious depth, I would have told a life story which, up to that point, bore more resemblance to that of the monk Alexis (in the not very entertaining novel Spiridion ) than to the passionate young Creole, Indiana.
J'ai présenté beaucoup de types de femmes, et je crois que quand on aura lu cet exposé des impressions et des réflexions de ma vie, on verra bien que je ne me suis jamais mise en scène sous des traits féminins. Si j'avais voulu montrer le fond sérieux, j'aurais raconté une vie qui jusqu'alors aurait plus ressemblé à celle du moine Alexis (dans le roman peu récréatif de Spiridion) qu'à celle d'Indiana la créole passionnée.
(Story of My Life, 921-22/OA, 2:160)
The difficulty that Sand experiences in portraying herself "in feminine guise" reveals her dread of being identified with other women insofar as this also entails her exclusion from society. Sand's strong identification with male writers echoes Nancy Miller's remark that "through literature, and more specifically through the use of the male pseudonym and male personae, women writers have been able to liberate themselves and attain a whole human experience."9 Writing "as a man" reveals at once Sand's response to the exclusion of women from literature while at the same time marking her ambivalence toward identifying with women, and thus a certain ambiguity toward feminism.
The subtleties of role playing are, as a result, very complex in Sand's writing. In discussing three novels written between 1832 and 1845—Indiana, Mauprat (1837), and Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine (1845)— I want to examine these issues in the context of Sand's artistic and intellectual shift of focus from the representation of "maternal fictions" to the future of Utopian communities.
In spite of Sand's mask of masculinity and Deutsch's diagnosis of a "masculinity complex," we will repeatedly rediscover the more powerful mediating figure of the recurrent female double and the phenomenon of female cross-dressing in Sand's major fiction; this includes not simply women dressing as men but women dressing as other women. Whereas for Deutsch "bisexuality" is uniquely linked to Sand's "masculinity complex," Naomi Schor's notion of "bisextuality" (at once bisexual and bitextual, an irreducible doubling that cuts across writing and gender) enables us to mark the oscillation between masculine and feminine on either side of the symbolic axis of castration. In other words, as Schor demonstrates, these undecidable identifications and permutations are characteristic of Sand: "In Sand's texts, this perverse oscillation takes the form of a breakdown of characterization which is quite possibly Sand's most radical gesture as a writer."10 Ultimately, the occasional adoption of male costume does not constitute an act of subversion but rather belongs to a long tradition of cross-dressing in fiction, drama, and opera. What Schor finds most interesting is the phenomenon of women dressing as other women, which I, in turn, will link to Sand's experience of the feminine double: "Female travesty in the sense of women dressing up as or impersonating other women constitutes by far the most disruptive form of bisextuality."11
Sand's feminine doubles, for instance, Indiana/Noun, Lélia/Pulchérie, and Valentine/Louise (each of which results from Sand's interminable impasse between her grandmother and her mother), are exemplary "bisextual" phenomena. Noun's suicide provides a fictional solution to the crisis that Sand herself experienced as insoluble. The feminine double is the figure at the intersection of two opposing maternal powers, and to choose either one is to end in tragedy. Perhaps Sand's writing enabled her to avert the tragedy for which she herself seemed destined.
Addressing issues raised in Story of My Life, which offers unparalleled insights into the deep-seated conflicts in Sand's nature, Thelma Jurgrau characterizes Sand's sexual "double bind": "The experiences of womanhood to which Sand herself directs us in Story of My Life are a primary source of evidence of gender anxiety, for they give readers a sense of the unusual origins and development that explain her inability to adapt to the typically constrained life of a woman of her time."12
The fluctuation between masculine and feminine identifications took a disturbing turn in a dream that Sand recounts in Story of My Life. In this passage, Aurore is fascinated by the green wallpaper of her bedroom and particularly by two figures shown in medallions over each doorway:
The one I saw on waking in the morning was a nymph, or a dancing Flora. This one gave enormous pleasure. The one facing her . . . had a totally different expression. She was a serious bacchante. I held the bacchante in awe, having read the story of Orpheus torn apart by similarly cruel ones; in the evening, when the shimmering light illuminated her extended arm and the thyrsus, I thought I saw the head of the divine poet on the end of a javelin.
Celle que je voyais le matin en m'éveillant était une nymphe ou une Flore dansante. Celle-là me plaisait énormément. Celle qui lui faisait vis à vis . . . était d'une expression toute différente. C'était une bacchante grave. Je regardais la bacchante avec étonnement, j'avais lu l'histoire d'Orphée déchiré par ces cruelles et le soir, quand la lumière vacillante éclairait le bras tendu et le thyrse, je croyais voir la tête du divin chantre au bout d'un javelot.
