George Sand

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George Sand Biography

George Sand is the pen name of Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin, a French writer who lived from 1804 to 1876.

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Article abstract: Sand contributed to nineteenth century French literature a prodigious number of important romantic novels, travel writings, and political essays.

Early Life

In many ways, George Sand’s early life reads like one of her more improbable romantic novels, with her socially mismatched parents, her eccentric aristocratic grandmother, her unorthodox tutors, her flirtation with Catholicism, her unfortunate marriage, her idealistic quest for love, and her close proximity to the political upheavals of her age.

She was born Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, in Paris, in 1804, the year of Napoleon I’s coronation. When Aurore was only four years old, her father, Maurice Dupin, a dashing officer in Napoleon’s army, and a grandson of the illustrious Marshal of Saxe, was thrown from a Spanish stallion and died instantly. Aurore was left alternately in the care of her mother, Sophie, the lowborn daughter of a tavern keeper, and her fraternal grandmother, Mme Dupin de Francueil, a woman of aristocratic background and tastes.

Aurore endured the constant emotional and social friction between her two guardians until 1817, when she was sent to the Couvent des Anglaises in Paris to finish her education. At the convent, she was much appreciated by the nuns, despite her somewhat headstrong ways, and even felt the mystical attractions of a religious vocation. In 1820, to circumvent her taking the veil, Mme Dupin de Francueil brought Aurore home to the family estate at Nohant in Berry. There she learned to ride cross-saddle with her brother Hippolyte Chatiron, began to wear men’s clothing for riding, and was taught to shoot by Stephane Ajasson de Grandsagne.

In the summer of 1821, Aurore’s grandmother had a severe stroke, and Aurore nursed Mme Dupin de Francueil, an unusually difficult patient, until her death in December of the same year. Shortly afterward, in September of 1822, Aurore married Second Lieutenant Casimir Dudevant, bringing him a large estate of 400,000 francs. Her first child, Maurice Dudevant, was born in June of 1823. Her second child, Solange, probably fathered by Stephane Ajasson de Grandsagne, was born in September of 1828, and signaled the continued deterioration of her hasty marriage to the then-financially dependent and increasingly unpleasant Casimir.

In 1831, Aurore left her husband, and Nohant, for Paris, where she lived with her literary mentor, Jules Sandeau. Together, they coauthored articles for the French publication Le Figaro and, under the pen name Jules Sand, published an apprentice novel, Rose et Blanche (1831). In the early 1830’s, Paris was in turmoil, in the aftermath of the July Revolution, and Aurore Dudevant was writing her first independent novel, to be published under the pseudonym George Sand.

Life’s Work

In May of 1832, Indiana (English translation, 1833) was published. It was an immediate popular and critical success, launching a distinguished literary career which was to flourish unabated for forty-four prolific years. Sand followed up her first triumph rapidly, in only six short months, with an equally relished novel, Valentine (1832; English translation, 1902). This short period of time between novels was a good indication of the famous, almost notorious, fluency with which Sand was to write throughout her life. In 1832, she published Lélia (English translation, 1978), and these three early works, along with the ones that followed, Jacques (1834; English translation, 1847) and Mauprat (1837; English translation, 1870), were typical of Sand’s characteristic concerns: the relationship between men and women, class differences in French society, marriage laws and conventions, and the romantic quest for passionate love. There is no question that Sand, when writing these early novels, was drawing on the experience of her own socially mixed parentage, her unhappy union with...

(This entire section contains 1983 words.)

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Casimir Dudevant, and her passionate but troublesome affair with the poet Alfred de Musset.

Critical interest in Sand’s life and loves has always competed with interest in her works, and this is not surprising when one considers how much they are intertwined. It was, in fact, her ill-fated trip to Venice with Musset in 1833 that provided the material for her highly acclaimed Lettres d’un voyageur (1837; Letters of a Traveller, 1847), as well as the later novel Elle et lui (1859; She and He, 1902). Consuelo (1842-1843; English translation, 1846), the story of a charming prima donna, which evokes so beautifully the musical world of the eighteenth century, was written during her long liaison with Frédéric Chopin. With George Sand, life and art seem always to imitate each other.

The works of her second period, probably influenced by the socialist prophet Pierre Leroux, take a religious tone and concern for the common people, which were already present in Sand’s earlier works. Spiridion (1839; English translation, 1842), which is a mystical story set in a monastery, and Le Meunier d’Angibault (1845; The Miller of Angibault, 1847), which has a man of the people for its hero, are typical of the novels of this political period, in which she was also establishing the socialist Revue indépendante (1841) with Pierre Leroux and gaining the reputation which would make her the unofficial minister of propaganda after the abdication of Louis-Philippe in 1848. As much as her heart was in the Revolution, and as hard as she worked for government reforms in her own province of Berry, she was sorely disillusioned by the reckless and often-irrational behavior of both the proletariat and the bourgeois participants. After the Coup of 1851, Sand focused her political work on interceding with Napoleon III on behalf of numerous imprisoned or exiled republicans. His fortunate admiration for her work made her an unusually successful advocate.

