Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings
by Rene Doumic
Translated by Alys Hallard
First published in 1910. This volume is dedicated to Madame L. Landouzy with gratitude and affection
This book is not intended as a study of George Sand. It is merely a series of chapters touching on various aspects of her life and writings. My work will not be lost if the perusal of these pages should inspire one of the historians of our literature with the idea of devoting to the great novelist, to her genius and her influence, a work of this kind.
I AURORE DUPIN II BARONNE DUDEVANT III A FEMINIST OF 1832 IV THE ROMANTIC ESCAPADE V THE FRIEND OF MICHEL (DE BOURGES) VI A CASE OF MATERNAL AFFECTION IN LOVE VII THE HUMANITARIAN DREAM VIII 1848 IX THE 'BONNE DAME' OF NOHANT X THE GENIUS OF THE WRITER
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
GEORGE SAND (From a photogravure by N. Desmardyl, after a Painting by A. Charpentier) GEORGE SAND (From an engraving by L. Calamatia) JULES SANDEAU (From an etching by M. Desboutins) ALFRED DE MUSSET (From a lithograph) FACSIMILE OF AN AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF GEORGE SAND (Written from Venice to Hipp. Chatiron) GEORGE SAND (From a lithograph) F. CHOPIN (From a photograph) PIERRE LEROUX (From a lithograph by A. Collette) GEORGE SAND (From a lithograph)
PSYCHOLOGY OF A DAUGHTER OF ROUSSEAU
In the whole of French literary history, there is, perhaps, no subject of such inexhaustible and modern interest as that of George Sand. Of what use is literary history? It is not only a kind of museum, in which a few masterpieces are preserved for the pleasure of beholders. It is this certainly, but it is still more than this. Fine books are, before anything else, living works. They not only have lived, but they continue to live. They live within us, underneath those ideas which form our conscience and those sentiments which inspire our actions. There is nothing of greater importance for any society than to make an inventory of the ideas and the sentiments which are composing its moral atmosphere every instant that it exists. For every individual this work is the very condition of his dignity. The question is, should we have these ideas and these sentiments, if, in the times before us, there had not been some exceptional individuals who seized them, as it were, in the air and made them viable and durable? These exceptional individuals were capable of thinking more vigorously, of feeling more deeply, and of expressing themselves more forcibly than we are. They bequeathed these ideas and sentiments to us. Literary history is, then, above and beyond all things, the perpetual examination of the conscience of humanity.
There is no need for me to repeat what every one knows, the fact that our epoch is extremely complex, agitated and disturbed. In the midst of this labyrinth in which we are feeling our way with such difficulty, who does not look back regretfully to the days when life was more simple, when it was possible to walk towards a goal, mysterious and unknown though it might be, by straight paths and royal routes?
George Sand wrote for nearly half a century. For fifty times three hundred and sixty-five days, she never let a day pass by without covering more pages than other writers in a month. Her first books shocked people, her early opinions were greeted with storms. From that time forth she rushed head-long into everything new, she welcomed every chimera and passed it on to us with more force and passion in it. Vibrating with every breath, electrified by every storm, she looked up at every cloud behind which she fancied she saw a star shining. The work of another novelist has been called a repertory of human documents. But what a repertory of ideas her work was! She has said what she had to say on nearly every subject; on love, the family, social institutions and on the various forms of government. And with all this she was a woman. Her case is almost unique in the history of letters. It is intensely interesting to study the influence of this woman of genius on the evolution of modern thought.
I shall endeavour to approach my subject conscientiously and with all due respect. I shall study biography where it is indispensable for the complete understanding of works. I shall give a sketch of the original individuals I meet on my path, portraying these only at their point of contact with the life of our authoress, and it seems to me that a gallery in which we see Sandeau, Sainte-Beuve, Musset, Michel (of Bourges), Liszt, Chopin, Lamennais, Pierre Leroux, Dumas fils, Flaubert and many, many others is an incomparable portrait gallery. I shall not attack persons, but I shall discuss ideas and, when necessary, dispute them energetically. We shall, I hope, during our voyage, see many perspectives open out before us.
I have, of course, made use of all the works devoted to George Sand which were of any value for my study, and among others of the two volumes published, under the name of Wladimir Karenine,(1) by a woman belonging to Russian aristocratic society. For the period before 1840, this is the most complete work that has been written. M. Samuel Rocheblave, a clever University professor and the man who knows more than any one about the life and works of George Sand, has been my guide and has helped me greatly with his wise advice. Private collections of documents have also been placed at my service most generously. I am therefore able to supply some hitherto unpublished writings. George Sand published, in all, about a hundred volumes of novels and stories, four volumes of autobiography, and six of correspondence. In spite of all this we are still asked for fresh documents.
(1) WLADIMIR KARENINE: George Sand, Sa vie et ses oeuvres. 2 Vols. Ollendorf.
It is interesting, as a preliminary study, to note the natural gifts, and the first impressions of Aurore Dupin as a child and young girl, and to see how these predetermined the woman and the writer known to us as George Sand.
Lucile-Amandine-Aurore Dupin, legitimate daughter of Maurice Dupin and of Sophie-Victoire Delaborde, was born in Paris, at 15 Rue Meslay, in the neighbourhood of the Temple, on the 1st of July, 1804. I would call attention at once to the special phenomenon which explains the problem of her destiny: I mean by this her heredity, or rather the radical and violent contrast of her maternal and paternal heredity.
By her father she was an aristocrat and related to the reigning houses.
Her ancestor was the King of Poland, Augustus II, the lover of the beautiful Countess Aurora von Koenigsmarck. George Sand's grandfather was Maurice de Saxe. He may have been an adventurer and a condottiere, but France owes to him Fontenoy, that brilliant page of her history. All this takes us back to the eighteenth century with its brilliant, gallant, frivolous, artistic and profligate episodes. Maurice de Saxe adored the theatre, either for itself or for the sake of the women connected with it. On his campaign, he took with him a theatrical company which gave a representation the evening before a battle. In this company was a young artiste named Mlle. de Verrieres whose father was a certain M. Rinteau. Maurice de Saxe admired the young actress and a daughter was born of this liaison, who was later on recognized by her father and named Marie-Aurore de Saxe. This was George Sand's grandmother. At the age of fifteen the young girl married Comte de Horn, a bastard son of Louis XV. This husband was obliging enough to his wife, who was only his wife in name, to die as soon as possible. She then returned to her mother "the Opera lady." An elderly nobleman, Dupin de Francueil, who had been the lover of the other Mlle. Verrieres, now fell in love with her and married her. Their son, Maurice Dupin, was the father of our novelist. The astonishing part of this series of adventures is that Marie-Aurore should have been the eminently respectable woman that she was. On her mother's side, though, Aurore Dupin belonged to the people. She was the daughter of Sophie-Victoire Delaborde milliner, the grandchild of a certain bird-seller on the Quai des Oiseaux, who used to keep a public-house, and she was the great-granddaughter of Mere Cloquart.
This double heredity was personified in the two women who shared George Sand's childish affection. We must therefore study the portraits of these two women.
The grandmother was, if not a typical grande dame, at least a typical elegant woman of the latter half of the eighteenth century. She was very well educated and refined, thanks to living with the two sisters, Mlles. Verrieres, who were accustomed to the best society. She was a good musician and sang delightfully. When she married Dupin de Francueil, her husband was sixty-two, just double her age. But, as she used to say to her granddaughter, "no one was ever old in those days. It was the Revolution that brought old age into the world."
Dupin was a very agreeable man. When younger he had been too agreeable, but now he was just sufficiently so to make his wife very happy. He was very lavish in his expenditure and lived like a prince, so that he left Marie-Aurore ruined and poor with about three thousand a year. She was imbued with the ideas of the philosophers and an enemy of the Queen's coterie. She was by no means alarmed at the Revolution and was very soon taken prisoner. She was arrested on the 26th of November, 1793, and incarcerated in the Couvent des Anglaises, Rue des Fosse's-Saint-Victor, which had been converted into a detention house. On leaving prison she settled down at Nohant, an estate she had recently bought. It was there that her granddaughter remembered her in her early days. She describes her as tall, slender, fair and always very calm. At Nohant she had only her maids and her books for company. When in Paris, she delighted in the society of people of her own station and of her time, people who had the ideas and airs of former days. She continued, in this new century, the shades of thought and the manners and Customs of the old regime.
As a set-off to this woman of race and of culture, Aurore's mother represented the ordinary type of the woman of the people. She was small, dark, fiery and violent. She, too, the bird-seller's daughter, had been imprisoned by the Revolution, and strangely enough in the Couvent des Anglaises at about the same time as Maurice de Saxe's granddaughter. It was in this way that the fusion of classes was understood under the Terror. She was employed as a figurante in a small theatre. This was merely a commencement for her career. At the time when Maurice Dupin met her, she was the mistress of an old general. She already had one child of doubtful parentage. Maurice Dupin, too, had a natural son, named Hippolyte, so that they could not reproach each other. When Maurice Dupin married Sophie-Victoire, a month before the birth of Aurore, he had some difficulty in obtaining his mother's consent. She finally gave in, as she was of an indulgent nature. It is possible that Sophie-Victoire's conduct was irreproachable during her husband's lifetime, but, after his death, she returned to her former ways. She was nevertheless of religious habits and would not, upon any account, have missed attending Mass. She was quick-tempered, jealous and noisy and, when anything annoyed her, extremely hot-headed. At such times she would shout and storm, so that the only way to silence her was to shout still more loudly. She never bore any malice, though, and wished no harm to those she had insulted. She was of course sentimental, but more passionate than tender, and she quickly forgot those whom she had loved most fondly. There seemed to be gaps in her memory and also in her conscience. She was ignorant, knowing nothing either of literature or of the usages of society. Her salon was the landing of her flat and her acquaintances were the neighbours who happened to live next door to her. It is easy to imagine what she thought of the aristocrats who visited her mother-in-law. She was amusing when she joked and made parodies on the women she styled "the old Countesses." She had a great deal of natural wit, a liveliness peculiar to the native of the faubourgs, all the impudence of the street arab, and a veritable talent of mimicry. She was a good housewife, active, industrious and most clever in turning everything to account. With a mere nothing she could improvise a dress or a hat and give it a certain style. She was always most skilful with her fingers, a typical Parisian work-girl, a daughter of the street and a child of the people. In our times she would be styled "a midinette."