(Story of My Life, 477-78/OA, 1:619)
Aurore's dream fulfills her foreboding sense that something terrible was about to happen. Emerging from her medallion, the bacchante becomes a furious maenad who chases both Sand and the nymph and pierces both of their bodies with her sharp lance. The feminine double, bacchante/nymph, which again recalls Sand's hatred/love for the mother/grandmother figure, becomes another figure for Sand's tormented experience of gender identification.
This early scenario in Sand's life is replayed in Indiana. Instead of having two distinct and opposed figures (the bacchante and the nymph), Indiana and Noun represent the blurring of identities between the two Creoles. For Sand, the dream evokes Orpheus' death and the horror of his dismemberment. The dread she feels while looking at the wallpaper figures is expressed by the doubling of the female bacchante/nymph. In Indiana, Raymon de Ramière feels a similar dread when he is unable to differentiate between Indiana and Noun. The terror he experiences is closely related to Sand's horror at imagining the bacchante emerge from the wallpaper, with "the head of the divine poet on the end of a javelin." Raymon imagines that his mistress, Noun, is really the disguised Indiana, and thus that in making love to his mistress he is in fact making love to the chaste Indiana:
If she [Noun] had not been as drunk as he, she would have understood that in his wildest flights Raymon was thinking of another woman. But Noun appropriated all these transports to herself, when Raymon saw naught of her but Indiana's dress. If he kissed her black hair, he fancied that he was kissing Indiana's black hair. It was Indiana whom he saw in the fumes of the punch which Noun's hand had lighted; it was she who smiled upon him and beckoned him from behind those white muslin curtains.
Si elle n'eût pas été ivre comme lui, elle eût compris qu'au plus fort de son délire Raymon songeait à une autre. Mais Noun prenait tous ces transports pour elle-même, lorsque Raymon ne voyait d'elle que la robe d'Indiana. S'il baisait ses cheveux noirs, il croyait baiser les cheveux noirs d'Indiana. C'était Indiana qu'il voyait dans le nuage du punch que la main de Noun venait d'allumer; c'était elle qui l'appelait et qui lui souriait derrière ces blancs rideaux de mousseline.
The ghostlike shape of Indiana behind the "white muslin curtains" stresses the instability of Raymon's desire. In loving a "ghost," Raymon replays the Sandean scenario in which the absent woman is always the one most cherished.
In "The Uncanny" (1919), Freud describes the psychological phenomenon that arouses horror and dread. The uncanny registers the fact that something familiar has become "uncanny" (unheimlich), unfamiliar, through repression.13Indiana offers an exemplary incident of such a transformation in its account of Raymon's disorientation when, after Noun's suicide, he experiences an uncanny return of the repressed when he discovers that he has mistaken the hair of the dead Noun for that of Indiana: after Noun's suicide, Indiana offers Raymon a mass of cut hair, which he assumes to be that of Indiana, only to be overwhelmed when he realizes that it is that of his dead mistress. Raymon becomes a figure for Sand herself before the impasse of the double feminine identification. The familiar hair of the mysterious Indiana becomes unfamiliar once Raymon realizes it belongs to his late intimate companion. The familiarity/unfamiliarity of the hair and the women to whom it belongs crosses and recrosses. The central issue here is the instability that characterizes all these identifications.
Freud in effect describes the structure of Sandean "bisextuality" when he remarks that "among its different shades of meaning, the word heimlich [familiar] exhibits one which is identical with its opposite unheimlich. What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich."14 In other words, heimlich contains the meanings of both "canny" and "uncanny," "familiar" and "unfamiliar." So too does feminine identity in Sand. It contains within itself both the selfsame and the other. The experience of this doubleness causes Raymon to faint:
He looked more closely and saw a mass of black hair, of varying lengths, which seemed to have been cut in haste, and which Indiana was smoothing with her hands.
"Do you recognize it?" she asked.
Raymon hesitated, looked again at the handkerchief about her head and thought that he understood.
"This is not yours," he said, untying the kerchief which concealed Madame Delmare's hair.
"Don't you recognize this?"
Raymon sank upon a chair; Noun's locks fell from his trembling hand. He shivered from head to foot and fell in a swoon on the floor.
Il se pencha, et vit une masse de cheveux noirs irrégulièrement longs qui semblaient avoir été coupés à la hâte et qu'Indiana rassemblait et lissait dans ses mains.
"Les reconnaissez-vous?" lui dit-elle.
Raymon hésita, reporta son regard sur le foulard dont elle était coiffée, et crut comprendre.
"Ce ne sont pas les vôtres!" dit-il en détachant le mouchoir des Indes qui lui cachait ceux de madame Delmare.
"Ne reconnaissez-vous donc pas ceux-là?"
