George Sand in Her Own Words
The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters
The Double Life of George Sand, Woman and Writer
A year ago in these pages (August 17, 1978), V.S. Pritchett, reviewing new editions of four of George Sand’s novels, observed that the revival of interest in her work is owing at least in part to “opportunism of the women’s liberation kind.” This “disconcerting sybil,” in his wonderful phrase, is, no question about it, a rich topic for hungry feminist scholars and alert publishers. Sand herself remarked of her complete works, “They are endless,” and of her rather good novel Consuelo (recently published by Da Capo Press) and its sequel she could say, only half joking, “Are they mine? I don’t recall a single word of them.”
If anything the Sand revival has gathered momentum in the past year, still owing to opportunism of the women’s liberation kind, but also to the coincidence of these concerns with growing general interest in romantic literature, and, in addition, to the availability in recent years of reliable texts in French of her letters and other autobiographical writings—the monumental edition of Oeuvres autobiographiques, prepared by the great French textual scholar Georges Lubin, and the Lubin edition of her correspondence.
It is likely that the autobiography and letters will do more than her novels to enhance her stature in the modern view. Her work is surprisingly readable, full of plots, retaining for all its melodrama a reassuring core of eighteenth-century worldliness: “All this is fine, my dear,” says the worldly husband in Valentine to his much younger wife when she confides that she is attracted to someone else.
“but it is supremely ridiculous. You are very young. Please accept some friendly advice: a woman should never use her husband as her confessor; it demands more virtue of him than his situation allows…. It seems to me that I have done enough for you by closing my eyes. You force me to open them, and thus I have to go away, because the situation between us would no longer be bearable and we could no longer look at each other without laughing.”
Her pastoral novels have always been admired; her more sensational novels, like Consuelo or Mauprat, are better than just entertaining. But her life, with its prodigies of accomplishment and perhaps the most distinguished array of lovers ever assembled, was, like the lives of other great romantic writers of her generation, more interesting yet. And she is at her most interesting when she writes about herself, although her tone is modest, equable, honest, and informed—quite unlike the self-dramatizing reputation she has acquired—and although she leaves out all the scandalous bits.
Two of the following works are of autobiography: My Life is a condensed translation of her twenty-volume Histoire de ma vie, prepared by Dan Hofstadter, and Joseph Barry’s compendium George Sand in Her Own Words is a selection from the autobiography, from her travel writings, journals and letters, and from several of the novels. The idea is to present her character, emotions, and opinions, together with …
The Talk of Nohant February 7, 1980