Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1525
George Sand was the most famous lady of letters in nineteenth century France. Her works include nearly ninety novels, two dozen plays, three volumes of short stories, political pamphlets, and twenty thousand letters. She was also the most infamous woman of the age, with a range of lovers almost as extensive as her bibliography. Eisler’s pleasantly readable book devotes far more attention to Sand’s relationships than to her writing, beginning with Sand’s vexed relationship with her mother.
Sophie Delaborde had risen from poverty through a variety of liaisons, culminating in marriage a month before Sand’s birth to the aristocratic French officer Maurice Dupin, though Dupin was not Sand’s biological father. Maurice died when Sand was four years old, and her mother in effect sold her to Marie-Aurore de Saxe Dupin de Franceuil, Sand’s paternal grandmother. For Eisler this maternal abandonment was a key element in Sand’s life. Eisler suggests that Sophie’s behavior toward her daughter smacks of bipolar disorder, as Sophie showered Sand alternately with affection and abuse.
Eisler shows that Sand would repeat this pattern with her own daughter, Solange. Sand indulged her son Maurice, even finding lovers for him, but she neglected and psychologically abused her daughter, going so far as to adopt a cousin, Augustine-Marie Brault, whom she installed at her estate in Nohant and to whom she gave a dowry of 30,000 francs, more than she provided for Solange. After Solange married the sculptor Jean-Baptiste-August Clésinger, whom Sand had favored as Solange’s husband, Sand became estranged from the couple. She banished them from Nohant and urged her former lover composer Frédéric Chopin to end his ties with them as well. Chopin had opposed the match because he knew Clésinger to be abusive and financially unreliable, but he refused to end his friendship with Solange. It was Chopin who informed Sand of the birth of Solange’s first child, a daughter who lived only five days. Solange had not told her mother. Only after Solange took a lover and became estranged from her husband would she and Sand be reconciled, and then only briefly.
Sand’s many relationships with men were equally vexed. Sand married Baron Casimir Dudevant in 1822, when she was eighteen, in large part, according to Eisler, to escape her mother. The marriage was not a success: Both partners soon had lovers; Dudevant was not the father of Solange. In 1830 Sand went to Paris to escape her husband and to pursue a literary career. In the French capital she quickly took as her lover the eighteen-year-old Jules Sandeau, six years her junior. Together they produced works published under the name J. Sand. When this relationship ended, Sand kept the second part of the pseudonym but changed the first part to George. Eisler sees in this choice an homage to the famous English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron and perhaps to England’s patron saint, as Sand had spent a few years under the tutelage of English nuns.
Eisler stresses Sand’s sense of her dual inheritanceworking-class mother and aristocratic fathereven though her biological father was also lower class. Sand’s novels often present lovers from different social milieus. In Valentine (1832; English translation, 1900) an aristocratic woman falls in love with a man lacking social status. La Marquise (1832; English translation, 1999) describes the love between a nobleman and an actor. In 1833 life imitated art: Sand fell in love with the actress Marie Duval (née Marie-Thomase-Amélie Delauney). Eisler sees in this relationship Sand’s quest for a mother figure, since Marie was six years older than Sand. The affair was short-lived. The rift became irreparable after Marie made public Sand’s confidential revelation about the deficiency of the poet Prosper Mérimée as a lover.
Sand had spent only one night with him. Her affair with another poet, Alfred de Musset, lasted longertwenty-one monthsand was far more troubled. If on some level Sand regarded Marie Duval as a surrogate mother, with Musset she saw herself in that role. Her references to their love even imply incest. Their affair began in the summer of 1833. In December the two went to Italy. Musset’s Lorenzaccio (pb. 1834; English translation, 1905) drew on Sand’s research on powerful sixteenth century Florentine families. In Venice Musset became ill, and Sand took as lover the doctor tending him, Pietro Pagello. After the end of their affair, both writers presented their side of the story in thinly disguised fiction. Musset published the novel La Confession d’un enfant du siècle (1836; The Confession of a Child of the Century, 1892), and his play On ne badine pas avec l’amour (pb. 1834; No Trifling with Love, 1890) also traces their failed relationship. Musset’s final poem La Nuit de mai (“May Night”), first printed in the Revue des Deux Mondes on June 15, 1835, presents Sand as the mistress who teaches him to suffer and hence to mature. Sand in turn dedicated her 1835 novel about sexual obsession, Leone Leoni (English translation, 1900), to Musset, and in Elle et lui (1859; She and He, 1902) she offered her view of her affair with the by then dead writer. After Sand’s death the letters between these lovers began appearing in print, prompting Henry James’s 1897 Yellow Book essay that contains the phrase Eisler uses for her book’s title. Others also have found the Sand-Musset relationship fascinating. According to Dan Hofstadter in The Love Affair as a Work of Art (1996), no other nineteenth century relationship occasioned more publications.
