Sand, George (1804–1876)
Sand, George (1804–1876)
French author of over 100 novels, plays, and essays who gained literary fame during her lifetime and infamy for her unconventional lifestyle. Name variations: Amandine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin; Mme Dudevant. Born Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin in Paris, France, on July 1, 1804; died at Nohant (Berry), France, on June 8, 1876; daughter of Maurice Dupin de Francueil and Antoinette-Sophie-Victoire Delaborde; married Baron Casimir Dudevant, on September 17, 1822 (died March 1871); children: Maurice (b. 1823); (with Stéphane Ajasson de Grandsagne) Solange Sand .
Left Nohant for Paris (January 4, 1831); had affair with Alfred de Musset (summer 1833); filed for legal separation from Dudevant (1836); had affair with Frédéric Chopin (1833–1847); wrote plays, tracts, and open letters supporting social change (1848); published Histoire de ma Vie (1854–55).
Aurore Dupin Dudevant, also known as George Sand, was a descendant of a king of Poland on her father's side and of a Parisian bird-seller on her mother's. Her critics vilified her as a loose woman, a political radical, and a "lioness" who devoured her numerous lovers. She further shocked society by dressing as a man and smoking cigars. But to her admirers, including the French literary elite, she was praised for her prodigious production of novels and plays, and as the originator of the genre of rustic, regional literature in France. An independent, free-thinking woman, Sand was an anomaly, even among sophisticated, worldly Parisian society. She was described as a "thinking bosom," and her androgynous lifestyle exhibited her duality—a "man's mind" and a woman's sensitivity and desires.
She was born Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin in Paris, on July 1, 1804, the daughter of Maurice Dupin and Sophie Delaborde Dupin . The union of her parents was, in the eyes of her paternal grandmother, an abomination. Her plans to annul the marriage were abandoned, however, when she saw her infant granddaughter, but she persisted in disparaging her "gutter-snipe" daughter-in-law Sophie. After Maurice Dupin died in a riding accident in 1808, the elder Mme Dupin won legal custody of Sand. Sophie and Aurore had been living with Mme Dupin at her country estate of Nohant in the Berry region, but friction between the Mesdames Dupin led Sophie to return to Paris. Charming, but uneducated, the young widow led a lifestyle that was deemed "debauched and wanton" by Sand's grandmother-guardian. Proud of her ancestry and social class, the elder Mme Dupin resolved to mold and educate Aurore in the role of the well-born heiress she was.
Maurice Dupin (a direct descendant of Augustus the Strong, king of Poland) was an officer in Napoleon's army when he met Sophie in Italy; she was the mistress of an aging general and mother of an illegitimate daughter, Caroline. Maurice, too, had an illegitimate child, a son Hippolyte Chatiron, age five, who lived at Nohant. Hippolyte and Aurore were educated by their father's tutor, Deschartres, who believed rigorous academic training was essential to both males and females: Latin, Greek, math, history, literature, and science prepared his pupils to function in the secular world. Formal religious instruction was shunned since both Mme Dupin and Deschartres were progressive free-thinkers. Following Rousseau's dictum of educating "the whole child," Aurore played freely with the local peasant children, learned to ride (wearing trousers and boots), and observed nature
through exploration, not dull textbooks. At age 13, Sand was strong-willed and often rebellious, and her grandmother made arrangements for her to attend a convent school in Paris. An excellent student, Aurore embraced religion and declared her intention of becoming a nun. Grandmother Dupin put an end to such talk and removed her from school in April 1820.
Life at Nohant was pleasant for Aurore. A voracious reader (of everything from Aristotle to Benjamin Franklin) and a skilled rider, she was allowed a great deal of freedom. However, when Mme Dupin died in December 1821, Aurore was again the center of a family dispute between her father's relatives and her mother. Sophie won the custody battle, and Aurore moved to Paris, where she was often bored and restless. On a visit with friends of her father near Paris, Aurore met her future husband.
At age 18, as heiress to Nohant and an investment house in Paris, Sand was not without prospects, despite her mother's lower-class origins. Casimir Dudevant, nine years her senior, was the illegitimate son of Baron Dudevant and heir to his lands and money. Preparing to study law after resigning from the military, Casimir was a stolid and robust young man. Aurore was not averse to him or to the idea of marriage; marriage based on love and mutual respect was the romantic ideal to which Aurore clung all her life but never realized. The marriage contract was signed in August 1822, and less than a month later they were married. Aurore's inheritance was reserved for her, but her husband controlled and managed it, according to the dictates of French law. Aurore would spend much of her life in litigation to overturn her husband's rights to her properties. Her struggle for economic independence provided a recurrent theme in her novels.
