George Sands: Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings

Author: René Doumic  | Date: 1910



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 velled 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.

"AURORE D----"

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, I831. [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] [10] _Ibid_. 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] [11] _Ibid_. 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.


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Chicago: René Doumic, "II," George Sands: Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings, trans. Alys Hallard Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2023,

MLA: Doumic, René. "II." George Sands: Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings, translted by Alys Hallard, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Doumic, R, 'II' in George Sands: Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2023, from