Elizabeth Berg, author of The Dream Lover, usually writes about women who had marriages that ranged from fairly dysfunctional to very dysfunctional. In a number of her novels we read about a woman adjusting to an uncoupling resulting from either divorce or death. This time Berg writes a novel about a real woman, Amantine–Lucile–Aurore Dupin who came to be known as George Sand.
George Sand lived through most of the 1800’s in Paris and on an estate in the nearby countryside. She lived a lifestyle that was at least a century ahead of all of her peers. It took a strong and determined nature to buck cultural currents as she did. She was an individual who would be perfectly described as a “unique”, as eccentric women (free-spirited women) often were in those days.
Where her ability to ignore social censure came from is hard to say because most women at that time were fairly domestic or at least pretended to be and liked competing gently in their realm of feminine behavior. George Sand’s (Aurore’s) father and mother were not a conventional couple and her early years with them were marked by the fact that her father, from an aristocratic family, married a prostitute. He presented his wife and child to his mother, but only after the two had a child. Aurore’s mother was never truly accepted, although eventually she was tolerated.
After Aurore’s father died the child lived with her grandmother whose educated manservant, doctor and friend tutored the young George Sand. She showed an early love of reading and a headstrong nature that turned into a successful career as a writer. For a while Sand tried to be conventional and she married Casimir and had two children. Their happiness was short-lived as Casimir was a controlling husband and had few interests, none of which involved cultural activities. They had two children, Maurice and Solange and they shared custody of the children once Aurore abandoned her inheritance and fled to Paris to write.
She wrote her first novel with her new Parisian lover, Jules Sandeau, but he was jealous of her success and her work ethic. When she was ready to publish her second novel, realizing the limitations of the times about proper subject matter for women writers she chose the name George Sand. George Sand was known to other artists and writers of her time to be a woman even though she began to dress in men’s clothing and wear men’s hats. She began wearing this attire, says Berg, so she could go to the theater by herself and then found the clothing so comfortable and that it offered her a much greater freedom to travel around Paris on her own. She decided to use this manner of dress almost all of the time and had bespoke suits made for herself.
Now I am guessing that for a woman to dress as a man in the 1800’s took some guts. Berg also suggests that Sand fell in love with an actress named Marie and she describes a single lesbian encounter but here she has embellished on a tale that included no factual details to back up this incident. Based on Sand’s behavior it does not seem too far out of the realm of possibility.
Some of Berg’s writing about nature is superb and her descriptions are quite painterly. She says,
“I stand now in a mantilla of shade, beneath a tree here so long its mere presence dwarfs the idle happenings or musings of those who seek out its shelter.
The light is amber, the air still: the day lilies have folded in on themselves. Soon the hooded blue of dusk will fall, followed by the darkness of night and the sky writing of the stars, indecipherable to us mortals, despite our attempts to force narrative upon them.”
Nature was important to George Sand, according to our author, and George Sand used her country home at Nohant to lift her spirits when life and love laid her low, through her love of nature and of the countryside around this country estate. She inherited Nohant from her grandmother, but only owned it outright once she divorced Casimir.
George Sand is called The Dream Lover by Berg because she wanted so much to find a true, equal, and sustaining love. She fell in love with a number of men including Frederick Chopin but she never found that one true soul mate that she yearned for. Berg sticks quite close to the facts of Sand’s life as we know them today, but she also brings her to life. Interestingly enough the dysfunction in George Sand’s coupling fits in very well with the explorations taken on in Berg’s other novels. I knew only the bare bones of George Sand’s remarkable life and this was a enjoyable way to learn more about her, although it may not be accepted as a rigorous source in the literary world.
By Nancy Brisson