1902 Encyclopedia > Armantine Lucile Aurore Dudevant (George Sand)

Armantine Lucile Aurore Dudevant
(also known as: George Sand; Aurore-Lucile Dupin)
French novelist

ARMANTINE LUCILE AURORE DUDEVANT, (1804-1876), known to all the world as the second, if not the greatest, of French novelists, by her assumed name of George Sand, was born at Paris 5th July 1804, and died 8th June 1876. Her life is as fantastic and eventful as any of her fictions, and the main secret of her success has been her power to clothe in artistic form her varied experiences of men and places.

It is no easy task to i_____ down in a short space the outward events of her life, and to trace the development of her genius, not only because of the abundance of materials she has left behind her, but still more from the subtle way in which she has interwoven fact and fiction. In the History of her Life, which covers half a century, the omissions are no less surprising than the revelations, and though she never indulges in the self-illusions of Dichtung und Wahrheit, which perplex or mystify the biographers of Goethe, yet she wisely refuses to satisfy the curiosity of the public on the most delicate episodes of her life. If, to fill up the blanks, we turn to her novels, George Sand justly warns us that in trying to raise the mask and identify her with any one of her characters, we shall not only lose our pains, but show that we mistake the fundamental conditions of art. Yet by the help of critics to supply the missing clue (and no writer of this century has so provoked criticism), it is possible to decipher the chief lineaments of the most remarkable woman of this age, and the greatest authoress in the world's history.

Aurore was the daughter of Lieutenant Dupin and of his newly-married mistress Sophie Delaborde, the daughter of a Paris bird-fancier. Her paternal grandfather was M. Dupin de Francueil, a farmer-general of the revenue, who had married Mdlle. Rinteau, widow of Count Horn (a natural son of Louis XV.), and natural daughter of Marshal Saxe, the most famous of the many illegitimate children of Augustus the Strong by the lovely countess of Konigsmarck. This strange pedigree has been traced in detail by George Sand, and she recognizes it as one of the elements which wont to mould her character. She boasts of the royal blood which she inherited through her father, and, disre-garding the bar sinister, claims relationship with Charles X. and Louis XVIIL, and she proclaims herself as frankly a daughter of the people, endowed by nature with the instincts of her class. Her birth itself was romantic. Her father was playing a country dance at the house of a fellow officer, the future husband of Sophie's sister, when he was told that his wife, who had not long left the room, had borne him a daughter. " She will be fortunate," said the aunt, " she was born among the roses to the sound of music."

Passing by her infantine recollections, which go back further than even those of Dickens, we find her at the age of three crossing the Pyrennees to join her father who was on Murat's staff, occupying with her parents a suite of rooms in the royal palace, adopted as the child of the regiment, nursed by rough old sergeants, and dressed in a complete suit of uniform to please the general.

For the next ten years she lived at Nohant, near Le Chatre in Berri, the country house of her grandmother. Here her character was shaped; here she imbibed that passionate love of country scenes and country life which neither absence, politics, nor dissipation could uproot; here she learnt to understand the ways and thoughts of the peasants, and laid up that rich store of scenes and characters which a marvellously retentive memory enabled her to draw upon at will. The progress of her mind during these early years well deserves to be recorded. Education, in the strict sense of the word, she had none. A few months after her return from Spain her father was killed by a fall from his horse. He was a man of remarkable literary gifts as well as a good soldier, and his letters, which are included in her life, show in a less degree the vivid force of descrip-tion and clear insight into character which he bequeathed to his daughter. " Character," says George Sand, " is in a great measure hereditary : if my readers wish to know me they must know my father." On his death the mother resigned, though not without a struggle, the care of Aurore to her grandmother, Mme. Dupin de Francueil, a good representative of the ancien regime. Though her husband was a patron of Rousseau, she herself had narrowly escaped the guillotine, and had only half Imbibed the ideas of the Revolution. In her son's lifetime she had, for his sake, condoned the mesalliance, but it was impossible for the stately chatelaine and her low-born daughter-in-law to live in peace under the same roof. She was jealous as a lover of the child's affection, and the struggle beween the mother and grandmother was one, of the bitterest of Aurore's childish troubles.