Such are the two women who shared the affection of Aurore Dupin. Fate had brought them together, but had made them so unlike that they were bound to dislike each other. The childhood of little Aurore served as the lists for their contentions. Their rivalry was the dominating note in the sentimental education of the child.
As long as Maurice Dupin lived, Aurore was always with her parents in their little Parisian dwelling. Maurice Dupin was a brilliant officer, and very brave and jovial. In 1808, Aurore went to him in Madrid, where he was Murat's aide-de-camp. She lived in the palace of the Prince of Peace, that vast palace which Murat filled with the splendour of his costumes and the groans caused by his suffering. Like Victor Hugo, who went to the same place at about the same time and under similar conditions, Aurore may have brought back with her:
de ses courses lointaines Comme un vaguefaisceau de lueurs incertaines.
This does not seem probable, though. The return was painful, as they came back worried and ill, and were glad to take refuge at Nohant. They were just beginning to organize their life when Maurice Dupin died suddenly, from an accident when riding, leaving his mother and his wife together.
From this time forth, Aurore was more often with her grandmother at Nohant than with her mother in Paris. Her grandmother undertook the care of her education. Her half-brother, Hippolyte Chatiron, and she received lessons from M. Deschartres, who had educated Maurice Dupin. He was steward and tutor combined, a very authoritative man, arrogant and a great pedant. He was affectionate, though, and extremely devoted. He was both detestable and touching at the same time, and had a warm heart hidden under a rough exterior. Nohant was in the heart of Berry, and this meant the country and Nature. For Aurore Dupin Nature proved to be an incomparable educator.
There was only one marked trait in the child's character up to this date, and that was a great tendency to reverie. For long hours she would remain alone, motionless, gazing into space. People were anxious about her when they saw her looking so stupid, but her mother invariably said: "Do not be alarmed. She is always ruminating about something." Country life, while providing her with fresh air and plenty of exercise, so that her health was magnificent, gave fresh food and another turn to her reveries. Ten years earlier Alphonse de Lamartine had been sent to the country at Milly, and allowed to frequent the little peasant children of the place. Aurore Dupin's existence was now very much the same as that of Lamartine. Nohant is situated in the centre of the Black Valley. The ground is dark and rich; there are narrow, shady paths. It is not a hilly country, and there are wide, peaceful horizons. At all hours of the day and at all seasons of the year, Aurore wandered along the Berry roads with her little playfellows, the farmers' children. There was Marie who tended the flock, Solange who collected leaves, and Liset and Plaisir who minded the pigs. She always knew in what meadow or in what place she would find them. She played with them amongst the hay, climbed the trees and dabbled in the water. She minded the flock with them, and in winter, when the herdsmen talked together, assembled round their fire, she listened to their wonderful stories. These credulous country children had "seen with their own eyes" Georgeon, the evil spirit of the Black Valley. They had also seen will-o'-the-wisps, ghosts, the "white greyhound" and the "Big Beast"! In the evenings, she sat up listening to the stories told by the hemp-weaver. Her fresh young soul was thus impregnated at an early age with the poetry of the country. And it was all the poetry of the country, that which comes from things, such as the freshness of the air and the perfume of the flowers, but also that which is to be found in the simplicity of sentiments and in that candour and surprise face to face with those sights of Nature which have remained the same and have been just as incomprehensible ever since the beginning of the world.
The antagonism of the two mothers increased, though. We will not go into detail with regard to the various episodes, but will only consider the consequences.
The first consequence was that the intelligence of the child became more keen through this duality. Placed as she was, in these two different worlds, between two persons with minds so unlike, and, obliged as she was to go from one to the other, she learnt to understand and appreciate them both, contrasts though they were. She had soon reckoned each of them up, and she saw their weaknesses, their faults, their merits and their advantages.
A second consequence was to increase her sensitiveness. Each time that she left her mother, the separation was heartrending. When she was absent from her, she suffered on account of this absence, and still more because she fancied that she would be forgotten. She loved her mother, just as she was, and the idea that any one was hostile or despised her caused the child much silent suffering. It was as though she had an ever-open wound.
Another consequence, and by no means the least important one, was to determine in a certain sense the immense power of sympathy within her. For a long time she only felt a sort of awe, when with her reserved and ceremonious grandmother. She felt nearer to her mother, as there was no need to be on ceremony with her. She took a dislike to all those who represented authority, rules and the tyranny of custom. She considered her mother and herself as oppressed individuals. A love for the people sprang up in the heart of the daughter of Sophie-Victoire. She belonged to them through her mother, and she was drawn to them now through the humiliations she underwent. In this little enemy of reverences and of society people, we see the dawn of that instinct which, later on, was to cause her to revolt openly. George Sand was quite right in saying, later on, that it was of no use seeking any intellectual reason as the explanation of her social preferences. Everything in her was due to sentiment. Her socialism was entirely the outcome of her suffering and torments as a child.
Things had to come to a crisis, and the crisis was atrocious. George Sand gives an account of the tragic scene in her Histoire de ma vie. Her grandmother had already had one attack of paralysis. She was anxious about Aurore's future, and wished to keep her from the influence of her mother. She therefore decided to employ violent means to this end. She sent for the child to her bedside, and, almost beside herself, in a choking voice, she revealed to her all that she ought to have concealed. She told her of Sophie-Victoire's past, she uttered the fatal word and spoke of the child's mother as a lost woman. With Aurore's extreme sensitiveness, it was horrible to receive such confidences at the age of thirteen. Thirty years later, George Sand describes the anguish of the terrible minute. "It was a nightmare," she says. "I felt choked, and it was as though every word would kill me. The perspiration came out on my face. I wanted to interrupt her, to get up and rush away. I did not want to hear the frightful accusation. I could not move, though; I seemed to be nailed on my knees, and my head seemed to be bowed down by that voice that I heard above me, a voice which seemed to wither me like a storm wind."
It seems extraordinary that a woman, who was in reality so kind-hearted and so wise, should have allowed herself to be carried away like this. Passion has these sudden and unexpected outbursts, and we see here a most significant proof of the atmosphere of passion in which the child had lived, and which gradually insinuated itself within her.
Under these circumstances, Aurore's departure for the convent was a deliverance. Until just recently, there has always been a convent in vogue in France in which it has been considered necessary for girls in good society to be educated. In 1817, the Couvent des Anglaises was in vogue, the very convent which had served as a prison for the mother and grandmother of Aurore. The three years she spent there in that "big feminine family, where every one was as kind as God," she considered the most peaceful and happy time of her life. The pages she devotes to them in her Histoire de ma vie have all the freshness of an oasis. She describes most lovingly this little world, apart, exclusive and self-sufficing, in which life was so intense.
The house consisted of a number of constructions, and was situated in the neighbourhood given up to convents. There were courtyards and gardens enough to make it seem like a small village. There was also a labyrinth of passages above and underground, just as in one of Anne Radcliffe's novels. There were old walls overgrown with vine and jasmine. The cock could be heard at midnight, just as in the heart of the country, and there was a bell with a silvery tone like a woman's voice. From her little cell, Aurore looked over the tops of the great chestnut trees on to Paris, so that the air so necessary for the lungs of a child accustomed to wanderings in the country was not lacking in her convent home. The pupils had divided themselves into three categories: the diables, the good girls, who were the specially pious ones, and the silly ones. Aurore took her place at once among the diables. The great exploit of these convent girls consisted in descending into the cellars, during recreation, and in sounding the walls, in order to "deliver the victim." There was supposed to be an unfortunate victim imprisoned and tortured by the good, kindhearted Sisters. Alas! all the diables sworn to the task in the Couvent des Anglaises never succeeded in finding the victim, so that she must be there still.
Very soon, though, a sudden change-took place in Aurore's soul. It would have been strange had it been otherwise. With so extraordinarily sensitive an organization, the new and totally different surroundings could not fail to make an impression. The cloister, the cemetery, the long services, the words of the ritual, murmured in the dimly-lighted chapel, and the piety that seems to hover in the air in houses where many prayers have been offered up—all this acted on the young girl. One evening in August, she had gone into the church, which was dimly lighted by the sanctuary lamp. Through the open window came the perfume of honeysuckle and the songs of the birds. There was a charm, a mystery and a solemn calm about everything, such as she had never before experienced. "I do not know what was taking place within me," she said, when describing this, later on, "but I breathed an atmosphere that was indescribably delicious, and I seemed to be breathing it in my very soul. Suddenly, I felt a shock through all my being, a dizziness came over me, and I seemed to be enveloped in a white light. I thought I heard a voice murmuring in my ear: 'Tolle Lege.' I turned round, and saw that I was quite alone. . . ."