La Mare au diable (1846; The Devil’s Pool, 1850), François le champi (1850; Francis the Waif, 1889), and La Petite Fadette (1848-1849; Little Fadette, 1850) are Rousseauesque paeans to the beauties of nature and the essential goodness of plain, simple peasants, no matter how hard their lives might be, or what difficulties circumstance might put in their way. These novels are a direct and startling contrast to her intense involvement in French politics, and are often considered her most beautiful and authentic works. The characters in these novels are clearly modeled on the Berrichon peasants, whom she had known from childhood.

In the 1850’s, Sand’s son Maurice had become fascinated with puppet theater, an interest that soon captivated Sand and eventually resulted in her writing a number of plays for the Paris theater. Her fluent, almost poetic, style was not suited to the theater of the day, however, and her plays did not bring her the popularity or the financial rewards of her earlier writings. In the last twenty-five years of her life, Sand continued to publish novels with remarkable felicity, at least partly to support her estate at Nohant. The jewel of her later years is undoubtedly her autobiography, Histoire de ma vie (1854-1855; History of My Life, 1901), written to finance her daughter’s dowry and to settle a number of pressing debts. This enormous work, of close to half a million words, first ran in 138 installments in the Parisian newspaper La Presse. It is not exactly an autobiography in the modern, or conventional, sense of the word: since more than one-third of the book is really about her editing of her father’s correspondence with her grandmother; since it is quite restrained about the private details of her relationships with such interesting and renowned artists as Prosper Mérimée, Jules Sandeau, Alfred de Musset, Frédéric Chopin, and Alexandre Manceau; since it was written fully twenty-one years before her death; and since it is full of seemingly unrelated digressions and didactic passages. Yet this amorphous tome is an unparalleled source of information about Sand’s early life and fundamental ideas.

In her final two decades, Sand’s literary output was primarily miscellaneous, with one of the outstanding features being a copious correspondence with other important writers, such as Gustave Flaubert. Sand was a diligent letter writer; more than twenty thousand of her letters are still extant.

George Sand died on June 8, 1876, of an intestinal occlusion, but not before she had seen the dawn of the republic in France, and not before she had spent her early morning hours writing as usual. She was buried at her beloved Nohant, and her funeral was attended by such notables as Prince Jérôme Bonaparte, Alexandre Dumas, fils, and Gustave Flaubert, as well as by the grief-stricken peasants of the district of Berry.

Summary

Ivan Turgenev said of George Sand, “What a brave man she was, and what a good woman!” Sand’s androgyny, which expressed itself sometimes in her smoking and masculine clothing, and sometimes in the motherly solicitude with which she cared for her friends and lovers, is only one of the many dichotomies which are so characteristic of her life and work. It is important to remember that Sand was a woman with aristocratic blood and a family estate, who wrote socialist novels and worked for the republic. She was an idealistic, sometimes even mystical, novelist, who was, nevertheless, throughout her life, the practical and financial center of her family. She was a famous Parisian and an avid traveler, who loved the quiet countryside of Berry with an almost spiritual devotion. She was a woman who had high respect for marriage but who also wrote some of the most damning criticism of the institution ever written. She was in all ways a woman, and a writer, who captured, in both her life and her works, the conflicted spirit of her age.

Bibliography

Barry, Joseph. Infamous Woman: The Life of George Sand. New York: Doubleday, 1977. An enthusiastic biography of George Sand by an author who sees her as “our existential contemporary.” Especially useful for its long quotations from her correspondence, and for its well-chosen illustrations; for example, a manuscript page in Sand’s own hand from her diary dated August 21, 1865.

Cate, Curtis. George Sand: A Biography. New York: Avon Books, 1975. This is the definitive biography of Sand for English-speaking readers. Cate follows the personal, literary, social, family, and economic life of Sand from her birth and the crowning of Napoleon in 1804, to her death and the rise of the republic in 1876.

Crecelius, Kathryn J. Family Romances: George Sand’s Early Novels. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. A study of George Sand’s early novels, with an emphasis on Sigmund Freud’s concept of the Oedipal struggle.

Dickenson, Donna. George Sand. New York: Berg Publishers, 1988. In this largely feminist analysis of Sand’s life and work, Dickenson attempts to reinterpret some of the staples of the George Sand myth. She argues, for example, that Sand was a more professional and careful writer than critics, who look only at her prolific output, are usually willing to admit. She also combats the image of Sand as an omnivorous, devouring lover.

Glasgow, Janis, ed. George Sand: Collected Essays. Troy, N.Y.: Whitson Publishing, 1985. This collection of essays, in both French and English, is an unusual example of Franco-American scholarly cooperation.

Sand, George. My Life. Translated by Dan Hofstadter. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. Because the French original was exceedingly large and rambling, because it focused so much on Sand’s family before her birth, because it was written long before Sand’s career was completed, and because it was not especially frank about her liaisons with other famous artists, Hofstadter has wisely abridged his translation of Sand’s autobiography for English readers.

Sand, George. She and He. Translated by George B. Ives. Chicago: Cassandra Editions, 1978. This clearly autobiographical novel is a fictionalized account of Sand’s stormy affair with the artist Alfred de Musset. Thérèse’s and Laurent’s sojourn in Italy and Laurent’s near-fatal illness closely resemble the events of Sand’s life with Musset from 1833 to 1835.

Thomson, Patricia. George Sand and the Victorians: Her Influence and Reputation in Nineteenth Century England. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. Thomson explores the connections between George Sand and Jane Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Matthew Arnold, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James. There is an especially good chapter entitled “George Sand and English Reviewers.”