What a heart of gold she had! What absence of anything petty, mean or insincere! What a brave man she was, and what a good woman!
The young couple settled in Nohant and were actively involved socially and politically in their region of Berry. In June 1823, their son Maurice was born in Paris. Severe depression clouded Sand's joy of motherhood, but this was largely dispelled after a long trip to the Pyrenees with Casimir and several friends. Reciprocal love, the basis of a happy marriage, had not manifested itself according to Aurore's hopes or expectations. Sand took a lover, her childhood friend Stéphane Ajasson de Grandsagne. Less than a year later a daughter, Solange, was born. Throughout her life, Aurore searched for love and sexual fulfillment, and for an outlet for her energy and imagination; as George Sand, she would achieve personal and professional satisfaction and an independence unusual for her time. Aurore Dudevant became a writer, not by accident but by choice.
Two incidents, quite unrelated, changed Aurore's life, and her public identity. In July 1830, she met and fell in love with Jules Sandeau, a 19-year-old from Berry, a student in Paris. A few months later, she found a letter written by Casimir, which was to be opened on his death. The letter detailed his wife's failings, listing his grievances against her. Sand confronted Casimir and announced her intention to live in Paris for part of each year. Casimir agreed to this and to an annual allowance. In January 1831, she left Nohant, and her husband and children. By April, she and Jules Sandeau had published an article in La Revue de Paris under the name J. Sand; shortly thereafter, they collaborated on a novel, Rose et Blanche, again signed J. Sand. Free from provincial and marital restrictions, Aurore lived openly with Sandeau.
Sand had also written a novel, Aimée, for which she needed a publisher. She approached the editor of Le Figaro who promptly rejected the work and advised her to make children, not books. However, recognizing a nascent talent, Henri de Latouche suggested that she write articles for his newspaper using the pen-name Jules Sand. A year later (1832), Aurore had two novels, Indiana and Valentine, published under a nom de plume of her choice: George Sand was born. Favorably reviewed, Indiana made her name in the sophisticated, competitive literary circles of Paris. Neither novel was a collaborative effort, for Sand had broken with Sandeau who lacked her discipline and drive and envied her production. Sand commonly wrote 20-to-40 pages each day, working from near midnight to early morning.
Sand's heterodox lifestyle generated as much comment as did her annual publications. In her love affairs, which have been labeled "serial monogamy," Sand was often the pursuer rather than the pursued. When author and critic Prosper Merimée proved to be sexually inadequate, Sand promptly ended their liaison. With none of her lovers was Sand the proverbial "kept woman." Conversely, her lovers were "kept men" who lived with her or in a separate residence, often at her expense. According to Donna Dickenson , Sand considered sex natural and that a woman's sex drive was the same as a man's. What was most shocking, however, was Sand's frankness and honesty about sex: she condemned the double standard and defied social convention. Was Sand a feminist and/or a liberated woman? She had open love affairs, achieved economic independence, dressed as a man, and smoked in public. But her view of women's roles did not include participation in public life (the masculine sphere), nor did she support the suffragist goals of the feminists. Sand's life and writings are indicative of this dichotomy.
George Sand's reputation as a writer was assured with the publication of Lélia (1833), although it received mixed reviews. Calling attention to the unequal status of women in society, Sand was accused of advocating free love and other morally dangerous ideas. The author and critic Alfred de Musset wrote a favorable review of the book; the same year he (age 22) and Sand became lovers. With an advance on her next novel, the couple left for a holiday in Italy. Relations deteriorated when Sand fell ill and Musset amused himself with other women. His infidelity and unconcern for Sand's welfare hurt her. But when Musset contracted a venereal disease and typhoid fever, Sand nursed him and called in a doctor. Despite her own poor health and caring for Musset, she produced two novels and a series of articles while in Venice. After a lovers' quarrel, Musset returned to Paris. Sand and the doctor became lovers.
On her return to Paris, Sand and Musset reconciled. Her apartment on the quai Malaquais was the scene of an orderly family life—it included Musset and Sand's two children—and a gathering-place for Parisian literati. Women seldom, if ever, attended, which can be explained by Sand's remarks in her Histoire de ma Vie: "With very few exceptions I cannot stand women for long…. women are usually nervous, anxious creatures…. I therefore prefer men to women and I say this without malice." Sand's turbulent affair with Musset lasted only two years (1833–35), but it provided materials for several novels, notably Elle et Lui (1858).