Our modern psychiatres would say that she had had an hallucination of hearing, together with olfactory trouble. I prefer saying that she had received the visit of grace. Tears of joy bathed her face and she remained there, sobbing for a long time.
The convent had therefore opened to Aurore another world of sentiment, that of Christian emotion. Her soul was naturally religious, and the dryness of a philosophical education had not been sufficient for it. The convent had now brought her the aliment for which she had instinctively longed. Later on, when her faith, which had never been very enlightened, left her, the sentiment remained. This religiosity, of Christian form, was essential to George Sand.
The convent also rendered her another eminent service. In the Histoire de ma vie, George Sand retraces from memory the portraits of several of the Sisters. She tells us of Madame Marie-Xavier, and of her despair at having taken the vows; of Sister Anne-Joseph, who was as kind as an angel and as silly as a goose; of the gentle Marie-Alicia, whose serene soul looked out of her blue eyes, a mirror of purity, and of the mystical Sister Helene, who had left home in spite of her family, in spite of the supplications and the sobs of her mother and sisters, and who had passed over the body of a child on her way to God. It is like this always. The costumes are the same, the hands are clasped in the same manner, the white bands and the faces look equally pale, but underneath this apparent uniformity what contrasts! It is the inner life which marks the differences so vigorously, and shows up the originality of each one. Aurore gradually discovered the diversity of all these souls and the beauty of each one. She thought of becoming a nun, but her confessor did not advise this, and he was certainly wise. Her grandmother, who had a philosopher's opinion of priests, blamed their fanaticism, and took her little granddaughter away from the convent. Perhaps she felt the need of affection for the few months she had still to live. At any rate, she certainly had this affection. One of the first results of the larger perspicacity which Aurore had acquired at the convent was to make her understand her grandmother at last. She was able now to grasp the complex nature of her relative and to see the delicacy hidden under an appearance of great reserve. She knew now all that she owed to her grandmother, but unfortunately it was one of those discoveries which are made too late.
The eighteen months which Aurore now passed at Nohant, until the death of her grandmother, are very important as regards her psychological biography. She was seventeen years old, and a girl who was eager to live and very emotional. She had first been a child of Nature. Her convent life had taken her away from Nature and accustomed her to falling back on her own thoughts. Nature now took her back once more, and her beloved Nohant feted her return.
"The trees were in flower," she says, "the nightingales were singing, and, in the distance, I could hear the classic, solemn sound of the labourers. My old friends, the big dogs, who had growled at me the evening before, recognized me again and were profuse in their caresses. . . ."
She wanted to see everything again. The things themselves had not changed, but her way of looking at them now was different. During her long, solitary walks every morning, she enjoyed seeing the various landscapes, sometimes melancholy-looking and sometimes delightful. She enjoyed, too, the picturesqueness of the various things she met, the flocks of cattle, the birds taking their flight, and even the sound of the horses' feet splashing in the water. She enjoyed everything, in a kind of voluptuous reverie which was no longer instinctive, but conscious and a trifle morbid.
Added to all this, her reading at this epoch was without any order or method. She read everything voraciously, mixing all the philosophers up together. She read Locke, Condillac, Montesquieu, Bossuet, Pascal, Montaigne, but she kept Rousseau apart from the others. She devoured the books of the moralists and poets, La Bruyere, Pope, Milton, Dante, Virgil, Shakespeare. All this reading was too much for her and excited her brain. She had reserved Chateaubriand's Rene, and, on reading that, she was overcome by the sadness which emanates from these distressing pages. She was disgusted with life, and attempted to commit suicide. She tried to drown herself, and only owed her life to the healthy-mindedness of the good mare Colette, as the horse evidently had not the same reasons as its young mistress for wishing to put an end to its days.
All this time Aurore was entirely free to please herself. Deschartres, who had always treated her as a boy, encouraged her independence. It was at his instigation that she dressed in masculine attire to go out shooting. People began to talk about her "eccentricities" at Landerneau, and the gossip continued as far as La Chatre. Added to this, Aurore began to study osteology with a young man who lived in the neighbourhood, and it was said that this young man, Stephane Ajasson de Grandsaigne, gave her lessons in her own room. This was the climax.
We have a curious testimony as regards the state of the young girl's mind at this epoch. A review, entitled Le Voile de pourpre, published recently, in its first number, a letter from Aurore to her mother, dated November 18, 1821. Her mother had evidently written to her on hearing the gossip about her, and had probably enlarged upon it.
"You reproach me, mother, with neither having timidity, modesty, nor charm," she writes, "or at least you suppose that I have these qualities, but that I refrain from showing them, and you are quite certain that I have no outward decency nor decorum. You ought to know me before judging me in this way. You would then be able to form an opinion about my conduct. Grandmother is here, and, ill though she is, she watches over me carefully and lovingly, and she would not fail to correct me if she considered that I had the manners of a dragoon or of a hussar."
She considered that she had no need of any one to guide or protect her, and no need of leading-strings.
"I am seventeen," she says, "and I know my way about."
If this Monsieur de Grandsaigne had ventured to take any liberty with her, she was old enough to take care of herself.
Her mother had blamed her for learning Latin and osteology. "Why should a woman be ignorant?" she asks. "Can she not be well educated without this spoiling her and without being pedantic? Supposing that I should have sons in the future, and that I had profited sufficiently by my studies to be able to teach them, would not a mother's lessons be as good as a tutor's?"
She was already challenging public opinion, starting a campaign against false prejudices, showing a tendency to generalize, and to make the cause of one woman the cause of all women.
We must now bear in mind the various traits we have discovered, one after another, in Aurore's character. We must remember to what parentage she owed her intellectuality and her sentimentality. It will then be more easy to understand the terms she uses when describing her fascination for Rousseau's writings.
"The language of Jean-Jacques and the form of his deductions impressed me as music might have done when heard in brilliant sunshine. I compared him to Mozart, and I understood everything."
She understood him, for she recognized herself in him. She sympathized with that predominance of feeling and imagination, that exaggeration of sentiment, that preference for life according to Nature, that emotion on beholding the various sights of the country, that distrust of people, those effusions of religious sentimentality, those solitary reveries, and that melancholy which made death seem desirable to him. All this was to Aurore Dupin the gospel according to Rousseau. The whole of her psychology is to be found here.
She was an exceptional being undoubtedly; but in order to be a genial exception one must have within oneself, and then personify with great intensity all the inspirations which, at a certain moment, are dispersed in the atmosphere. Ever since the great agitation which had shaken the moral world by Rousseau's preaching, there had been various vague currents and a whole crowd of confused aspirations floating about. It was this enormous wave that entered a feminine soul. Unconsciously Aurore Dupin welcomed the new ideal, and it was this ideal which was to operate within her. The question was, what would she do with it, in presence of life with all its everyday and social realities. This question is the object of our study. In the solution of it lies the interest, the drama and the lesson of George Sand's destiny.
BARONNE DUDEVANT MARRIAGE AND FREEDOM—THE ARRIVAL IN PARIS—JULES SANDEAU
We must now endeavour to discover what the future George Sand's experiences of marriage were, and the result of these experiences on the formation of her ideas.
"You will lose your best friend in me," were the last words of the grandmother to her granddaughter on her death-bed. The old lady spoke truly, and Aurore was very soon to prove this. By a clause in her will, Madame Dupin de Francueil left the guardianship of Aurore to a cousin, Rene de Villeneuve. It was scarcely likely, though, that Sophie-Victoire should consent to her own rights being frustrated by this illegal clause, particularly as this man belonged to the world of the "old Countesses." She took her daughter with her to Paris. Unfortunately for her, Aurore's eyes were now open, and she was cultured enough to have been in entire sympathy with her exquisite grandmother. It was no longer possible for her to have the old passionate affection and indulgence for her mother, especially as she felt that she had hitherto been deserted by her. She saw her mother now just as she was, a light woman belonging to the people, a woman who could not resign herself to growing old. If only Sophie-Victoire had been of a tranquil disposition! She was most restless, on the contrary, wanting to change her abode and change her restaurant every day. She would quarrel with people one day, make it up the next; wear a different-shaped hat every day, and change the colour of her hair continually. She was always in a state of agitation. She loved police news and thrilling stories; read the Sherlock Holmes of those days until the middle of the night. She dreamed of such stories, and the following day went on living in an atmosphere of crime. When she had an attack of indigestion, she always imagined that she had been poisoned. When a visitor arrived, she thought it must be a burglar. She was most sarcastic about Aurore's "fine education" and her literary aspirations. Her hatred of the dead grandmother was as strong as ever. She was constantly insulting her memory, and in her fits of anger said unheard-of things. Aurore's silence was her only reply to these storms, and this exasperated her mother. She declared that she would correct her daughter's "sly ways." Aurore began to wonder with terror whether her mother's mind were not beginning to give way. The situation finally became intolerable.
Sophie-Victoire took her daughter to spend two or three days with some friends of hers, and then left her there. They lived in the country at Plessis-Picard, near Melun. Aurore was delighted to find a vast park with thickets in which there were roebucks bounding about. She loved the deep glades and the water with the green reflections of old willow trees. Monsieur James Duplessis and his wife, Angele, were excellent people, and they adopted Aurore for the time being. They already had five daughters, so that one more did not make much difference. They frequented a few families in the neighbourhood, and there was plenty of gaiety among the young people. The Duplessis took Aurore sometimes to Paris and to the theatre.
