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George Sand (born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin; July 1, 1804 – June 8, 1876) was a French novelist, essayist and playwright. She was also known for pushing the envelope on gender roles and the drama in her everyday life, not the least of which were her countless romantic entanglements.
Some put her literary legacy at eighty novels, others at seventy, in addition to several plays and countless shorter works, including: essays, journalistic pieces, and a multi-volume autobiography. It would be nearly impossible for any contemporary writer to emulate such prolific output, but she remains a model for creating a full palette of love, productivity, and family.
Early life and first marriage
In her youth, Aurore, as she was called, lived and studied for a time in a convent. When she returned home, she studied nature and the works of philosophers. Her penchant for wearing men’s clothing later in her life may have been planted by her tutor, who encouraged her to wear trousers and shirts while riding horses, something she loved doing, as it gave her a feeling of freedom.
Aurore was only 19 when she married Casimir Dudevant, the son of a baron and a servant girl. Not a bad sort, though crude, he didn’t live up to her romantic expectations of what a husband should be. She left him eight years later — leaving their two children behind as well. She was off to Paris and started earning her own living by writing articles. Imagine how revolutionary this was for a woman in the early 1830s! It was at this time that she also began associating with other writers, some of whom became her mentors; others, her lovers.
Becoming George Sand
When Aurore fell in love with the charming young writer Jules Sandeau, they began collaborating on some writings and were collectively “J. Sand.” Soon after, she began using George Sand as her own pseudonym, starting with her first novel, Indiana (1832). It was a controversial novel from the start, and she enjoyed telling critics just where they could get off in a later edition of the book.
After her affair with Sandeau ended, she took up with Alfred de Musset, a poet. It was during the time of this relationship that she took custody of her daughter, Solange, while her husband, from whom she was legally separated, kept their son, Maurice.
George Sand made a habit of pleading pity for her “literary agonies.” Despite her complaints, the word “prolific” is woefully inadequate to describe her output. Aside from her published books, she also wielded a journalistic pen to give voice to her concerns for women’s rights and social justice.
She started her own newspaper right around the time of the revolution of 1848 to disseminate her progressive and socialist views. When the revolution began that year, women had no legal rights, and Sand felt strongly that no society could advance under those circumstances. Yet despite how attuned she was to injustice, she managed to remain an optimist.
After publishing Indiana she went on to write Lélia (1833), Mauprat (1837), Consuelo (1843), Le Meunier d’Angibault (1845), and many others. Autobiographical works such as Elle et Lui, about her affair with Musset, were also part of her literary output. She ran a small private theater at her Nohant estate, at which she staged the plays she wrote, and sometimes performed in them.
Despite her own protestations to the contrary, George Sand found the discipline to produce an immense body of work. Until her surprisingly mellow older age, she was more adept at self-flagellation than self-congratulation.
You can be sure that the Masterpiece Theatre version of Sand’s life focused more on her adventures in the bedroom than at her desk. Her most notable love interest was legendary composer Frederic Chopin, and her most controversial, with the glamorous actress Marie Dorval.
George Sand was on the whole an adoring mother, but motherhood was often entwined with the drama that colored many of her relationships. Her son Maurice was a major mama’s boy, causing petty jealousy for Sand’s live-in lover, Frédéric Chopin. Could it have been from spite that he unconsciously (or not so unconsciously) fell in love with Sand’s daughter, Solange, when she was a pretty and flirtatious young lady of seventeen?
Her well-known love life, though tumultuous, was something on which she thrived, evidenced by this well-known quote of hers: “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.”
Expressions of the masculine
One of the earliest and best-known cross-dressers, she wore men’s clothing both for comfort (for traveling, which she loved; trousers were more practical than crinolines) and to make a statement. Similarly, she was famed (and mocked) for her public cigar-smoking, and never went far without her hookah.
In Lélia: The Life of George Sand, André Maurois writes touchingly: “Those who came to see the notorious lady who wore trousers and smoked cigars found instead a passionate and dedicated mind that transcended any of her gaudy poses. For in revolting against the conventions of the world, George Sand felt and suffered very much as a woman.”
You might also like: The Mellowing of George Sand
Paving the way for women
George Sand was admired by many of the leading figures of her day, with whom she developed abiding friendships, with or without love affairs. Notable among them were Franz Liszt, Victor Hugo, and George Henry Lewes. Lewes, one of the leading literary critics of the time wrote of her that she was “the most remarkable writer of the present century.” She maintained an abiding friendship and correspondence with fellow author Gustave Flaubert.
Though her impressive biography and persona are perhaps better known in the English-speaking world, her work was much admired by many of her literary contemporaries. It was, however, considered unseemly and completely unfeminine by others. Not to diminish her work, but to some observers, her importance seemed to be more for the courage and originality of her life than her literary output.
A mellow old age
George Sand inherited an exquisite estate in Nohant, located in the Indre region of central France, which today is open to visitors. Before settling there permanently in her later years, she used it as a retreat from hectic city life in Paris There she hosted a legion of writers and artists with whom she was friendly, including Delacroix, Turgenev, Flaubert, Liszt, and Balzac.
Aimee MacKenzie wrote in her 1921 introduction to The Gustave Flaubert-George Sand Letters: “In her final retreat at Nohant, surrounded by her affectionate children and grandchildren, diligently writing, botanizing, bathing in her little river, visited by her friends and undistracted by the fiery lovers of the old time, she shows an unguessed wealth of maternal virtue, swift, comprehending sympathy, fortitude, sunny resignation, and a goodness of heart that has ripened into wisdom.”
She located to this idyllic locale permanently in her later years. She loved to work in the garden, and tended to her grandchildren. More about her later golden years can be found in The Mellowing of George Sand: Mother, Grandmother, Gardener.
To her critics, Sand wrote, “The world will know and understand me someday. But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter. I shall have opened the way for other women.” Those who knew her well and admired her acknowledged her dual nature, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously wrote, “Thou large-brained woman and large hearted man,” in her poem, George Sand: A Desire.
George Sand died at Nohant on June 8, 1876, not quite 72 years of age.
More about George Sand on this site
- George Sand on the Agony and the Ecstasy of the Writing Life
- The Mellowing of George Sand
- “To George Sand: A Desire” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Indiana by George Sand: The Author Answers Her Critics
- Quotes by George Sand on Life, Love, and Work
Major Works (Novels)
This is but a tiny fraction of George Sand’s prodigious, almost ridiculously prolific output. She wrote and published many novels, as well as some one dozen plays and countless essays and other works of nonfiction.
- Indiana (1832)
- Valentine (1832)
- Lélia (1833)
- Jacques (1833)
- Mauprat (1837)
- Consuelo (1842)
- La Mare au Diable (1846)
- Le Petite Fadette (1849)
Biographies and Autobiographies
- Story of My Life: The Autobiography of George Sand
- George Sand by Elizabeth Harlan
- George Sand: A Biography by Curtis Cate
- Lélia: The Life of George Sand by André Maurois
Listen and read online
Visit George Sand’s home
- Nohant – The George Sand estate in Nohant, France
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