Raymon se laissa tomber sur une chaise; les cheveux de Noun échappèrent à sa main tremblante. Il frissonna de la tête aux pieds, et roula évanoui sur le parquet.
As he recognizes that he is holding the hair of the dead Noun, Raymon experiences the return of the repressed. Raymon's uncanny confusion between the dead and the living causes his desire to misfire and puts an end to his love for Indiana:
When he came to himself, Madame Delmare was on her knees beside him, weeping copiously; but Raymon no longer loved her.
"You have inflicted a horrible wound on me," he said; "a wound which it is not in your power to cure."
Quand il revint à lui, madame Delmare, à genoux près de lui, l'arrosait de larmes et lui demandait grâce; mais Raymon ne l'aimait plus.
"Vous m'avez fait un mal horrible," lui dit-il; "un mal qu'il n'est pas en votre pouvoir de réparer."
The uncanniness of the feminine double creates yet another form of psychological disturbance. The sexual instability of Raymon's love for Indiana is transformed into hatred: "He swore that he would be her master, were it but for a single day, and that then he would abandon her, to have the satisfaction of seeing her at his feet" (Il jura qu'il serait son maître, ne fût-ce qu'un jour, et qu'ensuite il l'abandonnerait pour avoir le plaisir de la voir à ses pieds) (Indiana, 4:172/191). Raymon's loss of consciousness emerges at the very moment the characteristic Sandean dilemma arises. That the crisis of the impossible but necessary need to choose between the two maternal models of identification emerges here within a male character and is envisioned from a male perspective simply reduplicates the process of doubling and division that has been at work from the outset. By virtue of the fetishistic remainder/reminder of the hair, the dead woman is the living one. Raymon's paralyzing inability to differentiate between them replays Sand's guilt. The unsettling effect that the scene has upon Raymon poses the question of the division within the Sandean ego.
We have, then, two pairs of doubles here: Indiana/Noun and Sand/Raymon. An important piece of evidence regarding this latter identification is surely the fact that the last words spoken by Raymon's dying mother exactly repeat the dying words of Sand's grandmother. Madame de Ramière says to her son, "'You are about to lose your best friend'" ("Vous perdez, lui dit-elle, votre meilleure amie" (Indiana, 4:244/264); while Sand's grandmother, on her deathbed, tells Aurore, "'You are losing your best friend.' Those were her last words" (Tu perds ta meilleure amie. Ce furent ces dernières paroles) (Story of My Life, 799/OA, 1:1106). The male who faints in Indiana is yet another figuration for the invariable Sandean experience of what lies at the limits of consciousness. The anguished choice between two modes of feminine identification, one the severe superego, the other the libidinally free ego ideal, is thus linked to the crisis of gender identification itself: am I a man or a woman? These are asymmetrical but inextricably linked dilemmas, and they lie at the heart of the structure and language of Indiana. They are asymmetrical because the other who calls on the ego to inhibit its desires, who prohibits the realization of desire, may or may not be female; and, conversely, the other who induces the ego to more pleasure, to more libidinal freedom, may or may not be male. The superego identification of the "thou shalt" variety and the ego-ideal identification with a positive rather than a negative model of desire form the constitutive parts of the unconscious dilemma of the Sandean ego, both in life and in art. The ego who responds to the call for more pleasure has no feminine models at its disposal, and hence it responds to the inducement to enjoy by taking on a masculine persona, cross-dressing, and all the other familiar Sandean motifs. On the other hand, the prohibition of desire by that other unconscious component in the Sandean ego forces it into its dialectically necessary conventionality; thus Sand must always be at once the archetypal Victorian matron and the archetypal Victorian artist-rebel. The crossings of these inescapable modes of identification lead us to a definitive typology of both Sand's life and her writing.