"One evening," we are told in the Histoire de ma vie, "we were having some ices at Tortoni's after the theatre, when suddenly my mother Angele said to her husband, 'Why, there's Casimir!' A young man, slender and rather elegant, with a gay expression and a military look, came and shook hands, and answered all the questions he was asked about his father, Colonel Dudevant, who was evidently very much respected and loved by the family."
This was the first meeting, the first appearance of Casimir in the story, and this was how he entered into the life of Aurore.
He was invited to Plessis, he joined the young people good-humouredly in their games, was friendly with Aurore, and, without posing as a suitor, asked for her hand in marriage. There was no reason for her to refuse him. He was twenty-seven years of age, had served two years in the army, and had studied law in Paris. He was a natural son, of course, but he had been recognized by his father, Colonel Dudevant. The Dudevant family was greatly respected. They had a chateau at Guillery in Gascony. Casimir had been well brought up and had good manners. Aurore might as well marry him as any other young man. It would even be preferable to marry him rather than another young man. He was already her friend, and he would then be her husband. That would not make much difference.
The marriage almost fell through, thanks to Sophie-Victoire. She did not consider Casimir good-looking enough. She was not thinking of her daughter, but of herself. She had made up her mind to have a handsome son-in-law with whom she could go out. She liked handsome men, and particularly military men. Finally she consented to the marriage, but, a fortnight before the ceremony, she arrived at Plessis, like a veritable thunderbolt. An extraordinary idea had occurred to her. She vowed that she had discovered that Casimir had been a waiter at a cafe. She had no doubt dreamt this, but she held to her text, and was indignant at the idea of her daughter marrying a waiter! . . .
Things had arrived at this crisis when Casimir's mother, Madame Dudevant, who had all the manners of a grande dame, decided to pay Sophie-Victoire an official visit. The latter was greatly flattered, for she liked plenty of attention paid to her. It was in this way that Aurore Dupin became Baronne Dudevant.
She was just eighteen years of age. It is interesting to read her description of herself at this time. In her Voyage en Auvergne, which was her first writing, dated 1827, she traces the following portrait, which certainly is not exaggerated.
"When I was sixteen," she says, "and left the convent, every one could see that I was a pretty girl. I was fresh-looking, though dark. I was like those wild flowers which grow without any art or culture, but with gay, lively colouring. I had plenty of hair, which was almost black. On looking at myself in the glass, though, I can truthfully say that I was not very well pleased with myself. I was dark, my features were well cut, but not finished. People said that it was the expression of my face that made it interesting. I think this was true. I was gay but dreamy, and my most natural expression was a meditative one. People said, too, that in this absent-minded expression there was a fixed look which resembled that of the serpent when fascinating his prey. That, at any rate, was the far-fetched comparison of my provincial adorers."
They were not very far wrong, these provincial adorers. The portraits of Aurore at this date show us a charming face of a young girl, as fresh-looking as a child. She has rather long features, with a delicately-shaped chin. She is not exactly pretty, but fascinating, with those great dark eyes, which were her prominent feature, eyes which, when fixed on any one, took complete possession of them—dreamy, passionate eyes, sombre because the soul reflected in them had profound depths.
It is difficult to define that soul, for it was so complex. To judge by appearances, it was a very peaceful soul, and perhaps, too, it was in reality peaceful. George Sand, who knew herself thoroughly, frequently spoke of her laziness and of her apathy, traits peculiar to the natives of Berry. Superficial observers looked no further, and her mother used to call her "St. Tranquillity." The nuns, though, of her convent had more perspicacity. They said, when speaking of her: "Still waters run deep." Under the smooth surface they fancied that storms were gathering. Aurore had within her something of her mother and of her grandmother, and their opposite natures were blended in her. She had the calmness of Marie-Aurore, but she also had the impetuousness of Sophie-Victoire, and undoubtedly, too, something of the free and easy good humour of her father, the break-neck young officer. It certainly is not surprising to find a love of adventure in a descendant of Maurice de Saxe.
Beside all these inner contrasts, the observer was particularly struck by her sudden changes of humour, by the way in which, after a fit of melancholy sadness, she suddenly gave way to the most exuberant gaiety, followed by long fits of depression and nervous exhaustion. Personally, I do not believe much in the influence of the physical over the moral nature, but I am fully convinced of the action of the moral over the physical nature. In certain cases and in presence of extremely accentuated conditions, physiological explanations must be taken into account. All these fits of melancholy and weeping, this prostration, these high spirits and the long walks, in order to sober down, denote the exigencies of an abnormal temperament. When once the crisis was passed, it must not be supposed that, as with many other people, nothing remained of it all. This was by no means the case, as in a nature so extraordinarily organized for storing up sensations nothing was lost, nothing evaporated, and everything increased. The still water seemed to be slumbering. Its violence, though held in check, was increasing in force, and when once let loose, it would carry all before it.
Such was the woman whom Casimir Dudevant was to marry. The fascination was great; the honour rather to be feared, for all depended on his skill in guiding this powerful energy.
The question is whether he loved her. It has been said that it was a marriage of interest, as Aurore's fortune amounted to twenty thousand pounds, and he was by no means rich. This may have been so, but there is no reason why money should destroy one's sentiments, and the fact that Aurore had money was not likely to prevent Casimir from appreciating the charms of a pretty girl. It seems, therefore, very probable that he loved his young wife, at any rate as much as this Casimir was capable of loving his wife.
The next question is whether she loved him. It has been said that she did, simply because she declared that she did not. When, later on, after her separation, she spoke of her marriage, all her later grievances were probably in her mind. There are her earlier letters, though, which some people consider a proof that she cared for Casimir, and there are also a few words jotted down in her notebook. When her husband was absent, she was anxious about him and feared that he had met with an accident. It would be strange indeed if a girl of eighteen did not feel some affection for the man who had been the first to make love to her, a man whom she had married of her own free-will. It is rare for a woman to feel no kind of attachment for her husband, but is that attachment love? When a young wife complains of her husband, we hear in her reproaches the protest of her offended dignity, of her humbled pride. When a woman loves her husband, though, she does not reproach him, guilty though he may be, with having humiliated and wounded her. What she has against him then, is that he has broken her heart by his lack of love for her. This note and this accent can never be mistaken, and never once do we find it with Aurore. We may therefore conclude that she had never loved her husband.
Casimir did not know how to win her affection. He did not even realize that he needed to win it. He was very much like all men. The idea never occurs to them that, when once they are married, they have to win their wife.
He was very much like all men. . . . That is the most faithful portrait that can be traced of Casimir at this epoch. He had not as yet the vices which developed in him later on. He had nothing to distinguish him from the average man. He was selfish, without being disagreeable, rather idle, rather incapable, rather vain and rather foolish. He was just an ordinary man. The wife he had married, though, was not an ordinary woman. That was their misfortune. As Emile Faguet has very wittily put it, "Monsieur Dudevant, about whom she complained so much, seems to have had no other fault than that of being merely an ordinary man, which, of course, is unendurable to a superior woman. The situation was perhaps equally unendurable for the man." This is quite right, for Casimir was very soon considerably disconcerted. He was incapable of understanding her psychology, and, as it seemed impossible to him that a woman was not his inferior, he came to the logical conclusion that his wife was "idiotic." This was precisely his expression, and at every opportunity he endeavoured to crush her by his own superiority. All this seems to throw some light on his character and also on the situation. Here was a man who had married the future George Sand, and he complained, in all good faith, that his wife was "idiotic"!
Certainly, on comparing the Correspondance with the Histoire de ma vie, the difference of tone is most striking. The letters in which Baronne Dudevant tells, day by day, of her home life are too enthusiastic for the letters of an unhappy wife. There are receptions at Nohant, lively dinners, singing and dancing. All this is, at any rate, the surface, but gradually the misunderstandings are more pronounced, and the gulf widens.
There may have been a misunderstanding at the very beginning of their married life, and Aurore may have had a surprise of the nature of the one to which Jane de Simerose confesses in L'Ami des femmes. In an unpublished letter written much later on, in the year 1843, from George Sand to her half-brother Hippolyte Chatiron on the occasion of his daughter's engagement, the following lines occur: "See that your son-in-law is not brutal to your daughter the first night of their marriage. . . . Men have no idea that this amusement of theirs is a martyrdom for us. Tell him to sacrifice his own pleasure a little, and to wait until he has taught his wife gradually to understand things and to be willing. There is nothing so frightful as the horror, the suffering and the disgust of a poor girl who knows nothing and who is suddenly violated by a brute. We bring girls up as much as possible like saints, and then we hand them over like fillies. If your son-in-law is an intelligent man and if he really loves your daughter, he will understand his role, and will not take it amiss that you should speak to him beforehand."(2)
(2) Communicated by M. S. Rocheblave.
Is George Sand recalling here any hidden and painful memories? Casimir had, at bottom, a certain brutality, which, later on, was very evident. The question is whether he had shown proofs of it at a time when it would have been wiser to have refrained.
