Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 797
George Sand is important in literary history for being a pioneer in the development of the category of fiction known as the romantic novel. Some modern classics in the genre are Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) and Margaret Mitchell’s famous Civil War novel Gone with the Wind (1936). Earlier classics in the genre include Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847). It is interesting to note that Consuelo contains some of the elements that have come to be practically indispensable to such novels. Two of the most popular elements are the Cinderella theme and the theme of a woman torn between love for two different men. Sand uses both in Consuelo, the story of a poor girl who marries a handsome aristocrat and becomes a wealthy countess. The heroine is torn between love for the passionate but fickle Anzoleto and the noble but neurotic Albert.
The element of the vagabond in Consuelo undoubtedly appealed to female readers of Sand’s time, many of whom lived housebound, dependent lives and could identify with a heroine who had the courage to live under the open sky, travel wherever she pleased, and obtain the necessities of life through her own wit and talent. The book is a powerful statement about the rights of the individual—male or female. It attacks corruption and hypocrisy and explores the difficulties that face an independent woman. Sand knew the pain of independence, and she steered her heroine through the traps waiting for any woman who tried to achieve success in her own right. Consuelo saves herself much suffering by avoiding financial or psychological dependence on men, subjugating her personality to no one. Her character explores the experience of a woman searching for personal integrity.
Her novels are often neglected because they have old-fashioned characteristics that annoy impatient readers. The modern reader may find Consuelo too long, too rambling, too digressive, too full of melodramatic events and inflated dialogue expressing impossibly noble sentiments. Some of the characters that were original creations in Sand’s time have become stereotypes from too much copying by inferior writers. Consuelo herself is a slightly implausible character. She was raised on the streets of Venice but remains a chaste, high-minded girl throughout her harrowing adventures, which include attempts to seduce and rape her. Without any formal education, she has a huge vocabulary and impeccable grammar; she speaks Spanish, Italian, and German. She has the ability to pick up new languages practically overnight. Her voice captivates everyone who hears her. Men fall madly in love with her at first sight.
What saved Sand’s best novels from oblivion was the keen mind of their author. Noteworthy in Consuelo are Sand’s mini-essays contained in her many interesting digressions from the main thread of her tale. Chapter 56 contains an essay on folk art that displays Sand’s intelligence, learning, and socialistic ideology. Chapter 74 contains a poetic essay on loneliness. Chapter 97 contains a moving description of the silence and the mystery of an empty theater. Chapter 101 contains a profound discussion of the function of art. Consuelo is also remarkable for its demonstration of Sand’s musical knowledge, part of which she acquired during her famous love affair with the great Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin. Perceptive readers are willing to overlook Consuelo’s faults in favor of its wealth of information about history, famous personalities of the eighteenth century, music, architecture, fashions, furnishings, social conditions, and human nature. The novel’s portrait of the young Franz Joseph Haydn, founder of the symphony and teacher of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is another of its interesting features.
Sand is regarded by contemporary feminists as an early heroine of the women’s movement who outraged society by dressing in men’s clothes, smoking cigars, and living a life of sexual freedom normally permitted only to men. This recognition of Sand as a dynamic personality has brought about a renewed interest in her fiction. Consuelo can be read as a protest against the suppressed condition of women. Sand’s revolutionary concerns went beyond that, however; she wanted nothing less than a complete reconstruction of society based on evangelical love. She was appalled by the glaring contrast between the wealthy minority and the impoverished, overworked majority. Consuelo belongs to what has been called Sand’s middle period. In later years, she withdrew from active life and wrote a number of pastoral romances that celebrate the virtues of a life of contemplation. Her life mirrored the turbulent period of history she lived through, which included the French revolution of 1848 and its reactionary aftermath. Consuelo, like most of Sand’s novels, is intensely autobiographical and reveals the real-life courage as well as the lofty ideals and powerful emotions of a remarkable woman.
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