I would like to return to this process of doubling and division in one of Sand's dreams, which stages her gender anxiety at an early age. In this dream, she describes in detail a Pulcinella dressed in red and gold which she received as a gift when she was very young. The clown could not be kept in the same box with her favorite doll because she felt that the Pulcinella was a danger to it. Aurore had a foreboding that something terrible would happen to the feminine doll if she remained too near the Pulcinella. Having hung him from the stove, opposite her bed, Aurore fell asleep: "At night I had a terrible dream: Pulcinella, now dressed in a red spangled vest, his hump in front, had gotten up, caught fire on the stove, and was running all around, after me, after my doll who fled in a panic, while he reached us with long jets of flame" (La nuit, je fis un rêve épouvantable: polichinelle s'était levé, sa bosse de devant, revêtue d'un gilet de paillon rouge, avait pris feu sur le poêle, et il courait partout, poursuivant tantôt moi, tantôt ma poupée qui fuyait éperdue, tandis qu'il nous atteignait par de longs jets de flamme) (Story of My Life, 424/OA, 1:539). For Sand, the Pulcinella's violence, like Raymon's loss of consciousness, constitutes a moment of intense anxiety. While Pulcinella gave Sand a great souffrance morale, Raymon complains that a horrible wound (un mal horrible) has been inflicted on him. Aurore's passion for the fire is henceforth transformed into dread: "And instead of playing with the fire, as had been my passion until then, just one look at the fire left me in great terror" (Et, au lieu de jouer avec le feu comme jusque-là j'en avais eu la passion, la seule vue du feu me laissa une grande terreur) (Story of My Life, 424/OA, 1:539). As for Raymon, he swears that "he would triumph over her [Indiana]. It was no longer a matter of snatching a new pleasure, but of punishing an insult; not of possessing a woman, but of subduing her" (qu'il triompherait d'elle. Il ne s'agissait plus pour lui de conquérir un bonheur, mais de punir un affront; de posséder une femme, mais de la réduire) (Indiana, 4:172/191). The difference between and within the sexes is always an enigma for Sand. The Pulcinella dream, like Raymon's loss of consciousness, reveals her anxiety about both gender difference and the nature of feminine identity itself. Sand's writing is a defense against having to choose her gender, having to choose between the alternative maternal fictions she is presented with. Noun's suicide and Indiana's failures are figures of Sand's effort to evade the demands of reality.
Sand's writing is thus also an evasion, a foreclosure, a disavowal of the reality of death. Her refusal to choose between the fictions of her mothers is also a refusal to choose between life and death.
For Freud, death cannot be represented in our unconscious: "The psycho-analytic school could venture on the assertion that at bottom no one believes in his own death, or, to put the same thing in another way, that in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality" (SE, 14:289). It is part of Freud's clinical experience to discover that although the unconscious is ruled by the pleasure principle, it can be threatened by the death drive, thanatos. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1919), Freud argues that the life instincts have more contact with our internal perceptions, while the death instincts seem to do their work unobtrusively: "The pleasure principle seems actually to serve the death instincts." Life is finally in the service of death. In Sand's scenarios, the doll, Noun, and Indiana are symbolic figures of the death drive. The different registers of thanatos are probed in Sand's dreams and writing.
Sand's work unveils that the death drive is secretly at work in most of our life practices. Following Freud's theses in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Julia Kristeva poses the question of how the death drive functions within a divided ego: "Thus, if the death instinct is not represented in the unconscious, must one invent another level in the psychic apparatus where—simultaneously with jouissance—the being of its nonbeing would be recorded? It is indeed a production of the split ego, made up of fantasy and fiction—in short, the level of the imagination, the level of writing which bears witness to the hiatus, blank or spacing that constitutes death for the unconscious."15 The abandoned Indiana is, for Sand, like the dismembered Orpheus, a figure of the destructive forces at work in the act of artistic creation. In Indiana, Noun's suicide and Indiana's failed suicide explicitly raise these questions.
Abandoned a first time by Raymon de Ramière, Indiana tries to drown herself in the Seine. She is saved by her cousin Ralph, who asks her to promise to join him in committing suicide together sometime in the future. This strange bond suggests that the union between man and woman is possible only in death:
"Well then," rejoined Ralph, "swear to me that you will not resort to suicide without notifying me. I swear to you on my honor that I will not oppose your design in any way. I simply insist on being notified: as for life, I care about it as little as you do, and you know that I have often had the same idea."
"Eh bien, jurez-moi," reprit Ralph, "de ne plus avoir recours au suicide sans m'en prévenir. Je vous jure sur l'honneur de ne m'y opposer en aucune manière.
Je ne tiens qu'à être averti; quant au reste, je m'en soucie aussi peu que vous, et vous savez que j'ai souvent eu la même idée."
The joint suicide occupies a privileged place in the narrative since it stands as a substitute for the marriage between Indiana and Ralph. It is thus also a kind of regressive reverie, a symbolic return to the womb: the Ile Bourbon, which is the place of origin, also becomes the site chosen for the suicide pact. Kristeva describes the death drive in similar terms when she speaks of "a total oceanic death."
Sand describes a fantasm of absolute plenitude in Story of My Life when she recalls the aesthetic sensations that overwhelmed her in the midst of a drowning experience: "But right in the middle of the ford, a dizziness seized me, my heart leaped, my vision blurred, I heard the fatal Yes roaring in my ears. I reined my horse abruptly to the right and found myself in deep water, wracked by hysterical laughter and joy" (Mais au beau milieu du gué, le vertige de la mort s'empare de moi, mon coeur bondit, ma vue se trouble, j'entends le oui fatal gronder dans mes oreilles, je pousse brusquement mon cheval à droite, et me voilà dans l'eau profonde, saisie d'un rire nerveux et d'une joie délirante) (Story of My Life, 793/OA, 1:1096). Suicide is indeed for Sand "oceanic" and jubilant, and it coincides with this other voice, this voice of the other that cries oui as it reaches beyond the pleasure principle.
In Indiana, Sand again runs the risk of complete dissolution. Though the suicide pact of Indiana and Ralph never transpires, it succeeds in inscribing Sand's narrative within a familiar male narrative paradigm. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie (1788) "legitimates" Indiana insofar as Ralph and Indiana reiterate the terms of this earlier text. As Ralph says to Indiana: "When I read you the story of Paul and Virginie, you only half understood it. You wept, however, you saw only the story of a brother and sister where I had quivered with sympathy, realizing the torments of two lovers. The book made me miserable, whereas it was your joy" (Quand je vous lisais l'histoire de Paul et Virginie, vous ne la compreniez qu'à demi. Vous pleuriez, cependant; vous aviez vu l'histoire d'une frère et d'une soeur là où j'avais frissonné de sympathie en apercevant les angoisses de deux amants) (Indiana, 4:301/324). The resemblance between Paul et Virginie and Indiana stops at the last chapter, as if Sand deliberately wanted to mark the difference by "adding" another ending, an ending that averts suicide. Nancy Miller says of the different endings: "At stake here is what I think amounts to a mise en abyme, as it were (the pun is not only terrible and irresistible but important), of a female signature, the internal delineation of a writer's territory."16 Sand's distancing from the legitimacy of the precursor text also asserts the triumph of life over death. In their evasion of suicide, Indiana and Ralph transform Paul et Virginie's tragic end into a Sandean utopia, which nevertheless lies beyond the pleasure principle. In brief, the utopia is another kind of death.
For Isabelle Naginski, the novel's double ending finds its true significance in the creation of an authentic language system: "There is a legitimate reason for the false suicide to be transmuted into a happy ending, a logic behind the two heroes' flight to a paradise lost, as they engulf themselves in a circular mythological time."17 As Naginski argues, Ralph and Indiana achieve a new system of communication. Moreover, the novel's double ending prepares the birth of the future socialist commune which will liberate Sand from the anguish-ridden family scenarios.
Sand's early ambivalent feeling for her mother and grandmother is resolved in this way. At first, hatred was the grandmother's portion and love the mother's. Later a reversal took place: the grandmother was loved and the mother was hated, because she disappointed her daughter. In returning with Ralph to Bernica, Indiana recalls all she owes to both her cousin and the island: "Do you know that his mother was my mother's sister? that we were born in the same valley; that in our early years he was my protector; that he was my mainstay, my only teacher, my only companion at Ile Bourbon; that he has followed me everywhere" (Vous ne savez donc pas que sa mère était la soeur de la mienne; que nous sommes nés dans la même vallée; que son adolescence a protégé mes premiers pas; qu'il a été mon seul appui, mon seul instituteur, mon seul compagnon à l'île Bourbon; qu'il m'a suivie partout) (Indiana, 4:121/144). The maternal link is underlined here, and this is what justifies the Utopian departure of the lovers to the island, which in turn marks its supplementary difference from Paul et Virginie.
In founding their "Indian cottage" outside wedlock, Ralph and Indiana subvert the traditional endings of the nineteenth-century French novel. Union libre offers here an alternative that remained unacceptable in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, it defines the concept of a "happy" ending that she will elaborate in her later fiction. Georges Bataille has spoken of "the community of those who do not have a community," which is an apt description for the Utopian exclusion Ralph and Indiana experience at Ile Bourbon. The return to the place of origin again points to the question of the maternal and indicates as well Sand's need to legitimate her origin and identity. However, this maternal link must be broken in order for Ralph to tell the story of his life to Indiana: "I was hardly born when I was cast out of the heart which I most needed. My mother put me away from her breast with disgust" (A peine né, je fus repoussé du coeur dont j'avais le plus besoin. Ma mère m'éloigna de son sein avec dégoût) (Indiana, 4:298/321). Sand's ambiguity toward her mother is reiterated by Ralph's words. And there is something more; the desire to differentiate herself from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is only part of the story. As Nancy Miller observes, although Indiana also marks the end of the collaboration between Sand and Jules Sandeau, "the traces of a certain doubling seem to remain."18 There is no end to the doublings at work in Indiana, for Sand is always invariably expressing both her attachment to and her separation from the past.