Next to the grandmother, the most important person in the household at Nohant was Deschatre. He was an ex-abbe1 who had shown his devotion to his mistress when her life was threatened, and henceforward was installed at Nohant as factotum. He was maire of the village, he managed the estate, doctored the neighbourhood, played picquet with Madame, was tutor to Aurore's half-brother, and, in addition to his other duties, undertook the education of the girl. The tutor wa? no more eager to teach than the pupil to learn. He, too, was a disciple of Rousseau, believed in the education of nature, and allowed his Emile to wander at her own sweet will. At odd hours of lessons she picked up a smattering of Latin, music, and natural science, but most days were holidays and spent in country rambles and games with village children. Yet even then, though she passed for an ordinary child, somewhat more waywaid and less instructed than the average, her special powers had begun to show themselves. Her favourite books were Tasso, Atala, and Paul et Virginie. A simple refrain of a childish song or the monotonous chaunt of the ploughman touched a hidden chord and thrilled her to tears. Like Blake she fell into involuntary trances, saw visions ar.cl heard voices, though, unlike Blake, she never mistook her day-dreams for realities. She invented a deity of her own, a mysterious Corambé, half pagan and half Christian, and like Goethe erected to him a rustic altar of the greenest grass, the softest moss, and the brightest pebbles.

From the free out-door life at Nohant she passed at thirteen to the convent of the English Augustinians at Paris, where for the first two years she never went outside the walls. Nothing better shows the plasticity of her character than the ease with which she adapted herself to this sudden change. The volume which describes her conventual life is as graphic as Miss Bronte's Villette, but we can only dwell on one passage of it. Tired of mad pranks, in a fit of home-sickness, she found herself one evening in the convent chapel. In a strange reverie she sat through vespers. Time passed unnoticed, the prayers were over, the chapel was being closed.

" I had forgotten all; I knew not what was passing in me; with my soul rather than my senses, I breathed an air of ineffable sweetness. All at once a sudden shock passed through my whole being, my eyes swam, and I seemed wrapped in a dazzling white mist. I heard a voice murmur in my ear, ' Tolle, lege.' I turned round thinking that it was one of the sisters talking to me— I was alone. I indulged in no vain illusion ; I believed in no miracle ; I was quite sensible of the sort of hallucination into which I had fallen ; I neither sought to intensify it nor to escape from it. Only I felt that faith was laying hold of me—by the heart, as I had wished it. I was so filled with gratitude and joy that the tears rolled down my cheeks. 1 felt as before that 1 loved God, that my mind embraced and accepted that ideal of justice, tenderness, and holiness which I had never doubted, but with which I had never held direct communion, and now at last 1 felt that this com-munion was consummated, as though an invincible barrier had been broken down between the source of infinite light and the smoulder-ing fire of my heart. An endless vista stretched before me, and I panted to start upon my way. There was no more doubt or lukewarmness. That I should repent on the morrow and rally myself on my over-wrought ecstasy never once entered my thoughts. I was like one who never casts a look behind, who hesitates before some Rubicon to be crossed, but having touched the further bank sees no more the shore he has just left."

Such is the story of her conversion as told by herself. It reads more like a chapter from the life of Ste Thérèse or Madame Guy on than of the author of Lclie. Yet no one can doubt the sincerity of her narrative, or even the permanence of her religious feelings under all her many phases of faith and aberrations of conduct. A recent critic has sought in religion the clue to her character and the mainspring of her genius. But, except we take religion in the vague sense of the vision and the faculty divine, this is a one-sided view. " Half poet and half mystic " is the verdict she pronounces on herself, and we may add that her element of mysticism was always subordinate to the poetic. " Je fus toujours tourmentée des choses divines," ever stirred and stimulated, but never possessed by things divine.

