Indiana was the novel that launched the phenomenally successful career of nineteenth-century French author George Sand. In her preface, Sand explains that she wrote without any plan in mind, simply allowing her characters to lead her. Sand was hailed as a “natural” writer for this reason, but at the same time the novel was analyzed intensely at the time of publication as readers strove to establish what central meaning Sand had ensconced in her text.
Indiana is a noteworthy novel, particularly to the Anglo-American reader, in part because it presents not one but two depictions of “ruined” women who are not damned for their behavior—highly unusual in a nineteenth-century novel. At the time of its writing, this meant that the book was criticized as a potential attack on virtuous women. Especially because Sand herself did not live according to the traditional standards of her time, living with a series of lovers over the course of her life, this has also turned the book into a battleground for feminist theorists who are driven to uncover what Sand’s novel says about gender, society, and the rejection of expectations placed upon us.
Any analysis of Sand readily invites gender-based criticism for reasons that are evident. While it was not unusual for women writers to use male pen names, as George Eliot and the Brontë sisters did, Sand’s rejection of traditional femininity went far beyond her use of a masculine name for her work. Sand dressed in men’s clothing and refused to apply for the licence that was technically required for women who wished to do so. Her contemporary Victor Hugo noted, “George Sand cannot determine whether she is male or female. I entertain a high regard for all my colleagues, but it is not my place to decide whether she is my sister or my brother.” Gender being such a key question in Sand’s own life, it is perhaps natural that Indiana offers a rich foundation for discussion about gender roles and the differences between men and women, both innate and societal.
The identity of George Sand was hotly debated after the publication of Indiana, with some arguing that its focus upon female misery in a patriarchal society could only have been the product of a female pen, while others suggested that the writing was too bold and purposeful to have been that of a woman. These arguments are rather ironic in light of what Sand actually conveys in Indiana: that men come in all types and that every woman contains an element of the so-called masculine.
To the twenty-first century reader, what is remarkable about Indiana is that none of the characters is a straightforward or uncomplicated villain or hero. The titular Indiana is sympathetic, but she is also alternately headstrong and self-pitying, oblivious and wilfully blind. Because she has determined that she can never be happy with Delmare, she refuses to see the good in him. Meanwhile, Delmare, who might have been a two-dimensional tyrant in the hands of another writer, is driven more by temper than cruelty and genuinely cares for his young wife. Likewise, Raymon, while fickle and vain, is not depicted as a simplistic cad. His love for Noun and, then, Indiana is something in which he truly believes, although his actions leave much to be desired. The “insipid” Ralph is dismissed by Delmare as having no power to attract Indiana. Yet arguably it is his “feminine” connection to his emotions, finally realized at the end of the novel, that makes Indiana recognize her love for him.
Far from embodying opposite archetypes of the feminine and the...
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masculine, Indiana and Ralph come together because they are so similar, each a neglected child suffering chronically from depression and the longing to be loved. In Sand’s assessment, what makes women and men love each other is not difference but similarity. Indiana, having boldly decided to reject a society which has no place for her, finds herself confronted with Raymon’s cowardly reluctance to leave a patriarchal world in which he is welcomed and rewarded. It is only Ralph, who has never felt that he fits anywhere, who can truly begin to understand how Indiana might perceive the world. It is this sympathy which allows Indiana to love him.
There are other areas in the novel where we see Sand reject the idea of simple categorization, placing concepts and people in stark opposition to each other. There is a duality established, for example, between Indiana and her maid, Noun. In many ways, they are foils for each other: Indiana is rich and Noun poor; Indiana refuses to succumb to Raymon and Noun does; Indiana is miserable and Noun is cheerful. At the same time, however, things are not so simple. Each of the women is, at one time, mistaken for the other. And while Indiana may have begun life as an unsullied, high-class woman, there comes a time when she is willing to surrender her virtue and eventually a time when she, too, is poor. There is not, Sand suggests, so great a distinction between rich and poor, man and woman, as some might have us believe. The beauty of Indiana lies in its humaneness—its emphasis that we are all more alike than we are different.