However that may be, the fundamental disagreement of their natures was not long in making itself felt between the husband and wife. He was matter-of-fact, and she was romantic; he only believed in facts, and she in ideas; he was of the earth, earthy, whilst she aspired to the impossible. They had nothing to say to each other, and when two people have nothing to say, and love does not fill up the silences, what torture the daily tete-a-tete must be. Before they had been married two years, they were bored to death. They blamed Nohant, but the fault was in themselves. Nohant seemed unbearable to them, simply because they were there alone with each other. They went to Plessis, perhaps in the hope that the remembrance of the days of their engagement might have some effect on them. It was there, in 1824, that the famous scene of the blow took place. They were playing at a regular children's game in the park, and throwing sand at each other. Casimir lost his patience and struck his wife. It was certainly impolite, but Aurore did not appear to have been very indignant with her husband at the time. Her grievances were quite of another kind, less tangible and much more deeply felt.
From Plessis they went to Ormesson. We do not know what took place there, but evidently something which made a deep impression morally, something very serious. A few years later, referring to this stay at Ormesson, George Sand wrote to one of her friends: "You pass by a wall and come to a house. . . . If you are allowed to enter you will find a delightful English garden, at the bottom of which is a spring of water hidden under a kind of grotto. It is all very stiff and uninteresting, but it is very lonely. I spent several months there, and it was there that I lost my health, my confidence in the future, my gaiety and my happiness. It was there that I felt, and very deeply too, my first approach of trouble. . . ."(3)
(3) Extract from the unpublished letters of George Sand to Dr. Emile Regnault.
They left Ormesson for Paris, and Paris for Nohant, and after that, by way of trying to shake off the dulness that was oppressing them, they had recourse to the classical mode of diversion—a voyage.
They set off on the 5th of July, 1825, for that famous expedition to the Pyrenees, which was to be so important a landmark in Aurore Dudevant's history. On crossing the Pyrenees, the scenery, so new to her—or rather the memory of which had been lying dormant in her mind since her childhood—filled her with wild enthusiasm. This intense emotion contributed to develop within her that sense of the picturesque which, later on, was to add so considerably to her talent as a writer. She had hitherto been living in the country of plains, the Ile-de-France and Berry. The contrast made her realize all the beauties of nature, and, on her return, she probably understood her own familiar scenery, and enjoyed it all the more. She had hitherto appreciated it vaguely. Lamartine learnt to love the severe scenery of Milly better on returning to it after the softness of Italy.
The Pyrenees served, too, for Baronne Dudevant as the setting for an episode which was unique in her sentimental life.
In the Histoire de ma vie there is an enigmatical page in which George Sand has intentionally measured and veiled every expression. She speaks of her moral solitude, which, at that time, was profound and absolute, and she adds: "It would have been mortal to a tender mind and to a girl in the flower of her youth, if it had not been filled with a dream which had taken the importance of a great passion, not in my life, as I had sacrificed my life to duty, but in my thoughts. I was in continual correspondence with an absent person to whom I told all my thoughts, all my dreams, who knew all my humble virtues, and who heard all my platonic enthusiasm. This person was excellent in reality, but I attributed to him more than all the perfections possible to human nature. I only saw this man for a few days, and sometimes only for a few hours, in the course of a year. He was as romantic, in his intercourse with me, as I was. Consequently he did not cause me any scruples, either of religion or of conscience. This man was the stay and consolation of my exile, as regards the world of reality." It was this dream, as intense as any passion, that we must study here. We must make the acquaintance of this excellent and romantic man.
Aurelien de Seze was a young magistrate, a few years older than Aurore. He was twenty-six years of age and she was twenty-one. He was the great-nephew of the counsel who pleaded for Louis XVI. There was, therefore, in his family a tradition of moral nobility, and the young man had inherited this. He had met Aurore at Bordeaux and again at Cauterets. They had visited the grottoes of Lourdes together. Aurelien had appreciated the young wife's charm, although she had not attempted to attract his attention, as she was not coquettish. She appreciated in him—all that was so lacking in Casimir—culture of mind, seriousness of character, discreet manners which people took at first for coldness, and a somewhat dignified elegance. He was scrupulously honest, a magistrate of the old school, sure of his principles and master of himself. It was, probably, just that which appealed to the young wife, who was a true woman and who had always wished to be dominated. When they met again at Breda, they had an explanation. This was the "violent grief" of which George Sand speaks. She was consoled by a friend, Zoe Leroy, who found a way of calming this stormy soul. She came through this crisis crushed with emotion and fatigue, but calm and joyful. They had vowed to love each other, but to remain without reproach, and their vow was faithfully kept.
Aurore, therefore, had nothing with which to reproach herself, but with her innate need of being frank, she considered it her duty to write a letter to her husband, informing him of everything. This was the famous letter of November 8, 1825. Later on, in 1836, when her case for separation from her husband was being heard, a few fragments of it were read by her husband's advocate with the idea of incriminating her. By way of reply to this, George Sand's advocate read the entire letter in all its eloquence and generosity. It was greeted by bursts of applause from the audience.
All this is very satisfactory. It is exactly the situation of the Princess of Cleves in Madame de Lafayette's novel. The Princess of Cleves acknowledges to her husband the love she cannot help feeling for Monsieur de Nemours, and asks for his help and advice as her natural protector. This fine proceeding is usually admired, although it cost the life of the Prince of Cleves, who died broken-hearted. Personally, I admire it too, although at times I wonder whether we ought not rather to see in it an unconscious suggestion of perversity. This confession of love to the person who is being, as it were, robbed of that love, is in itself a kind of secret pleasure. By speaking of the love, it becomes more real, we bring it out to light instead of letting it die away in those hidden depths within us, in which so many of the vague sentiments which we have not cared to define, even to ourselves, die away. Many women have preferred this more silent way, in which they alone have been the sufferers. But such women are not the heroines of novels. No one has appreciated their sacrifice, and they themselves could scarcely tell all that it has cost them.
Aurelien de Seze had taken upon himself the role of confidant to this soul that he had allotted to himself. He took his role very seriously, as was his custom in all things. He became the young wife's director in all matters of conscience. The letters which he wrote to her have been preserved, and we know them by the extracts and the analysis that Monsieur Rocheblave has given us and by his incisive commentaries of them.(4) They are letters of guidance, spiritual letters. The laic confessor endeavours, before all things, to calm the impatience of this soul which is more and more ardent and more and more troubled every day. He battles with her about her mania of philosophizing, her wish to sift everything and to get to the bottom of everything. Strong in his own calmness, he kept repeating to her in a hundred different ways the words: "Be calm!" The advice was good; the only difficulty was the following of the advice.
(4) "George Sand avant George Sand," by S. Rocheblave (Revue de Paris, December 15, 1894).
Gradually the professor lost his hold on his pupil, for it seems as though Aurore were the first to tire. Aurelien finally began to doubt the efficacy of his preaching. The usual fate of sentiments outside the common order of things is that they last the length of time that a crisis of enthusiasm lasts. The best thing that can happen then is that their nature should not change, that they should not deteriorate, as is so often the case. When they remain intact to the end, they leave behind them, in the soul, a trail of light, a trail of cold, pure light.
The decline of this platonic liaison with Aurelien de Seze dates from 1828. Some grave events were taking place at Nohant about this time. For the last few years Casimir had fallen into the vices of certain country squires, or so-called gentlemen farmers. He had taken to drink, in company with Hippolyte Chatiron, and it seems that the intoxication peculiar to the natives of Berry takes a heavy and not a gay form. He had also taken to other bad habits, away from home at first, and later on under the conjugal roof. He was particularly partial to the maid-servants, and, the day following the birth of her daughter, Solange, Aurore had an unpleasant surprise with regard to her husband. From that day forth, what had hitherto been only a vague wish on her part became a fixed idea with her, and she began to form plans. A certain incident served as a pretext. When putting some papers in order, Aurore came upon her husband's will. It was a mere diatribe, in which the future "deceased" gave utterance to all his past grievances against his idiotic wife. Her mind was made up irrevocably from this moment. She would have her freedom again; she would go to Paris and spend three months out of six there. She had a young tutor from the south of France, named Boucoiran, educating her children. This Boucoiran needed to be taken to task constantly, and Baronne Dudevant did not spare him.(5)
(5) An instance of her disposition for lecturing will be seen in the following curious letter sent by George Sand to her friend and neighbour, Adolphe Duplomb. This letter has never been published before, and we owe our thanks for it to Monsieur Charles Duplomb.
Nohant, July 23,1830.