Relations with Casimir also caused Sand problems. She and her husband had agreed that Sand would receive control of Nohant in late 1835 and custody of Solange, while Casimir was awarded the investment house in Paris. When Casimir attempted to alter the agreement, Sand was furious and tore up the document. To protect her rights (which were few under French law), she consulted lawyers Gabriel Planet and Michel de Bourges, liberal republican activists from whom Sand became aware of current French socialist thought. When Casimir struck his wife and threatened to shoot her, Sand left Nohant and filed for legal separation (divorce was forbidden in France). She won her case. Separation was granted, Nohant was hers, and she was awarded custody of Solange. Casimir received the investment house and joint custody of Maurice. Still unsatisfied, Casimir appealed the decision. The final judgment in the court at Bourges ended in a vote by the judges of 5 to 5. Public opinion rallied around Sand, and the court found in her favor. She was free.
No doubt her experiences, an unhappy marriage and having to fight for her own properties, affected her ideas on women's inferior status in society. Indeed, Casimir was able to live openly with his housekeeper and their daughter at the Dudevant estate of Guillery in Berry without incurring public censure. Sand and her novels, on the other hand, were declared threats to morality. Despite her miserable marriage and frequent clashes with her husband, Sand never turned the children against their father though they began using Sand as a surname after 1841. George Sand was not interested in Casimir's life at Guillery, except as it affected her children's rights to their father's estate. Losing her investment house to Casimir was not as important to her as retaining her country house in Nohant. Land and local ties meant a good deal to Sand. To the local peasants, she was the respected and generous grande dame of Nohant. However, income from her writing never quite met her financial obligations: Nohant and its staff of servants, her apartments in Paris, and extensive travel consumed much of her resources.
She also supported various lovers and her children into her old age, paid for her nephew's education, and provided a substantial dowry for her daughter and a poor relative. Sand fed over 40 local peasant families, a gesture that endeared her to her neighbors.
Family and financial problems did not interfere with Sand's prodigious literary output or with her love affairs. She pursued a reluctant Michel de Bourges until he finally succumbed, but their affair was shortlived. Though he failed to convert Sand to his radical socialist views, they shared a common commitment to establishing a republic in France. Brief sexual interludes with an actor and a playwright ended abruptly when Sand met the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin at a friend's salon in Paris. Sand's energy was seemingly inexhaustible; she wrote every day, frequently entertained guests at Nohant (Honoré Balzac, Franz Liszt and his mistress Marie d'Agoult , who wrote under the pseudonym Daniel Stern, and Gustave Flaubert, among others), kept a residence in Paris, and engaged in time-consuming sexual exploits. All the while she kept up a semblance of family life for her children. In 1837 alone, Sand had five works published, looked after her sick mother (who died that August), and traveled to Gascony to recover her daughter whom Casimir had kidnapped.
Sand met Chopin in Marie d'Agoult's salon in November 1836. He appeared an unlikely candidate for a love affair. Weak, snobbish, melancholic, and prissy, Chopin presented a sharp contrast to the vigorous, cigar-smoking Sand who needed a challenge to arouse her interest in a man. The timid Pole was such a challenge. Sand courted Chopin with her usual determination. The lovers spent the winter in Majorca with Sand's children. Chopin, suffering from tuberculosis, required constant care, and the primitive conditions on the island exhausted the normally dynamic Sand. She nursed him, revised one novel (Lélia), and finished another. From Major-ca, the "family" moved on to Marseille and finally settled down at Nohant in mid-1839. Chopin, ever cognizant of social decorum, acted the part of a proper houseguest. Sand was addressed as Mme Dudevant with the formal vous. That autumn, the lovers took separate apartments in Paris. Passion had vanished, and Sand's maternal predilections replaced their former bond.
Sand's play Cosima, starring Marie Dorval , was produced in Paris in 1840. The audience hissed and the reviewers panned it. After seven performances, the play closed, and Sand was hurt, emotionally and financially. But her interest in socialism provided new materials for her work. To bring about social change through her writing became her goal. She and Pierre Leroux founded a socialist newspaper which soon folded; two years later, a similar venture also proved unsuccessful. Socialist themes dominated her novels for a time, but they did not sell well, and Sand's publisher advised her to return to the topics that had made her famous.
Sand's life revolved more and more around Nohant rather than Paris. Writers and artists, family and friends created a lively milieu for her creative energies. Her son Maurice was a rather passive individual; he loved his non-conformist mother but not her Polish lover whom Sand also "mothered." Solange, on the other hand, clashed with Sand and created dissension in the household. A big, stalwart girl, intelligent and musically gifted, she resented her mother's attention and generosity to Augustine Brault , a poor female relative. Solange's marriage in 1847 to an uncouth, prodigal sculptor, Auguste Clésinger, was a disaster. When Clésinger struck Sand in anger, she ordered them to leave Nohant. Chopin had sided with Solange, creating a final break with Sand. When he died in 1849, she was unmoved. Years later, she acquired her letters to Chopin and destroyed them. The Sand-Chopin love story has provoked much comment. George Sand as "man-eater," as a devourer of weak, sensitive creatures, entered into legend. It is true that Sand never remained friends with rejected lovers, but she never maligned them either. To her detractors, Sand's blatant display of female sexuality and open defiance of social convention aroused public hostility, even in "enlightened" Paris.