Again in 1820 Aurore exchanged the restraint of a con-vent for freedom, being recalled to Nohant by Mme. de Francueil, who had no intention of letting her granddaughter grow up a dévote. She rode across country with her brother, she went out shooting with Deschatre, she sat by the cottage doors on the long summer evenings and heard the flax-dressers tell their tales of witches and warlocks. She read widely though unsystematically Aristotle, Leibnitz, Locke, Condillac, and fed her imagination with Bene and CJiilde Harold. Her confessor lent her the Genius of Christianity, and to this book she ascribes the first change in her religious views. She renounced once for all the asceticism and isolation of the De Imitations for the more genial and sympathetic Christianity of Chateaubriand. Yet she still clung to old associations, and on her grandmother's death was about to return to her convent, but was dissuaded by her friends, who found her a husband in the person of M. Dudevant, a retired officer who had turned farmer. About her husband and her married life George Sand is discreetly reticent. It was a marriage, if not of love, yet of inclination, and the first years of her married life, during which her son and daughter, Maurice and Solange, were born, were at least calm and peaceful. Soon differences arose. Her husband seems to have been neither better nor worse than the Berrichon squires around him ; but she found herself mated, if not to a clown, yet to a hobereau whose heart was in his farm and cattle. After nine years of passive endurance she determined to put an end to a connection which had grown intolerable, and in 1831 an amicable separation was agreed upon. Nohant was sur-rendered to the husband, and, taking her daughter with her, she went to seek her fortune in Paris with no provision but an allowance of £60 a year. After vain attempts to support herself by some of those expedients to which reduced gentlewomen are driven, as a last resource she tried litera-ture. At this period she was living in a garret, often unable to afford the luxury of a fire. Bepulsed by Balzac and Keratry, she found an employer in Delatouche, the editor of Figaro, and, like herself, a native of Berri. In her life she has done full justice to the rough honesty and jealous affection of her first critic, who treated her much as Dr Johnson treated Fanny Burney. George Sand had neither the wit nor the piquancy to succeed as a writer in Figaro, and at the end of a month her earnings amounted to fifteen francs. But there was on the same staff a young law student already known to her as a visitor at Nohant. With Jules Sandeau she entered into literary partnership, and under the name of Jules Sand there appeared a novel, their joint work, called Rose et Blanche. Her second novel was written independently, and the famous pseudonym, George Sand, was a compromise between Madame Dudevant, who wished to preserve the joint authorship, and Jules Sandeau, who disclaimed any share in the work. Nothing like Indiana had appeared before in French fiction. The public were wearied with the unreality of the fashionable historical novel, and the realistic humour of Paul de Kock. Balzac's earliest novels gave little promise of his future greatness. In the unknown writer they found one who combined the absorbing passion of Rousseau, the delicate picturesqueness of St Pierre, and the wild grandeur of Chateaubriand, in a living picture of present times and manners. Like Byron she awoke one morning and found herself famous. Dela-touche was the first to throw himself at her feet and bid her forget all the hard things he had said of her. Sainte-Beuve expressed the approval of the learned, and the public eagerly canvassed the secret of her name, sex, and history. Valentine, which appeared two months afterwards, proved that Indiana was not, like so many first novels, a graphic rescript merely of the author's own emotions, but the beginning of an inexhaustible series, in which experience was the raw material woven by imagination and coloured by fancy. In Valentine, written during a visit to Nohant, she draws her inspiration from her native soil, and nowhere has she better described the quiet beauty and pastoral melancholy of the Vallee Noire and the banks of the Indre. Her Bohemian life at Paris—her vie de gamin, as she calls it—in which she adopted not only the dress but the life of a college student, and made the acquaintance of the whole Paris world between the artist and the artisan, is sketched by her in an allegory which is worth quoting if only as a specimen of the simple perfection of her style.

