Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616
Consuelo is a rambling novel divided into 106 chapters, each consisting of a short scene which advances the story by slow degrees. It reflects George Sand’s own love of freedom and adventure, as well as her love of music. The story is significant to women’s issues and concerns because it illustrates the plight of a lower-class girl in a male-dominated society where opportunities are restricted to men. It illustrates Sand’s view that marriage, the only “career” open to most women, could be little better than slavery.
The opening chapters deal with Consuelo’s life in Venice. She hopes to escape from grinding poverty by obtaining a musical education at the Scuola dei Mendicanti, a public charity school conducted by Porpora. Only because Consuelo possesses musical genius can she aspire to a better life than most women of her class. Nevertheless, her career on the stage exposes her to lecherous advances by men who assume that women of her profession are immoral.
Consuelo grew up with a handsome Italian boy named Anzoleto. Although they often sleep side by side on the pavement or in gondolas, their relationship is chaste. Consuelo takes it for granted that they will marry. Anzoleto is a good singer, and women find him fascinating. His musical ability, however, is far inferior to that of his fiancée. Realizing this, he hopes to attain success by romancing wealthy women. Consuelo is heartbroken when she discovers that Anzoleto is being callously unfaithful; she seizes an opportunity to flee Venice to get away from her lover and the scenes of former happiness.
Consuelo stays in a gloomy Gothic castle in Bohemia with a noble family named Rudolstadt, who are friends of Porpora. She is to teach music to an aristocratic lady who hopes to marry Count Albert Rudolstadt and share his wealth and social position. Instead, the strange young man, who is plagued with guilt over the way in which his ancestors have exploited the common people and who suffers from hallucinations and catalepsy, falls in love with Consuelo because of her artistic sensitivity and compassion. His father and aunt at first object to his affection for a girl of the lowest social class, but eventually they are won over when they realize that only Consuelo can restore Albert to sanity.
In the third section of the novel, Consuelo runs away from the Castle of the Giants because she is not sure that she loves Albert. Without money or protection, she is in great danger as she tries to make her way to the famous music capital of Vienna. Fortunately, she encounters a young man on the road who is none other than the young Joseph Haydn, a musician destined to become one of the greatest composers of all time. Consuelo disguises herself as a man for protection against being raped by the sinister characters who roam the highways.
In Vienna, Consuelo is reunited with her beloved Porpora and seems destined for a spectacular career. Yet she is becoming disillusioned with the stage; she sees that young women are in peril from the immorality associated with the theater. She wonders if she made a mistake abandoning Albert, who offered her luxury, security, and respectability.
In the final chapters, she is called back to Albert’s castle, where her lover lies dying. She arrives too late to save him. He begs her to marry him before he dies because he believes that their souls will thereby be united for eternity. He expires shortly after they exchange vows. She finds herself, against her will, the Countess Rudolstadt, inheritor of Albert’s fortune and future heiress of the Castle of the Giants and all the family possessions.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
Sand has been called the first modern, liberated woman. Her interest in social reform was focused largely on improving the conditions of women, whom she regarded as little better off than slaves. She deplored the fact that women were often forced to marry for economic reasons rather than for love. Her own experience had left her with a lifelong aversion to marriage; she was a century ahead of her time in wanting to see marriage become an uncoerced contract based on mutual love and respect. Although her novels have a Cinderella flavor, they contain a strong undercurrent of social protest. This was particularly true of her “middle period,” to which the novel Consuelo belongs.
Unfortunately, Sand’s ideas about how equality between men and women could be achieved were rather vague and confused, reflecting the tumultuous changes taking place in French thought in the period following the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era, and the Paris Revolution of 1848. Only exceptional women such as Sand herself were able to obtain economic freedom, and without financial independence it was difficult to visualize equality for women. Sand was particularly interested in how social injustice affected women. She addressed her novels to women and in Consuelo frequently uses such expressions as “my young lady readers.” She was not interested in seeing women obtain the right to vote, but she wanted women to demand and obtain better treatment from men.
Sand’s main contribution was in exposing the problem to public view. Her fiction, although flawed by the sticky romanticism so popular in her day, aroused considerable interest in female emancipation. Sand was hated and adored during her lifetime. The fact that she often dressed in men’s attire and smoked cigars antagonized her enemies but drew attention to the fact that women represented an enslaved class confined to their homes and entirely dependent upon husbands, fathers, brothers, or other males. Her courage and self-reliance set an example that has earned her an honored place in the women’s liberation movement.
Sand was a highly successful writer. She was also one of the most prolific writers of all time. She was a leader in shaping the Gothic romance, the historical romance, and the pastoral romance, still enormously popular literary genres. Her novels were read all over Europe by men as well as women. She proved conclusively that women could write as well as men, a fact disputed since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Sand’s novels were not mere romantic fantasies but instead were full of intelligent discussions of many topics. Because she had led an adventurous and sexually liberated life, her works had the same breadth as those of such free-spirited men as English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron. Sand proved that women could equal men in virtually any pursuit if they were not crippled by inferior educations, social prejudice, political discrimination, physical intimidation, and domestic servitude.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506
Atwood, William G. The Lioness and the Little One: The Liaison of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. Chronicles Sand’s famous love affair with the great Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin, who helped her acquire the rich musical appreciation displayed in Consuelo.
Blount, Paul G. George Sand and the Victorian World. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979. This interesting short volume discusses the reaction of Victorians to Sand and her influence upon such famous writers as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot.
Datlof, Natalie, Jeanne Fuchs, and David A. Powell, eds. The World of George Sand. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. A collection of penetrating essays on Sand’s life, works, politics, contemporaries, and influence on world literature. Includes essays on Consuelo and La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (1843-1844; The Countess of Rudolstadt, 1847), Chapter notes provide a wealth of reference material.
James, Henry. French Poets and Novelists. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964. One of the world’s greatest novelists devotes a chapter in this authoritative book to the life and works of George Sand. Other chapters discuss Sand’s other famous lover, poet Alfred de Musset, and her friend Gustave Flaubert.
Maurois, André. Lélia: The Life of George Sand. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. New York: Harper, 1953. One of the best of many biographies of Sand, written by a famous French author whom V. S. Pritchett called “one of the most readable of biographers.”
Naginski, Isabelle Hoog. George Sand: Writing for Her Life. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991. Discusses Sand’s career as a professional writer, which enabled her to lead a life of independence at a time when female authors were scorned and it was difficult for any author to make a living.
Powell, David A. George Sand. Boston: Twayne, 1990. This biography of Sand by an authority on her life and works provides a great deal of criticism and interpretation. Powell devotes many pages to discussions of both Consuelo and its sequel The Countess of Rudolstadt (1843). The compact, functional volume contains considerable bibliographical material.
Sand, George. The Countess of Rudolstadt. New York: A. L. Burt, 1912. The curious reader can follow Consuelo’s subsequent life up until the eve of the French Revolution in this sequel to Consuelo, originally published in French in 1844. Consuelo discovers that, miraculously, Albert is still alive. As members of a secret organization similar to the early Freemasons, they roam throughout Eastern Europe with their children, preaching the love of humanity.
Sand, George. Story of My Life: The Autobiography of George Sand. Edited by Thelma Jurgrau. Albany: State University Press of New York, 1991. This excellent English-language edition of Sand’s Histoire de ma vie (1854-1855) contains forty-five pages of introductory material, as well as many pages of author’s notes and editor’s notes.
Sand, George, and Gustave Flaubert. The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters. Translated by Aimee L. McKenzie. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921. Two great French writers exchange views on literature, society, politics, philosophy, and many other subjects.
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