"Are you so very much afraid of me, my poor Hydrogene? You expect a good lecture and you will not expect in vain. Have patience, though. Before giving you the dressing you deserve, I want to tell you that I have not forgotten you, and that I was very vexed on returning from Paris, to find my great simpleton of a son gone. I am so used to seeing your solemn face that I quite miss it. You have a great many faults, but after all, you are a good sort, and in time you will get reasonable. Try to remember occasionally, my dear Plombeus, that you have friends. If I were your only friend, that would be a great deal, as I am to be depended on, and am always at my post as a friend, although I may not be very tender. I am not very polite either, as I speak the truth plainly. That is my characteristic, though. I am a firm friend nevertheless, and to be depended on. Do not forget what I have said now, as I shall not often repeat this. Remember, too, that happiness in this world depends on the interest and esteem that we inspire. I do not say this to every one, as it would be impossible, but just to a certain number of friends. It is impossible to find one's happiness entirely in one's self, without being an egoist, and I do not think so badly of you that I imagine you to be one. A man whom no one cares for is wretched, and the man who has friends is afraid of grieving them by behaving badly. As Polyte says, all this is for the sake of letting you know that you must do your best to behave well, if you want to prove to me that you are not ungrateful for my interest in you. You ought to get rid of the bad habit of boasting that you have adopted through frequenting young men as foolish as yourself. Do whatever your position and your health allow you to do, provided that you do not compromise the honour or the reputation of any one else. I do not see that a young man is called upon to be as chaste as a nun. But keep your good or bad luck in your love affairs to yourself. Silly talk is always repeated, and it may chance to get to the ears of sensible people who will disapprove. Try, too, not to make so many plans, but to carry out just one or two of them. You know that is why I quarrel with you always. I should like to see more constancy in you. You tell Hippolyte that you are very willing and courageous. As to physical courage, of the kind that consists in enduring illness and in not fearing death, I dare say you have that, but I doubt very much whether you have the courage necessary for sustained work, unless you have very much altered. Everything fresh delights you, but after a little time you only see the inconveniences of your position. You will scarcely find anything without something that is annoying and troublesome, but if you cannot learn to put up with things you will never be a man.
"This is the end of my sermon. I expect you have had enough of it, especially as you are not accustomed to reading my bad handwriting. I shall be glad to hear from you, but do not consider your letter as a State affair, and do not torment yourself to arrange well-turned phrases. I do not care for such phrases at all. A letter is always good enough when the writer expresses himself naturally, and says what he thinks. Fine pages are all very well for the schoolmaster, but I do not appreciate them at all. Promise me to be reasonable, and to think of my sermons now and then. That is all I ask. You may be very sure that if it were not for my friendship for you I should not take the trouble to lecture you. I should be afraid of annoying you if it were not for that. As it is, I am sure that you are not displeased to have my lectures, and that you understand the feeling which dictates them.
"Adieu, my dear Adolphe. Write to me often and tell me always about your affairs. Take care of yourself, and try to keep well; but if you should feel ill come back to your native place. There will always be milk and syrup for you, and you know that I am not a bad nurse. Every one wishes to be remembered to you, and I send you my holy blessing.
She considered him idle, and reproached him with his lack of dignity and with making himself too familiar with his inferiors. She could not admit this familiarity, although she was certainly a friend of the people and of the peasants. Between sympathy and familiarity there was a distinction, and Aurore took care not to forget this. There was always something of the grande dame in her. Boucoiran was devoted, though, and she counted on him for looking after her children, for keeping her strictly au courant, and letting her know in case of illness. Perfectly easy on this score, she could live in Paris on an income of sixty pounds by adding to it what she could earn.
Casimir made no objections. All that happened later on in this existence, which was from henceforth so stormy, happened with his knowledge and with his consent. He was a poor sort of man.
Let us consider now, for a moment, Baronne Dudevant's impressions after such a marriage. We will not speak of her sadness nor of her disgust. In a union of this kind, how could the sacred and beneficial character of marriage have appeared to her? A husband should be a companion. She never knew the charm of true intimacy, nor the delight of thoughts shared with another. A husband is the counsellor, the friend. When she needed counsel, she was obliged to go elsewhere for it, and it was from another man that guidance and encouragement came. A husband should be the head and, I do not hesitate to say, the master. Life is a ceaseless struggle, and the man who has taken upon himself the task of defending a family from all the dangers which threaten its dissolution, from all the enemies which prowl around it, can only succeed in his task of protector if he be invested with just authority. Aurore had been treated brutally: that is not the same thing as being dominated. The sensation which never left her was that of an immense moral solitude. She could no longer dream in the Nohant avenues, for the old trees had been lopped, and the mystery chased away. She shut herself up in her grandmother's little boudoir, adjoining her children's room, so that she could hear them breathing, and whilst Casimir and Hippolyte were getting abominably intoxicated, she sat there thinking things over, and gradually becoming so irritated that she felt the rebellion within her gathering force. The matrimonial bond was a heavy yoke to her. A Christian wife would have submitted to it and accepted it, but the Christianity of Baronne Dudevant was nothing but religiosity. The trials of life show up the insufficiency of religious sentiment which is not accompanied by faith. Marriage, without love, friendship, confidence and respect, was for Aurore merely a prison. She endeavoured to escape from it, and when she succeeded she uttered a sigh of relief at her deliverance.
Such, then, is the chapter of marriage in Baronne Dudevant's psychology. It is a fine example of failure. The woman who had married badly now remained an individual, instead of harmonizing and blending in a general whole. This ill-assorted union merely accentuated and strengthened George Sand's individualism.
Aurore Dudevant arrived in Paris the first week of the year 1831. The woman who was rebellious to marriage was now in a city which had just had a revolution.
The extraordinary effervescence of Paris in 1831 can readily be imagined. There was tempest in the air, and this tempest was bound to break out here or there, either immediately or in the near future, in an insurrection. Every one was feverishly anxious to destroy everything, in order to create all things anew. In everything, in art, ideas and even in costume, there was the same explosion of indiscipline, the same triumph of capriciousness. Every day some fresh system of government was born, some new method of philosophy, an infallible receipt for bringing about universal happiness, an unheard-of idea for manufacturing masterpieces, some invention for dressing up and having a perpetual carnival in the streets. The insurrection was permanent and masquerade a normal state. Besides all this, there was a magnificent burst of youth and genius. Victor Hugo, proud of having fought the battle of Hernani, was then thinking of Notre-Dame and climbing up to it. Musset had just given his Contes d'Espagne el d'Italie. Stendhal had published Le Rouge et le Noir, and Balzac La Peau de Chagrin. The painters of the day were Delacroix and Delaroche. Paganini was about to give his first concert at the Opera. Such was Paris in all its impatience and impertinence, in its confusion and its splendour immediately after the Revolution.
The young wife, who had snapped her bonds asunder, breathed voluptuously in this atmosphere. She was like a provincial woman enjoying Paris to the full. She belonged to the romantic school, and was imbued with the principle that an artist must see everything, know everything, and have experienced himself all that he puts into his books. She found a little group of her friends from Berry in Paris, among others Felix Pyat, Charles Duvernet, Alphonse Fleury, Sandeau and de Latouche. This was the band she frequented, young men apprenticed either to literature, the law, or medicine. With them she lived a student's life. In order to facilitate her various evolutions, she adopted masculine dress. In her Histoite de ma vie she says: "Fashion helped me in my disguise, for men were wearing long, square frock-coats styled a la proprietaire. They came down to the heels, and fitted the figure so little that my brother, when putting his on, said to me one day at Nohant: 'It is a nice cut, isn't it? The tailor takes his measures from a sentry-box, and the coat then fits a whole regiment.' I had 'a sentry-box coat' made, of rough grey cloth, with trousers and waistcoat to match. With a grey hat and a huge cravat of woollen material, I looked exactly like a first-year student. . . ."
Dressed in this style, she explored the streets, museums, cathedrals, libraries, painters' studios, clubs and theatres. She heard Frederick Lemaitre one day, and the next day Malibran. One evening it was one of Dumas' pieces, and the next night Moise at the Opera. She took her meals at a little restaurant, and she lived in an attic. She was not even sure of being able to pay her tailor, so she had all the joys possible. "Ah, how delightful, to live an artist's life! Our device is liberty!" she wrote.(6) She lived in a perpetual state of delight, and, in February, wrote to her son Maurice as follows: "Every one is at loggerheads, we are crushed to death in the streets, the churches are being destroyed, and we hear the drum being beaten all night."(7) In March she wrote to Charles Duvernet: "Do you know that fine things are happening here? It really is amusing to see. We are living just as gaily among bayonets and riots as if everything were at peace. All this amuses me."(8)
(6) Correspondance: To Boucoiran, March 4, 1831.
(7) Ibid. To Maurice Dudevant, February 15, 1831.
(8) Ibid. To Charles Duvernet, March 6, 1831.
She was amused at everything and she enjoyed everything. With her keen sensitiveness, she revelled in the charm of Paris, and she thoroughly appreciated its scenery.
"Paris," she wrote, "with its vaporous evenings, its pink clouds above the roofs, and the beautiful willows of such a delicate green around the bronze statue of our old Henry, and then, too, the dear little slate-coloured pigeons that make their nests in the old masks of the Pont Neuf . . ."(9)
(9) Unpublished letters of Dr. Emile Regnault.
She loved the Paris sky, so strange-looking, so rich in colouring, so variable.(10)
She became unjust with regard to Berry. "As for that part of the world which I used to love so dearly and where I used to dream my dreams," she wrote, "I was there at the age of fifteen, when I was very foolish, and at the age of seventeen, when I was dreamy and disturbed in my mind. It has lost its charm for me now."(11)
She loved it again later on, certainly, but just at this time she was over-excited with the joy of her newly-found liberty. It was that really which made her so joyful and which intoxicated her. "I do not want society, excitement, theatres, or dress; what I want is freedom," she wrote to her mother. In another letter she says: "I am absolutely independent. I go to La Chatre, to Rome. I start out at ten o'clock or at midnight. I please myself entirely in all this."(12)
(12) Correspondance: To her mother, May 31, 1831.
She was free, and she fancied she was happy. Her happiness at that epoch meant Jules Sandeau.
In a letter, written in the humoristic style in which she delighted, she gives us portraits of some of her comrades of that time. She tells us of Duvernet, of Alphonse Fleury, surnamed "the Gaulois," and of Sandeau.
"Oh, fair-haired Charles!" she writes, "young man of melancholy thoughts, with a character as gloomy as a stormy day. . . . And you, gigantic Fleury, with your immense hands and your alarming beard. . . . And you, dear Sandeau, agreeable and light, like the humming bird of fragrant savannahs!"(13)
(13) Correspondance: December 1, 1830.
The "dear Sandeau, agreeable and light, like the humming bird of fragrant savannahs," was to be Baronne Dudevant's Latin Quarter liaison. Her biographers usually pass over this liaison quickly, as information about it was not forthcoming. Important documents exist, though, in the form of fifty letters written by George Sand to Dr. Emile Regnault, then a medical student and the intimate friend and confidant of Jules Sandeau, who kept nothing back from him. His son, Dr. Paul Regnault, has kindly allowed me to see this correspondence and to reproduce some fragments of it. It is extremely curious, by turn lyrical and playful, full of effusions, ideas, plans of work, impressions of nature, and confidences about her love affairs. Taken altogether it reflects, as nearly as possible, the state of the young woman's mind at this time.
The first letter is dated April, 1831. George Sand had left Paris for Nohant, and is anxiously wondering how her poor Jules has passed this wretched day, and how he will go back to the room from which she had torn herself with such difficulty that morning. In her letter she gives utterance to the gratitude she owes to the young man who has reconciled her once more to life. "My soul," she says, "eager itself for affection, needed to inspire this in a heart capable of understanding me thoroughly, with all my faults and qualities. A fervent soul was necessary for loving me in the way that I could love, and for consoling me after all the ingratitude which had made my earlier life so desolate. And although I am now old, I have found a heart as young as my own, a lifelong affection which nothing can discourage and which grows stronger every day. Jules has taught me to care once more for this existence, of which I was so weary, and which I only endured for the sake of my children. I was disgusted beforehand with the future, but it now seems more beautiful to me, full as it appears to me of him, of his work, his success, and of his upright, modest conduct. . . . Oh, if you only knew how I love him! . . . ."(14)
(14) This quotation and those that follow are borrowed from the unpublished correspondence with Emile Regnault.
"When I first knew him I was disillusioned about everything, and I no longer believed in those things which make us happy. He has warmed my frozen heart and restored the life that was dying within me." She then recalls their first meeting. It was in the country, at Coudray, near Nohant. She fell in love with her dear Sandeau, thanks to his youthfulness, his timidity and his awkwardness. He was just twenty, in 1831. On approaching the bench where she was awaiting him, "he concealed himself in a neighbouring avenue—and I could see his hat and stick on the bench," she writes. "Everything, even to the little red ribbon threaded in the lining of his grey hat, thrilled me with joy. . . ."
It is difficult to say why, but everything connected with this young Jules seems absurd. Later on we get the following statement: "Until the day when I told him that I loved him, I had never acknowledged as much to myself. I felt that I did, but I would not own it even to my own heart. Jules therefore learnt it at the same time as I did myself."
People at La Chatre took the young man for her lover. The idea of finding him again in Paris was probably one of her reasons for wishing to establish herself there. Then came her life, as she describes it herself, "in the little room looking on to the quay. I can see Jules now in a shabby, dirty-looking artist's frock-coat, with his cravat underneath him and his shirt open at the throat, stretched out over three chairs, stamping with his feet or breaking the tongs in the heat of the discussion. The Gaulois used to sit in a corner weaving great plots, and you would be seated on a table."
All this must certainly have been charming. The room was too small, though, and George Sand commissioned Emile Regnault to find her a flat, the essential condition of which should be some way of egress for Jules at any hour.
A little flat was discovered on the Quay St. Michel. There were three rooms, one of which could be reserved. "This shall be the dark room," wrote George Sand, "the mysterious room, the ghost's retreat, the monster's den, the cage of the performing animal, the hiding-place for the treasure, the vampire's cave, or whatever you like to call it. . . ."
In plainer language, it was Jules' room; and then follows some touching eloquence about the dear boy she worshipped who loved her so dearly.
This is the beginning of things, but later on the tone of the correspondence changes. The letters become less frequent, and are also not so gay. George Sand speaks much less of Jules in them and much more of little Solange, whom she intended to bring back to Paris with her. She is beginning to weary of Jules and to esteem him at his true value. He is lazy, and has fits of depression and all the capriciousness of a spoilt child. She has had enough of him, and then, too, it is very evident from the letters that there has been some division among the lively friends who had sworn to be comrades for life. There are explanations and justifications. George Sand discovers that there are certain inconveniences connected with intimacies in which there is such disproportion of age and of social position. Finally there are the following desperate letters, written in fits of irritation: "My dear friend, go to Jules and look after him. He is broken-hearted, and you can do nothing for him in that respect. It is no use trying. I do not ask you to come to me yet, as I do not need anything. I would rather be alone to-day. Then, too, there is nothing left for me in life. It will be horrible for him for a long time, but he is so young. The day will come, perhaps, when he will not be sorry to have lived. . . . Do not attempt to put matters right, as this time there is no remedy. We do not blame each other at all, and for some time we have been struggling against this horrible necessity. We have had trouble enough. There seemed to be nothing left but to put an end to our lives, and if it had not been for my children, we should have done this."
The question is, Was George Sand blameless in the matter? It appears that she had discovered that her dear Jules was faithless to her, and that, during her absence, he had deceived her. She would not forgive him, but sent him off to Italy, and refused to see him again. The last of these letters is dated June 15, 1833.
"I shall make a parcel of a few of Jules' things that he left in the wardrobe," she says, "and I will send them to you. I do not want anything to do with him when he comes back, and, according to the last words of the letter you showed me, his return may be soon. For a long time I have been very much hurt by the discoveries I made with regard to his conduct, and I could not feel anything else for him now but affectionate compassion. His pride, I hope, would refuse this. Make him clearly understand, if necessary, that there can never be anything more between us. If this hard task should not be necessary, that is, if Jules should himself understand that it could not be otherwise, spare him the sorrow of hearing that he has lost everything, even my respect. He must undoubtedly have lost his own self-esteem, so that he is punished enough."
Thus ended this great passion. This was the first of George Sand's errors, and it certainly was an immense one. She had imagined that happiness reigns in students' rooms. She had counted on the passing fancy of a young man of good family, who had come to Paris to sow his wild oats, for giving her fresh zest and for carving out for herself a fresh future. It was a most commonplace adventure, utterly destitute of psychology, and by its very bitterness it contrasted strangely with her elevated sentimental romance with Aurelien de Seze. That was the quintessence of refinement. All that is interesting about this second adventure is the proof that it gives us of George Sand's wonderful illusions, of the intensity of the mirage of which she was a dupe, and of which we have so many instances in her life.
Baronne Dudevant had tried conjugal life, and she had now tried free love. She had been unsuccessful in both instances. It is to these adventures though, to these trials, errors and disappointments that we owe the writer we are about to study. George Sand was now born to literature.
A FEMINIST OF 1832
THE FIRST NOVELS AND THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE
When Baronne Dudevant arrived in Paris, in 1831, her intention was to earn her living with her pen. She never really counted seriously on the income she might make by her talent for painting flowers on snuff-boxes and ornamenting cigar-cases with water-colours. She arrived from her province with the intention of becoming a writer. Like most authors who commence, she first tried journalism. On the 4th of March, she wrote as follows to the faithful Boucoiran: "In the meantime I must live, and for the sake of that, I have taken up the worst of trades: I am writing articles for the Figaro. If only you knew what that means! They are paid for, though, at the rate of seven francs a column."
She evidently found it worth while to write for the Figaro, which at that time was quite a small newspaper, managed by Henri de Latouche, who also came from Berry. He was a very second-rate writer himself, and a poet with very little talent but, at any rate, he appreciated and discovered talent in others. He published Andre Chenier's first writings, and he introduced George Sand to the public. His new apprentice was placed at one of the little tables at which the various parts of the paper were manufactured. Unfortunately she had not the vocation for this work. The first principle with regard to newspaper articles is to make them short. When Aurore had come to the end of her paper, she had not yet commenced her subject. It was no use attempting to continue, so she gave up "the worst of trades," lucrative though it might be.
She could not help knowing, though, that she had the gift of writing. She had inherited it from her ancestors, and this is the blest part of her atavism. No matter how far back we go, and in every branch of her genealogical tree, there is artistic heredity to be found. Maurice de Saxe wrote his Reveries. This was a fine book for a soldier to write, and for that alone he would deserve praise, even if he had not beaten the English so gloriously. Mademoiselle Verrieres was an actress and Dupin de Francueil a dilettante. Aurore's grandmother, Marie-Aurore, was very musical, she sang operatic songs, and collected extracts from the philosophers. Maurice Dupin was devoted to music and to the theatre. Even Sophie-Victoire had an innate appreciation of beauty. She not only wept, like Margot, at melodrama, but she noticed the pink of a cloud, the mauve of a flower, and, what was more important, she called her little daughter's attention to such things. This illiterate mother had therefore had some influence on Aurore and on her taste for literature.
It is not enough to say that George Sand was a born writer. She was a born novelist, and she belonged to a certain category of novelists. She had been created by a special decree of Providence to write her own romances, and not others. It is this which makes the history of the far-back origins of her literary vocation so interesting. It is extremely curious to see, from her earliest childhood, the promises of those faculties which were to become the very essence of her talent. When she was only three years old, her mother used to put her between four chairs in order to keep her still. By way of enlivening her captivity, she tells us what she did.