After her grandmother's death, Aurore was forced to go and live with her mother in Paris. The long-dreamt-of maternal proximity was quickly transformed into a painful "absence of community." In her memories Sand indicates the difficulties of their relation: "[Aurore's mother] said that she had thus been informed by one of the closest friends of the family. I did not say anything in response; I could not say anything. I felt sick and disgusted. She went to bed, victorious over having crushed me" (Elle se disait renseignée ainsi par un des plus intimes amis de notre maison. Je ne répondis rien, je ne pouvais rien répondre. Le coeur me levait de dégoût. Elle se mit au lit, triomphante de m'avoir écrasée) (Story of My Life, 815/OA, 1:1129). Sand's disgust transforms the once-desired maternal relation into what Kristeva calls an "impregnable and thus malevolent, detestable exteriority."19 Separation from the mother, which was once dreaded, now becomes desirable; it is symbolically acted out by the double's suicide. One after the other, mother and grandmother are symbolically eliminated in Sand's fiction. Instead of reading Sand's ambiguous gender identification within the traditional opposition of masculine/feminine, we might understand it as an effort to regulate the dreaded maternal double and the gender trouble it produces by eliminating it.
In Indiana, for example, Ralph's mother is expressive of the bad mother, while Raymon's mother offers a positive vision: "That evening Madame de Ramière died in her son's arms. Raymon's grief was deep and bitter. His mother was really necessary to him; with her he lost all the moral comfort of his life" (Le soir, madame de Ramière mourut dans les bras de son fils. La douleur de Raymon fut amère et profonde. Sa mère lui était réellement nécessaire; avec elle il perdait tout le bien-être moral de sa vie) (Indiana, 4:244-45/265). There is no end to the doubling of the maternal figure in Sand's fiction.
Toward the New Community
If "Sand," as we discussed earlier, was the name that Delatouche gave her, "Piffoël" was the name that she gave herself. In Entretiens journaliers avec le très docte et très habile docteur Piffoël (1837-1841), Piffoël is at once Sand and the voice of the other within. In the entry of 3, 4, 5 July 1837, Sand notes her mother's illness (she would die the following month): "Misery, despair, bitter tears, I did not know I loved her so much this poor woman!" (Misère, désespoir, larmes amères, je ne savais pas que je l'aimais ainsi cette pauvre femme!), which is followed by a deep depression: "Your heart is troubled. Piffoël, which worry is eating you up? Which fear of living makes you wish illness and death?" (Ton coeur est troublé. Piffoël quel ennui te ronge? Quelle peur de vivre te fait donc souhaiter la maladie et la mort?).20 Sand's melancholia is transferred to Piffoël, whom she calls" melancholy and abominable beast" (bête mélancolique et abominable), and who represents her psychic split. Sand's immediate specular identification with the mother is here inverted into a death-bearing maternal image. Piffoël takes the place of the analyst who allows the transference to occur. Thus the feminine as an image of death is constantly transformed into a masculine representation that keeps at bay the threat of confusional love. Piffoël becomes the pseudonym which plays a role similar to that of Brulard. Both Vie de Henry Brulard and Entretiens journaliers enable their authors to distance themselves by creating another voice. Both Brulard and Piffoël are pseudonymous identities which symbolically allow Stendhal and Sand to cope with their traumatic memories. In both cases, autobiography is a return to the maternal archive with a view toward reinventing it.
The suicide pact of Ralph and Indiana is a version of the threatened fatality of maternal fusion: "'Be my husband in heaven and on earth,' she said, 'and let this kiss bind me to you for all eternity!'" ("Sois mon époux dans le ciel et sur la terre," lui ditelle, "et que ce baiser me fiance á toi pour l'éternité!") (Indiana, 4:314/338). The suicide pact expresses at once the impossibility of community and the basis for a new type of community. In this connection there is a particular pertinence to Jean-Luc Nancy's remark that "the true community of mortals, or death as the community, is their impossible communion."21 Recall Sand's experience of the other, nonsubjective voice she hears on the verge of drowning: "I could not tear myself away from the river bank at will and began to question myself, Yes or No, often enough and for a long enough time to risk being thrown by a Yes to the bottom of the clear water which attracted me" (Je ne pouvais plus m'arracher de la rive aussitôt que j'en formais le dessein, et je commençais à me dire: Oui ou Non? assez souvent et assez longtemps pour risquer d'être lançée par le Oui au fond de cette eau transparente qui me magnétisait) (Story of My Life, 793/OA, 1:1096). The basis of Sand's thinking about the nature of community entails a link to this voice, this "yes" that cries out from the other side of subjectivity. The temptation of suicide is also the solicitation of this other voice and of the new community that it portends.