" I care little about growing old ; I care far more not to grow old alone, but I have never met the being with whom I could have chosen to live and die, or if I ever met him I knew not how to keep him. I isten to a story and weep. There was a good artist called Watelet, the best acquafortis engraver of his day. He loved Marguerite Lecomte, and taught her to engrave as well as himself. She left husband and home to go and live with him. The world con-demned them; then, as they were poor and modest, it forgot them. Forty years afterwards their retreat was discovered. In a cottage in the environs of Paris called le moulin joli, there sat at the same table an old man engraving and an old woman whom he called his meuniere also engraving. The last design they were at wot _ upon represented the Moulin joli, the house of Marguerite, with the device Our valle pemmdem Sabina divitias operosiores. It hangs in my room over a portrait the original of which no one here has seen. For a year the person who gave me this portrait sat with me every night at a little table and lived by the same work. At daybreak we consulted together on our work for the day, and at night we supped at the same little table, chatting the while on art, on sentiment, on the future. The future broke faith with us. Pray for me, _ Marguerite Lecomte! "

Her third novel, Belie, marks the climax of her rebellion against society. It was written in a fit of deep depression, religious and political, and is a wild dithyramb, the passion-ate wail of a woman whose affections have been blighted, and whose jaundiced eyes see nothing but a lifeless, loveless, godless world. But like Goethe in his Werther she " rid her bosom of that perilous stuff," and, though once and again she inveighed against society, she never more lost faith in the moral government of the world.

Of her unfortunate relations with A. de Musset, and her voyage to Italy in his company, which followed the publica-tion of Lelie, nothing need be said except as they affected her literary career. As the motives of Indiana and Valentine are an unhappy marriage, so the novels of this period (1833-1835), Jacques, Andre, and Leone Leoni, are the outcome of an unhappy liaison. Her creed, the opposite of Shakespeare's, is, that love must alter as it alteration finds, and that no ties are binding but the mutual passion of the hour. File et lui is a woman's version of the quarrel between a man and woman, and if true it ought never to have been told. The moral of the tale is worth giving in George Sand's own words, "God makes certain men of genius to wander in the tempest and to create in pain. I studied you in your light and in your darknees, and know that you are not to be weighed in the balance like other men." The measure she here metes to De Musset we may fairly measure to her again.

To this Italian journey we owe some of her most charming pictures of scenery. Venice was the only town she loved for itself, and it exercised over her the same fascina-tion as over Byron, Shelley, and Goethe. The opening scenes of Consuelo are worthy to take rank with " Otway. Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakespeare's Art," with the 4th canto of Childe Harold, Shelley's Lyrics, and Goethe's Venetian Epigrams. The Lettres d'un Voyageur mark the calm which succeeded this Sturm und Drang period. They are specially valuable to the student of George Sand, as they give her views of men and things, not refracted and dis-torted by the exigencies of a novel. In Michel de Bourges (the " Edouard " of the letters) we make the acquaintance of another of those celebrated men who influenced for a time her life and writings. He conducted the suit which ended in a judicial separation from her husband (1836), and sought to convert her to the extreme republicanism of which he was the foremost advocate and defender. This Lovelace of politics laid siege to her intellect as persistently as Richardson's hero (for nine mortal hours he declaimed to her, pacing to and fro before her hotel at Bourges, and at Paris he locked her into her own room that she might reflect at leisure on his suit), but though she coquetted with his communistic theories, her artist nature rebelled against his extravagant radicalism. She sought safety in flight, but Mauprat, which she published this year, bears marks of his influence. The Lettres a Marcie, of 1837, are a tribute to the broad and noble Catholicism of Lamennais, and an eloquent exposition of the doctrine of Christian resignation; but in Spiridion (1838) she returns to her proper creed, a philosophical theism founded on sentiment and unfettered by dogma. Consuelo (1844) and Lucretia Floriani (1847) were inspired by Chopin, whose declining health she tended for more than six years with ______ care. La Compagnon du Tour de France (1840) and _________ d'Angibault (1845) are echoes of the socialism of Pierre Leroux. She threw herself heart and soul into the re-publican struggle of 1848, composed manifestoes for her friends, addressed letters to the people, and even started a newspaper. But her political ardour was short-lived ; she cared little about forms of government, and, when the days of June dashed to the ground her hopes of social regeneration, she quitted once for all the field of politics and returned to her quiet country ways and her true vocation as an interpreter of nature, a spiritualizer of the commonest sights of earth and the homeliest household affections. In 1849 she writes from Berri to a political friend,—" You thought that I was drinking blood from the skulls of aristocrats. No, I am studying Virgil and learning Latin ! "

To a youth of storm and stress succeeded an old age so calm and happy that it has no history. For more than a quarter of a century she continued year by year to gladden the world by some new creation, and the last of her works, the posthumous Contes d'une Grand'mère, is as fresh and vigorous and far more beautiful than Indiana. Only once was the serenity of her life troubled. The Journal of a Traveller daring the War will be quoted by future historians not only as a record of that agonizing crisis through which the French nation passed, but also as a prophecy of its recovery, which, by the indomitable spirit it expressed, brought its own fulfilment.