All attention was focused on that city in early 1848. The overthrow of the monarchy and the possibility of creating a republic drew Sand to the capital. As unofficial minister of propaganda, she wrote plays, tracts, and open letters supporting social change, hoping to influence the revolutionary leaders. Her article on revolution was denounced as inflammatory and for causing a serious riot in Paris. Approached by a feminist group to run for a seat in the Assembly, Sand refused, claiming that politics was not a woman's place, and economic independence was essential before women should even be allowed to vote. Marriage and family constituted a woman's sphere. Writing to suffragists, Sand spoke of "your sex," not "our sex." To Sand, men and women possessed different natures, respectively ruled by the head and the heart, by reason and emotion. According to Dickenson, the question then is, how did Sand identify herself? Was she confused about her own identity? Did her androgyny derive from her dislike of women, her preference for men? In her personal journal, Sand assumes the masculine gender in referring to herself, as she did in her professional writings. Indeed, one might conclude that George Sand-Mme Dudevant was her creation of a single entity from the public man-private woman dichotomy she accepted as real.
Disillusioned by the bloody riots and the flaccid republican leadership, Sand left Paris. She was through with politics; however, she traveled to Paris in 1851, to meet with President Napoleon III on behalf of her imprisoned and exiled republican friends. Between 1849 and 1856, many of her plays were staged in Paris, not all successfully. François le Champi, written in the Berry dialect with a peasant as hero, was a great hit. Having discarded her socialist themes, Sand saw her work sell well once again. She continued to write novels and plays until her death, often incurring the wrath of Catholic conservatives and the French government. Her fame and talent prompted Sainte-Beuve to nominate Sand for the Prix Gobert, worth 20,000 francs. The 40 men of the Académie Française refused to grant the prize to Sand. Empress Eugénie (wife of the now Emperor Napoleon III) then offered a comparable sum to Sand who declined the offer. Similarly when an effort was launched to have Sand elected to the Académie, she declined the "honor."
Meanwhile, Sand's personal life continued to revolve around her son Maurice, who married a woman whom Sand loved, and her daughter Solange, who separated from her husband in 1852 and moved near Nohant. Sand also had a new lover, after two brief, banal affairs. Alexandre Manceau was an engraver, 13 years younger than Sand, who remained devoted to her until he died 15 years later. He also served as manager of Nohant, allowing Sand to concentrate on writing and her grandchildren. She was content with Manceau at Nohant, but Maurice, who wanted to assume control of his inheritance and manage his estate, ordered Manceau to leave. Sand chose to leave too. They took a small house near Paris and also rented a studio in the city where she wrote and nursed the tubercular Manceau. When he died, a 61-year-old Sand, alone for the first time, was restless. Success with her plays (Sarah Bernhardt starred in The Other) and her literary friendships determined her residence; she spent the winter months in Paris and summers at Nohant, welcoming visitors such as Flaubert, Ivan Turgenev, and Alexander Dumas fils.
In May 1876, while working on the second volume of Tales of a Grandmother, Sand suffered from severe gastric distress. Minor surgery and medication were ineffective, and on June 8, George Sand died at Nohant. Two days later, she was buried in the garden of the estate she loved and fought so long to possess. George Sand was one of the foremost Romantic writers of her century, but after she died her reputation as a writer was overshadowed by the infamy of her exploits. Whether she was a liberated woman, a feminist, a socialist, cannot obscure the fact that George Sand earned accolades as one of France's finest Romantic writers.
Dickenson, Donna. George Sand: A Brave Man—The Most Womanly Woman. Oxford: Berg, 1988.
Jordan, Ruth. George Sand: A Biography. London: Constable, 1976.
Powell, David A. George Sand. Boston, Twayne, 1990.
Barry, Joseph. Infamous Women: The Life of George Sand. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.
Cate, Curtis. George Sand: A Biography. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975.
Gerson, Noel B. George Sand: A Biography of the First Modern Liberated Woman. London: Robert Hale, 1973.
Jack, Belinda. A Woman's Life Writ Large. NY: Knopf, 2000.
Maurois, André. Lélia: The Life of George Sand. Trans. by Gerard Hopkins. NY: Penguin, 1977.
Toesca, Maurice. The Other George Sand. Trans. by Irene Beeson. London: Dennis Dobson, 1947.
Jeanne A. Ojala , Professor of History, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah