She was the most notorious female writer of her age, as famous for open love affairs and the habit of dressing in men's clothes as for wildly popular novels such as Indiana
, many of which delineated women's struggles for fulfillment. George Sand's long, prolific life (1804-76) has prompted many biographies, from André Maurois's 1952 classic, Lélia
, to a plethora of stimulating feminist rethinkings in the 1970s.
British scholar Belinda Jack's perspicacious new book makes a welcome addition to the genre. Taking a selective, interpretive approach, Jack spends a good deal of time on Aurore Dupin's tumultuous childhood. Torn between her aristocratic grandmother and her erratic mother after her father's untimely death, Aurore gained "precocious insights into the complexities of class and the respective lots of men and women," Jack argues; those insights, galvanized by passionate prose and scandalous subject matter, fueled the novels she published under the pen name George Sand. Jack pithily depicts the famous romances with Alfred de Musset and Frédéric Chopin, as well as Sand's less well known but intense affair with the actress Marie Dorval. She limns an appealing woman and a protean artist, too often stereotyped as the quintessential French Romantic when in fact Sand's view of identity as "multiple and constantly changing" sounds a note that rings true today. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
First and foremost the story of a social pioneer and intellectual acrobat, Jack's exploration of the life of George Sand (1804-1876) is not a standard literary biography. Jack is particularly insightful in her claim that for Sand, literature was not itself the goal of life, but rather a tool with which to probe her psyche in preparation for life. Thus Jack, a lecturer in French at Oxford, finds the seed of Sand's infatuation with the actress Marie Dorval in the inverted gender roles that drive her fiction of the period. And she suggests that Sand's creativity flowed from her writing to the enactment of her fantasies. "She wrote a great deal from personal experience," Jack explains. "But more usually she tested out, in her fiction, possibilities for life which she then had the courage to live out, after the writing event." Sand's diverse literary output, many sexual experiments and seemingly endless array of interests (which ranged from engaging in political activism to painting to making jam), according to the author, were all expressions of a single desire: Sand wanted to dictate the scope of her own life. She identified with both her mother's lower-class background and her father's aristocratic bearing; she thrilled in her femininity but often displayed what was deemed a manly love of physical exercise and intellectual freedom. Though Jack's approach seems at times a bit too coldly analytical for such a robust, effusive subject, she communicates, with unflagging compassion and grace, the force with which Sand traversed life, ignoring critics, defying cultural taboos and trumpeting her individuality. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.