The fervent discussions on the loops this week regarding literary vs popular fiction reminded me of the extraordinary Aurore Dudevant, aka George Sand - one of France's most prolific early woman novelists. Today is a salute to the one who wrote:
"There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved."
Born in 1804, she married at 19 but left her husband some nine years later taking their two children with her. In a time when women were strapped tightly into corsets and restrictive codes of behaviour, she was determined to support herself and her family with her writing. She burst onto the Parisian scene, dressed as a man and smoking cigars. She lived openly with a golden-haired lover and published an immediate best-seller under her pen-name, George Sand.
George went on to become one of the hottest writers of her day. Her books - full of love and relationships and strong-minded heroines - deliciously shocked the French public. She was an advocate for women’s rights before the suffragette movement really got going and landed up not only supporting her family but many of her friends and lovers too. In her 40s she turned to writing plays and became a leading playwright. Later she turned to politics and, during the Third Revolution, was even made Minister of Propoganda for a brief, heady time –
George pursued love with the same vigour and determination (and how on earth, we writers ask, did she ever find the time?). Although she was no beauty, she attracted a string of handsome and talented young lovers whom she would love, mother (aha, a clue perhaps to her irresistibility), and then quite suddenly abandon, leaving them exhausted and heartbroken.
How did she fit everything in? Well, she’d start writing late at night and would work through to dawn. She slept in during the mornings, and afternoons and evenings were kept for family, socialising – and love affairs. In an age before word processors, she turned out over 35 novels and 8 plays as well as many essays and literary criticisms.
There were many other lovers and we mustn’t forget Marie Dorval, one of George’s closest friends. There was much speculation as to whether they too had an affair. Whatever the truth of the matter, George certainly nursed Marie when she fell ill and when she died, George paid for the education of her children. Thank heavens for the royalties of popular books!
I'm about to start reading about the splendid Ida Cook next but am keen to know of any other extraordinary women writers that we should be celebrating.