In writing the life of Madame Dudevant we have glanced at some of the most important of her works. To chronicle the titles only of all her novels would require an Homeric catalogue. It is only possible to give a general estimate of her style and of her place in French literature. But first we must call attention to her latest group of novels, which we omitted in the life as deserving a separate notice. With Jeanne (1852) began that series of pastorals, or stories of village life, by which George Sand is best known to the English public, and by which, we believe, she will be longest remembered. No description is needed of works so wed known as La petite Fadette, La mare au diable, Les Maîtres Sonneurs, Le meunier d'Angibault, Nanon, and François le Champi. With these may be classed the fairy-stories which she wrote for her grandchildren in the last years of her life, Le géant Yéous, La reine Coax, Le nuage rose, Les ailes de courage. They are too recent to be much known in England, but we may safely predict that they will be as familiar to our grandchildren as La petite Fadette is to us. Without attempting to analyze, we may shortly indi-cate the peculiar charm and originality of her idyllic novels.

1. Like Wordsworth, with the inward eye she sees into the life of things ; she seizes with her pencil the visionary gleam ; she shows the mystical influences which emanate from the world of sense, the witchery of the sky, the quiet soul of the river, the beauty born of murmuring sound, the grey landes stretching far away to the blue horizon, the deep-meadowed champaigns with orchard lawns and bowery hollows.

2. Like Wordsworth, too, she had found love in huts where poor men dwell, and like him she is " a leader in that greatest movement of modern times, care for our humbler brethren,—her part being to make us reverence them for what they are, what they have in common with us, or in greater measure than ourselves."

3. To interpret for her readers these pictures of primitive life she has invented a style of her own,—not that, like Fontenelle, she makes her shepherds talk the language of the court, but she expresses the feelings of peasants in words so simple that a peasant might have used them, and yet so pure that they would pass muster with the Académie. Like Courier she is archaic, but her archaisms are not extracted from books, but relics of classical French which still liugeied on in the quiet nooks of central France.

In conclusion, a few words must be said of her stylo, though much of its delicate harmony must elude a foreign critic, for it is by her style that she will chiefly live. It is simple and unaffected, yet full of subtle turns and pictur-esque expressions. Her dialogue is sparkling, her narrative clear and flowing, her descriptions exact, and her eloquence grandiose yet never meretricious. Topin is reminded of " the language of Rousseau, with something more of ease and finesse, the grace of Bernadin St Pierre, without his over-refinement, the warmth and eloquence of our greatest orators, and that without effort or straining." Nisard pronounces George Sand the master of French prose writers. To Thackeray her diction recalled the sound of country bells falling sweetly and sadly on the ear; it stirred the nerves of Mill like a symphony of Haydn or Mozart.

One of the greatest of English novelists seems by the name she has adopted to provoke comparison with George Sand. In psychological analysis and insight into the problems of modern life, she is at least her equal; in her range of knowledge, in self-control, and in practical common sense she is greatly her superior; but in unity of design, in harmony of treatment, in that purity and simplicity of language so felicitous and yet so unstudied, in all those qualities which make the best of George Sand's novels master pieces of art, she is as much her inferior. George Eliot is a great moralist, a great teacher; George Sand, whatever we may think of her doctrine and her morality, is by universal consent a supreme artist.

She has stayed in many camps, and lent her pen to many causes, she has had many friends and many lovers, but to one cause only has she remained constant—the cause
of human progress; and the only master in whose service she has never wearied is art. (p. s.)

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