"I used to make up endless stories, which my mother styled my novels. . . . I told these stories aloud, and my mother declared that they were most tiresome on account of their length and of the development I gave to my digressions. . . . There were very few bad people in them, and never any serious troubles. Everything was always arranged satisfactorily, thanks to my lively, optimistic ideas. . . ."
She had already commenced, then, at the age of three, and these early stories are the precursors of the novels of her maturity. They are optimistic, drawn out, and with long digressions. Something similar is told about Walter Scott. There is evidently a primordial instinct in those who are born story-tellers, and this urges them on to invent fine stories for amusing themselves.
A little later on we have another phenomenon, almost as curious, with regard to Aurore. We are apt to wonder how certain descriptive writers proceed in order to give us pictures, the various features of which stand out in such intense relief that they appear absolutely real to us. George Sand tells us that when Berquin's stories were being read to her at Nohant, she used to sit in front of the fire, from which she was protected by an old green silk screen. She used gradually to lose the sense of the phrases, but pictures began to form themselves in front of her on the green screen.
"I saw woods, meadows, rivers, towns of strange and gigantic architecture. . . . One day these apparitions were so real that I was startled by them, and I asked my mother whether she could see them."
With hallucinations like these a writer can be picturesque. He has in front of him, although it may be between four walls, a complete landscape. He has only to follow the lines of it and to reproduce the colours, so that in painting imaginary landscapes he can paint them from nature, from this model that appears to him, as though by enchantment. He can, if he likes, count the leaves of the trees and listen to the sound of the growing grass.
Still later on, vague religious or philosophical conceptions began to mingle with the fiction that Aurore always had in her mind. To her poetical life, was added a moral life. She always had a romance going on, to which she was constantly adding another chapter, like so many links in a never-ending chain. She now gave a hero to her romance, a hero whose name was Corambe. He was her ideal, a man whom she had made her god. Whilst blood was flowing freely on the altars of barbarous gods, on Corambe's altar life and liberty were given to a whole crowd of captive creatures, to a swallow, to a robin-redbreast, and even to a sparrow. We see already in all this her tendency to put moral intentions into her romantic stories, to arrange her adventures in such a way that they should serve as examples for making mankind better. These were the novels, with a purpose, of her twelfth year.
Let us now study a striking contrast, by way of observing the first signs of vocation in two totally different novelists. In the beginning of Facino Cane, Balzac tells us an incident of the time when, as an aspiring writer, he lived in his attic in the Rue Lesdiguieres. One evening, on coming out of the theatre, he amused himself with following a working-man and his wife from the Boulevard du Pontaux-Choux to the Boulevard Beaumarchais. He listened to them as they talked of the piece they had just seen. They then discussed their business matters, and afterwards house and family affairs. "While listening to this couple," says Balzac, "I entered into their life. I could feel their clothes on my back and, I was walking in their shabby boots."
This is the novelist of the objective school, the one who comes out of himself, who ceases to be himself and becomes another person.
Instead of this exterior world, to which Balzac adapts himself, Aurore talks to us of an inner world, emanating from her own fancy, the reflection of her own imagination, the echo of her own heart, which is really herself. This explains the difference between Balzac's impersonal novel and George Sand's personal novel. It is just the difference between realistic art, which gives way to the object, and idealistic art, which transforms this according to its own will and pleasure.
Up to this time George Sand's ideas had not been put on to paper. Both Corambe and the stories composed between four chairs were merely fancies of a child's mind. Aurore soon began to write, though. She had composed two novels while in the convent, one of which was religious and the other a pastoral story. She was wise enough to tear them both up. On leaving the convent she wrote another novel for Rene' de Villeneuve, and this shared the same fate. In 1827, she wrote her Voyage en Auvergne, and in 1829, another novel. In her Histoire de ma vie she says of this: "After reading it, I was convinced that it was of no value, but at the same time I was sure I could write a better one. . . . I saw that I could write quickly and easily, and without feeling any fatigue. The ideas that were lying dormant in my mind were quickened and became connected, by my deductions, as I wrote. With my meditative life, I had observed a great deal, and had understood the various characters which Fate had put in my way, so that I really knew enough of human nature to be able to depict it." She now had that facility, that abundance of matter and that nonchalance which were such characteristic features of her writing.
When George Sand began to publish, she had already written a great deal. Her literary formation was complete. We notice this same thing whenever we study the early work of a writer. Genius is revealed to us, perhaps, with a sudden flash, but it has been making its way for a long time underground, so that what we take for a spontaneous burst of genius is nothing but the final effort of a sap which has been slowly accumulating and which from henceforth is all-powerful.
George Sand had to go through the inevitable period of feeling her way. We are glad to think that the first book she published was not written by herself alone, so that the responsibility of that execrable novel does not lie solely with her.
On the 9th of March, 1831, George Sand wrote to Boucoiran as follows: "Monstrosities are in vogue, so we must invent monstrosities. I am bringing forth a very pleasant one just at present. . . ." This was the novel written in collaboration with Sandeau which appeared under the signature of Jules Sand towards the end of 1831. It was entitled, Rose et Blanche, ou la Comedienne et la Religieuse.
It begins by a scene in a coach, rather like certain novels by Balzac, but accompanied by insignificant details in the worst taste imaginable. Two girls are travelling in the same coach. Rose is a young comedian, and Sister Blanche is about to become a nun. They separate at Tarbes, and the scene of the story is laid in the region of the Pyrenees, in Tarbes Auch, Nerac, the Landes, and finishes with the return to Paris. Rose, after an entertainment which is a veritable orgy, is handed over by her mother to a licentious young man. He is ashamed of himself, and, instead of leading Rose astray, he takes her to the Convent of the Augustines, where she finds Sister Blanche once more. Sister Blanche has not yet pronounced her vows, and the proof of this is that she marries Horace. But what a wedding! As a matter of fact, Sister Blanche was formerly named Denise. She was the daughter of a seafaring man of Bordeaux, and was both pretty and foolish. She had been dishonoured by the young libertine whom she is now to marry. The memory of the past comes back to Blanche, and makes her live over again her life as Denise. In the mean time Rose had become a great singer. She now arrives, just in time to be present at her friend's deathbed. She enters the convent herself, and takes the place left vacant by Sister Blanche. The whole of this is absurd and frequently very disagreeable.
It is quite easy to distinguish the parts due to the two collaborators, and to see that George Sand wrote nearly all the book. There are the landscapes, Tarbes Auch, Nerac, the Landes, and a number of recollections of the famous journey to the Pyrenees and of her stay at Guillery with the Dudevant family. The Convent of the Augustines in Paris, with its English nuns and its boarders belonging to the best families, is the one in which Aurore spent three years. The cloister can be recognized, the garden planted with chestnut trees, and the cell from which there was a view over the city. All her dreams seemed so near Heaven there, for the rich, cloudy sky was so near—"that most beautiful and ever-changing sky, perhaps the most beautiful in the world," of which we read in Rose et Blanche. But together with this romance of religious life is a libertine novel with stories of orgies, of a certain private house, and of very risky and unpleasant episodes. This is the collaborator's share in the work. The risky parts are Sandeau's.
Such, then, is this hybrid composition. It was, in reality, the monstrosity announced by George Sand.
It had a certain success, but the person who was most severe in her judgment of it was Sophie-Victoire, George Sand's mother, who had very prudish tastes in literature. This woman is perfectly delightful, and every time we come across her it is a fresh joy. Her daughter was obliged to make some excuse for herself, and this she did by stating that the work was not entirely her own.
"I do not approve of a great deal of the nonsense," she writes, "and I only let certain things pass to please my publisher, who wanted something rather lively. . . . I do not like the risky parts myself. . . ." Later on in the same letter, she adds: "There is nothing of the kind in the book I am writing now, and I am using nothing of my collaborator's in this, except his name."(15)
(15) Correspondance: To her mother, February 22, 1832.
This was true. Jules Sand had had his day, and the book of which she now speaks was Indiana. She signed this "George Sand."
The unpublished correspondence with Emile Regnault, some fragments of which we have just read, contains a most interesting letter concerning the composition of Indiana. It is dated February 28, 1832. George Sand first insists on the severity of the subject and on its resemblance to life. "It is as simple, as natural and as positive as you could wish," she says. "It is neither romantic, mosaic, nor frantic. It is just ordinary life of the most bourgeois kind, but unfortunately this is much more difficult than exaggerated literature. . . . There is not the least word put in for nothing, not a single description, not a vestige of poetry. There are no unexpected, extraordinary, or amazing situations, but merely four volumes on four characters. With only just these characters, that is, with hidden feelings, everyday thoughts, with friendship, love, selfishness, devotion, self-respect, persistency, melancholy, sorrow, ingratitude, disappointment, hope, and all the mixed-up medley of the human mind, is it possible to write four volumes which will not bore people? I am afraid of boring people, of boring them as life itself does. And yet what is more interesting than the history of the heart, when it is a true history? The main thing is to write true history, and it is just that which is so difficult. . . ."
This declaration is rather surprising to any one who reads it to-day. We might ask whether what was natural in 1832 would be natural in 1910? That is not the question which concerns us, though. The important fact to note is that George Sand was no longer attempting to manufacture monstrosities. She was endeavouring to be true, and she wanted above everything else to present a character of woman who would be the typical modern woman.