Jun 16, 2010

One Hot French Writer!

What I'm listening to: John Lennon's Biography Audiobook
What I'm reading: Frederica (winter = Georgette binge!)
What I'm watching: Cranford
Making me smile: NZ's GOAL of course!!!!!!

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 – France’s first female minister. Not bad for a woman who is on record as being painfully shy.

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.

Her most explosive affair was with Alfred de Musset, one of France’s finest poets. He was a dashing rake, she was headstrong and passionate – their fights and reconciliations set Paris on its ears. When the scandal got too hot, they fled to Venice where de Musset behaved abominably, drinking and womanising. George was just packing her bags to leave one night when he was brought back to their hotel having been very badly beaten up. She stayed to nurse him – but took sweet revenge by enjoying an affair with the doctor!

They returned to Paris and the battles continued. Once he even pursued her through the streets, brandishing a knife and vowing to murder her. When he began womanising again, she cut off her hair and sent it to him in protest – which brought him rushing back to her arms in remorseful tears. And then it was all over. The affair was interfering with her work so George, pragmatic as well as passionate, sent him a letter of farewell and began writing again that night.

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.

She was thirty-three when she met Chopin. He was handsome, extraordinarily talented and several years younger than her. Their relationship lasted seven years and she used to lie under his piano to listen to him play, declaring it to be the best place to enjoy the music. He died just two years after they parted.

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!

George died in 1876 and France mourned. She had been one of their best-loved writers. She had been close friends with many leading men of the time: de Balzac, Delacroix, Flaubert, Liszt. She had dared aim for equality with men and had succeeded – indeed had surpassed most of them. She had pointed the way to the future. Balzac once pondered, “What will become of the world when all women are like George Sand.”

I don’t think her books are read much these days – but they were snapped up while she was alive. There's a lot to be said for avid readers of the day over somewhat dusty, literary immortality.

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.


  1. Fascinating, Zana! I had to immediately rush off to Wikipedia and read more about her. Thanks for sharing!

    Have you come across Fanny Burney? She was active a little earlier than George Sand, and a very interesting woman, by all accounts!

  2. Glad you enjoyed reading about George!
    Fanny's name rang a bell but I couldn't place her so I too whizzed off to Wikipedia. She too led such an interesting life. Thanks for introducing us. I'd love to read her diaries at some stage.

  3. Wow, Zana, I'd never heard of George Sand before, but what a fascinating life!

    And yep, I'm with you, wondering where she got the time to write. And I'm also wondering what I've been doing with all my time, when she managed to fit so much in!

    Is there a book of hers you'd recommend to start with?

  4. I have to confess I find her life more fascinating than her books these days. I don't know whether that has something to do with translations or that she was just very much a writer of her time and place.

    I suspect not having the internet helped productivity :)

  5. Zana, George Sand sounds wonderful! I have always meant to read one of her novels and now I'm even more determined. I love how she flouted the conventions of her day and took charge of her own life. It hasn't always been an easy thing for women to do. I've been reading this wonderfully angry little book by Joanna Russ called "How to Suppress Women's Writing." Here's a telling little excerpt:

    "Of Jane Eyre many critics bluntly admitted that they thought the book was a masterpiece if written by a man, shocking or disgusting if written by a woman."

    Wow, it just makes you think, huh?

  6. Michelle, what an extraordinary quote - it certainly takes the modern breath away! Now I feel the need to read Bronte biographies to find out how they coped with such attitudes.
    Great sounding book. Sounds like a "must read".

  7. Zana, thank you! I had never heard of George Sands before and I loved reading your blog. I would love to be such a woman - but I do need my sleep!! Although maybe with so many lovers, you thrive on the sex/love/passion and not sleep... guess I shouldn't try that though, hubby might object. LOL!


  8. Her stamina was amazing, wasn't it. It makes me feel rather feeble in comparison. However, if we condensed our lives down to 700 words, we might sound quite busy too - albeit with not quite so many lovers and tempests!

  9. Hi Zana
    I remember reading George Elliot at school - another 19th century female writer who wrote under a male pseudonym. The book we read was Silas Marner - and we undoubtedly picked the eyes out of it but I can't remember much except that I thought it was a bit... dreary. I wonder if I'd find it more interesting now.

    Loved Michelle's quote from that book - talk about a double standard!


  10. Wow, George Sand sounds amazing, and what a daring and brash life she led!! Sounds like she had many highs and many lows. Hmm. Yep, that sounds like the life of a writer!!

  11. Hey Sharon, I too studied George Elliot at uni - we did Middlemarch. I think I'm probably old enough to read it now. Then all the characters seemed ancient and dreary. I think as a person, she too led a very interesting life. I need to go and Wikipedia her too, now!

    LOL of summing up a writer's life, Mel, especially with all the juggling of family, work and social life too.

  12. Hi Zana --
    Fascinating! I really enjoyed your piece on George Sand. I'll have to check out some of her books.

    Imagine being so fearless!!