The yes/no alternative of suicide is definitively abandoned in the conclusion of Indiana. In her supplementary ending to Paul et Virginie, Sand breaks away from traditional nineteenth-century institutions while accepting the assumption that culture is fully subsumed under patriarchal laws. In Sir Ralph's words: "Society should demand nothing of the man who expects nothing from it. As for the contagion of example, I do not believe in it; too much energy is required to break with the world, and too much suffering to acquire that energy" (La société ne doit rien exiger de celui qui n'attend rien d'elle. Quant à la contagion de l'exemple, je n'y crois pas; il faut trop d'énergie pour rompre avec le monde, trop de douleurs pour acquérir cette énergie) (Indiana, 4:327/353). The end of the novel moves from France to its colonies and points to the limits of the dominant culture. Indiana does not, however, issue in a strong protest against that culture, since the social implications of the decision of Indiana and Ralph to live for love in a world beyond convention relegate them to a marginal role. Sand's abandonment of the romantic suicide pact gives way to Sir Ralph's criticism of society. In this gesture, we can see a movement that will develop in Sand's subsequent novels. In Mauprat (1837), she succeeds in integrating her personal myths with the Utopian notion of a better society to come.
1 George Sand, Story of My Life, a group translation, ed. Thelma Jurgrau (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 76; all references to Story of My Life will be made to this edition. George Sand, Oeuvres autobiographiques, 2 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, La Pléiade, 1970), 1:13. I will refer to the French original as OA.
2The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1979), 49. Gustave Flaubert-George Sand Correspondence, texte édité, préfacé par Alphonse Jacobs (Paris: Flammarion, 1981), 121.
3 Helene Deutsch, The Psychology of Women, 2 vols. (New York: Grune and Stratton, 1944), 1:304.
4 Ibid., 1:319.
6 Phillipe Berthier, "Corambé: Interprétation d'un mythe," in George Sand, ed. Simone Vierne (Paris: SEDES et CDU Réunis, 1983), 11; my translation.
7 Ibid., 15.
8 George Sand, preface to Indiana, in Novels, 20 vols. (Boston and New York: Jefferson Press, 1900-1902), 4:xv; references to Indiana will be made to this English translation, followed by the French text. George Sand, Indiana (Paris: Gamier, 1983), 14-15.
9 Nancy K. Miller, Getting Personal (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), 107.
10 Naomi Schor, "Female Fetishism: The Case of George Sand," in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. Susan Suleiman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 369.
11 Schor, "Female Fetishism," 370.
12 George Sand, Story of My Life 9. The editor, Thelma Jurgrau, devotes most of her introduction to Sand's Story of My Life to "gender positioning."
13 Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny," in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey et al., 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1953-74), 17:220. Hereinafter referred to as SE.
14 Ibid., 17:224.
15 Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 26.
16 Nancy K. Miller, "Arachnologies: The Woman, the Text, and the Critic," in The Poetics of Gender, ed. Nancy K. Miller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 278.
17 Isabelle Hoog Naginski, George Sand: Writing for Her Life (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 75.
18 Miller, Poetics of Gender, 280. Miller has a long discussion in which she demonstrates that Indiana offers a representation of the female signature of protest. See particularly Miller, "Archnologies," 270-81.
19 Kristeva, Black Sun, 256.
20 George Sand, Entretiens journaliers avec le très docte et très habile docteur Piffoël, in OA; 2:1000-1001; my translation.
21 Jean-Luc Nancy, La Communauté désoeuvrée (Paris: Christian Bourgeois, 1986), 42; my translation.
Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1052
Brée, Germaine. "George Sand: The Fictions of Autobiography." Nineteenth-Century French Studies IV, 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. Family Romances: George Sand's Early Novels. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987, 183 p.
Focusing on Sand's use of the father figure, explores a woman's depiction of the Oedipal triangle from the daughter's perspective. Portions are excerpted above and in NCLC, Vol. 42.
Deutelbaum, Wendy and Cynthia Huff. "Class, Gender, and Family System: The Case of George Sand." In The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Psychoanalytic Interpretation, edited by Shirley Nelson Garner, Claire Kahane, and Madelon Sprengnether, pp. 260-79. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985.
Argues that class and sexual politics together shaped Sand as an anti-feminist socialist who could envision utopia emerging only through male endeavor.
Dickenson, Donna. George Sand: A Brave Man—The Most Womanly Woman. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1988, 190 p.
Avoiding the line of criticism that has focused on the scandals in Sand's personal life and challenging myths about Sand as an effortless writer who was the "darling of the muses," this study emphasizes Sand's position as a hard-working professional writer in nineteenth-century France.
Ender, Evelyne. Sexing the Mind: Nineteenth-Century Fictions of Hysteria. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995, 300 p.
Studies Sand, Henry James, and George Eliot in the context of the construction of gender difference during the nineteenth century, when gender divisions were being clearly demarcated in literary and scientific discourse through the codification of the "hysterical" woman.
