To George Sand: A Desire by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Portrait of George Sand in Top hat

The 1853 poem “To George Sand: A Desire” was a tribute by poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning to French author Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known by her pen name, George Sand.

When this poem was published, Sand was nearly 50 years old (born in 1804), just two years older than Barrett Browning. But the poet considered Sand a model for boldness in writing and living.

The poem acknowledges Sand’s dual nature, and how she managed to wed intellect and emotion in her writings. Elizabeth Barrett Browning purposefully attributed brains to the feminine in Sand, and heart to the masculine, upending gender stereotypes.

On BritLib, Michele Gerhart observes, “‘A Desire’ opens with a wonderfully powerful tribute to Sand and an in-depth look at gender roles with the statement “Thou large-brained woman and large hearted man.”

In this line, Browning acclaims George Sand’s unification of intellect and sensitivity in her writings. Further, Browning also explores the roles of both sexes in the adjectives she contributes to each. In fact, this opening line reverses usual assumptions, with intellect attributed to women and sensitivity to men.

As sad as this is conception may be, the fact remains that in Browning’s time as well as the present women are associated with emotion and men with intellect. Browning refutes this misconception and proclaims that both men and women can be intellectual as well as emotional. The next line in this poem draws attention to Sand’s gender identity with ‘Self-called George Sand.’

After all, George Sand is the creation of Aurore Dupin (George Sand’s real name) a female author who felt compelled to publish under a man’s name in order to gain acceptance by her audience.”

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George Sand young

More about George Sand
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The next line calls attention to the nom de plume — “Self-called George Sand!” After all, George Sand was the foremother of other authors who assayed to break gender barriers in publishing with masculine names. Notable among them: Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, better known now as the Brontë sisters, who in the 1840s were endeavoring to find London publishers for their first works.

“To George Sand: A Desire” highlights, even in its brevity, the courage it took for Sand to achieve what she did. Sand not only was almost unreasonably prolific in literature, but in life and love as well. She carried on numerous love affairs, had children and grandchildren, traveled, and gardened.

There was much drama and difficulty in Sand’s life, but one thing is sure — nothing ever stopped her from writing. And Elizabeth Barrett Browning, prolific and productive in her own right, appreciated that immensely.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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To George Sand: A Desire — by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1853)

Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man,
Self-called George Sand! whose soul, amid the lions
Of thy tumultuous senses, moans defiance
And answers roar for roar, as spirits can:
I would some mild miraculous thunder ran
Above the applauded circus, in appliance
Of thine own nobler nature’s strength and science,
Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,
From thy strong shoulders, to amaze the place
With holier light! that thou to woman’s claim
And man’s, mightst join beside the angel’s grace
Of a pure genius sanctified from blame
Till child and maiden pressed to thine embrace
To kiss upon thy lips a stainless fame.

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