Another lover who influenced Sand’s writing was the lawyer Louis-Chrysostom Michel, who arranged her divorce. Michel was a political radical, and Sand came to share his political views. In her novel Simon (1836) the eponymous hero is based on Michel; the work ends with the marriage of Sand’s surrogate to the lawyer, a marriage that did not occur in real life.
In 1836, with her divorce almost settled, Sand, composer Franz Liszt, and Liszt’s lover, Marie de Flavigny, Countess d’Agoult, established an intellectual salon in Paris. Visitors included the leading cultural figures of the day, including Chopin, composer Hector Berlioz, and the poets Heinrich Heine, Victor Hugo, and Honoré Balzac. The Sand-Chopin relationship is the best known of her affairs, which Eisler wrote about in Chopin’s Funeral (2003). Her account here is essentially a condensation of that earlier book. Again Sand seems a mother figure. Chopin was six years younger than Sand, much less sexually experiencedindeed, he was a prudeand in poor health. Sand took him to Majorca in 1839, hoping that the climate would benefit her lover. Their four-month sojourn proved disastrous, though it did provide the material for Sand’s Un Hiver à Majorque (1841; Winter in Majorca, 1956). Back in Nohant in June, 1839, Chopin did recover his health; and, as Eisler points out, in this rural retreat he would compose half of all his works. By June, 1839, Sand and Chopin may have ceased having sex with each other. Eisler notes a cryptic date scratched on a window in Sand’s Nohant bedroom, June 19, 1839, that may indicate the last time she and Chopin made love. She certainly took other lovers while Chopin still was living at Nohant. Sand’s 1846 novel Lucrezia Floriani is a thinly veiled account of the Sand-Chopin relationship, published in the year Chopin left Nohant forever. Chopin in the novel appears possessive and destructive, while Sand as Lucrezia is loyal and compassionate. The manuscript of La Mare au diable (1846; Devil’s Pool, 1929) contains a dedication to the composer, but the printed version does not.
Among the lovers Sand took while Chopin still lived with her was Louis Blanc. A leftist like Michel, Blanc encouraged Sand’s revolutionary political sentiments, which inform Le Compagnon du tour de France (1840; The Companion of the Tour of France, 1976) and Horace (1842). Sand’s publisher, François Buloz, deemed these works so incendiary that he rejected them, prompting Sand to launch a journal, La Revue Indépendante, in November, 1841, to get her novels into print. She also launched an antiestablishment newspaper, L’Eclaireur de l’Indre. As editor she hired Victor Borie, with whom she was soon sleeping.
Eisler devotes most of her book to the first forty-four years of Sand’s life, covering the period from 1848 to 1876 in forty-two pages. During this period Sand’s circle of friends came to include many of the leading literary figures of the period, among them Matthew Arnold, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Ivan Turgenev, lover of her old friend the singer Pauline Viardot. Authors Gustave Flaubert and Alexandre Dumas fils would both attend her funeral. She also settled into a long-term relationship with her secretary, Alexandre Manceau, which lasted from 1850 until his death in 1865. Though Sand continued to publish novels and write for the theater, Eisler spends little time discussing these works, again focusing on Sand’s personal life, especially her friendship with Flaubert. Flaubert’s story “Un Coeur simple” (a simple heart), published in Trois Contes (1877; Three Tales, 1903), is a tribute to her; sadly, it was published shortly after her death. Sand packed a lot of living into her seventy-two years, and Eisler does the same in her relatively short account.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 22
Booklist 103, no. 4 (October 15, 2006): 16.
Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 18 (September 15, 2006): 937.
Library Journal 131, no. 19 (November 15, 2006): 72.
The New York Times Book Review 156 (December 3, 2006): 34.
Publishers Weekly 253, no. 37 (September 18, 2006): 45.
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