Gramm, Marylou. "The Politics of George Sand's Pastoral Novels." In George Sand Today, edited by David A. Powell, pp. 167-79. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992.
Argues that Sand's shift to the rural scene in her later novels does not indicate a withdrawal from politics, but rather represents an attempt to explore the differences between the political situations of the urban proletariat and the rural peasantry.
Johnson, Diane. "Experience as Melodrama: George Sand." In Terrorists and Novelists, pp. 41-51. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.
Debunking the view of Sand as a tragic figure who never found complete contentment in life, this study emphasizes Sand's success as an intellectual leader in nineteenth-century France.
Jurgrau, Thelma. "Critical Introduction: Gender Positioning in Story of My Life." In Story of My Life: The Autobiography of George Sand, by George Sand, edited by Thelma Jurgrau, pp. 7-29. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.
Focusing on Sand's representation of gender and the gap between the writer's declared intentions and her actual narrative, argues that Sand's autobiography is a carefully constructed life-story that foregrounds the idea of "gender in flux."
Kelly, Linda. The Young Romantics. New York: Random House, 1976, 180 p.
Examines the relationships among the leading figures of the French Romantic Movement.
Naginski, Isabelle Hoog. George Sand: Writing for Her Life. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991, 281 p.
Focuses on Sand's contribution to the development of the modern novel in terms of her conscious distancing from the dominant nineteenth-century French male tradition and her attempts to create a female poetics based upon an androgynous vision.
O'Brien, Dennis. "George Sand and Feminism." In George Sand Papers: Conference Proceedings, 1976, pp. 76-9. New York: AMS Press, 1980.
Argues against an ahistorical application to Sand of twentieth-century feminist standards, by which she might be considered anti-feminist. Instead, O'Brien attempts to place Sand within her own socio-historical context, highlighting her commitment to equality and to revolt against male domination as evidence of her proto-feminist credentials.
Petrey, Sandy. "George and Georgina Sand: Realist Gender in Indiana." In Textuality and Sexuality: Reading Theories and Practices, edited by Judith Still and Michael Worton, pp. 133-47. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993.
Places Indiana within the tradition of French realism by reading it as a novel that focuses on the sociohistorical forces that determine the construction of gender identities.
Rea, Annabelle. "Toward a Definition of Women's Voice in Sand's Novels: The Siren and the Witch." In George Sand: Collected Essays, edited by Janis Glasgow, pp. 227-38. New York: Whitson Publishing Company, 1985.
Focuses on Sand's portrayal of women in Consuelo and Little Fadette, which emphasize women's need to speak out and deconstruct stereotypes that cast vocal women as sirens or witches.
Schor, Naomi. "Female Fetishism: The Case of George Sand." In The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Susan Rubin Suleiman, pp. 363-71. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Examines Sand's use of fetishism as a deliberate strategy that foregrounds her own and her characters' bisexuality, rather than as a Freudian sign of penisenvy or sexual perversion.
——. "The Portrait of a Gentleman: Representing Men in (French) Women's Writing." Representations Vol. 20 (Fall 1987): 113-33.
Analyzes a recurrent scene in works by Sand, Mme. de Lafayette, and Mme. de Staël, with a view to opening a broader discussion of the representation of men by women writers.
—"Idealism in the Novel." Yale French Studies Vol. 75 (1988): 56-73.
Examines reasons for Sand's virtual exclusion from the literary canon in the late nineteenth century and in most of the twentieth century.
—George Sand and Idealism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, 275 p.
Explores the relationship between feminism and idealism in Sand's writing, and the effect of this conjunction on Sand's problematic position in the literary canon.
Sivert, Eileen Boyd. "Lélia and Feminism." Yale French Studies Vol. 62 (1981): 45-66.
Compares Sand's treatment in Lélia of various problems surrounding the representation and recognition of women with the treatment of similar problems by twentieth-century French feminists Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous.
Smith, Albert. "Fantasy in the Plays of George Sand." In George Sand: Collected Essays, edited by Janis Glasgow, pp. 160-71. New York: Whitson Publishing Company, 1985.
Examines Sand's use of fantasy in her plays as a form of reaction against contemporary attempts at sordid realism and as an attempt to project positive alternatives for the edification of her reading public.
Vest, James M. "Fluid Nomenclature, Imagery, and Themes in George Sand's Indiana." South Atlantic Review Vol. 46, No. 2 (May 1981): 43-54.
Examines references to fluids and fluidity in Indiana in relation to both the novel's structure and its themes of "displacement, escape, and transformation."
Additional coverage of Sand's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Discovering Authors; World Literature Criticism, 1500 to the Present; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 118.
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