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George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large Hardcover – August 22, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 and Consuelo, 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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (August 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679455019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679455011
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.7 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,181,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Marostica on December 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
A visit this summer to Sand's home in Gargilesse, France, prompted me to learn more about George Sand, but Belinda Jack's biography was a disappointment. The book recaps Sand's life, raising more questions than it answers about the writer.
Sand's relationships with family members were often contentious, but few psychological insights are shared. One example is the rift between Sand and her daughter Solange. On one occasion, Sand disapproves of Solange's flirtatious behavior. Later, the author is ambiguous about the relationship Solange has with Chopin, her mother's lover. Jack does not connect various episodes to explore the rift between Sand and her daughter. We understand that Sand disapproves of Solange, but have no insight as to character, motivations or causes of the bitterness that Solange harbored toward her mother.
Jack is meticulous in presenting dates of Sand's travels and activities, but very superficial and unquestioning in most else. For example, at the end of Sand's life, we are told she suffered from intolerable stomach pains. A Parisian Dr. Favre is called, and he "decided it was too late to operate." Sand asked that only doctors be allowed to see her, because she felt deeply humiliated by her condition. She died soon after. Jack offers no explanation for the cause of Sand's death.

The book is vague and skims the surface of Sand's life, which we see from a distance -- not as an insider.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Anne E. Elbrecht on May 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
I strongly commend this book to anyone and everyone who desires to learn more about the psychological makeup of George Sand. The author of this excellent book does not hesitate to share her own conclusions and hypotheses about George Sand's character, and gives special emphasis to both the origins of her makeup and the contradictions in her thought process and conduct. I have read several other good biographies of George Sand, and while I prefer not to rank them, my knowledge of George Sand would be very incomplete if I had not read and digested this too. While the other biographies have given a lot of emphasis to her relation with Chopin, this biography probably slights Chopin in favor of the many other (and probably more important) men and women in her life. Once you begin to read this book, you will not be able to return it to its shelf until you finish it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christina E. Mitchell on May 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
I admit that my knowledge of George Sand's writings is very limited. I have heard of her, probably in the more amorous context because of her "sordid" past. However, upon recently having viewed for the first time the movie "Impromptu," I became intrigued with this fasinating woman and sought to search out what was myth and what was reality. There have been several biographies of the writer; however, they seem to have concentrated on her art, or her writing, or her plays, or her personal adventures. The authors at all times attempted to place George into a category as a way to contain a palatable explanation of her. What I have found through reading Belinda Jack's book is that the only category of which Sand is a member is the human category. Belinda took all facets of the writer's life to reveal a woman in constant evolution. Driven to form explanations to first deal with her fears then to reconcile a practice to life, Sand formed a being who was uniquely herself that absorbed and expanded as she grew.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. G. Plumb on August 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
I have enjoyed several female writers immensely (George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Emma Goldman and, especially, Anna Kavan) but have never read George Sand. However, I do know of the woman by her link to Frederic Chopin. I suspect many readers of this biography - me included - will pick the book up because of their interest in music rather than literature.
George Sand's life was certainly extraordinary, just as she was. And there is no doubt now that I will read at least one of her novels. In those regards this biography is demonstrably a success. But in other ways it failed me. I have named this review 'Lelio' by the name Hector Berlioz (a contemporary of Sand) gave the sequel to his Symphonie Fantastique. (Berlioz is mentioned three times in the biography but only one of these references is indexed.) What is the link with George Sand? Belinda Jack does not explore this. George Sand wrote a short story 'La marquise' in which there is a character Lelio. She later wrote a novel called 'Lelia'. What does the name mean and are there any connections? Music lovers would probably like to know. I turned to David Cairns translation of 'The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz' and he reveals that Berlioz' work came after 'La marquise' and hence may have been inspired by it, but before Sand's novel 'Lelia'. It is notes of this type that greatly enrich works. I suggest that Belinda Jack has failed to provide this type of enrichment in her biography. Here is another example: Delacroix spent a lot of time with George Sand and we are all familiar with his portrait of Chopin - unfinished though it is. We are less familiar with the fact that he painted Sand as well (even more unfinished). The question to ask is why was it not finished.
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