The interesting life of a pioneering French writer
‘George’ was the pseudonym of choice for nineteenth-century women writers: George Eliot (Marian Evans), George Egerton (Mary Chavelita Dunne). But these women were following an unconventional French writer in choosing to Georgify themselves for publication. In this post, we offer a very short biography of George Sand (1804-76), focusing on the most fascinating aspects of her life.
Born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, ‘George Sand’ – as she became known – was born in Paris in 1804, the daughter of a soldier with blood ties to the Polish royal family. Her mother, meanwhile, was a prostitute. George Sand’s life was destined to be unorthodox from the start. Her father’s death when she was just four years old led to her being raised by the formidable double act of her mother and paternal grandmother. In a perhaps surprising turn of events, the young Aurore – as she was known – spent a number of years in a convent in Paris.
When she was 19 she married a baron’s son, bearing him two children. Eight years later, dissatisfied with the lack of passion between her and her husband, Aurore separated from him and began the first of a series of intense flings with artistic types in Paris, with the writer Jules Sandeau. Her first novel was co-written with Jules under the joint pen name Jules Sand; after its publication, Aurore went solo and Jules Sand became ‘George Sand’. Her life as a writer had begun.
As well as penning a string of novels in the pastoral vein, beginning with Indiana in 1832, George Sand also wrote autobiography, literary criticism, and dramatic works. She championed women’s rights and advocated marriage based on mutual love rather than property, wealth, or status. Sand also became involved in social and political campaigns, and associated with Karl Marx for a time. She corresponded with Gustave Flaubert, the author of the then-scandalous novel Madame Bovary. Both Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac admired her work. Consuelo (1842-3) has been called her masterpiece: the novel tells of a bohemian female singer who travels across Europe, her independence of mind and strong spirit carrying her along.
George Sand’s life was unconventional in numerous ways: she was fond of dressing up in men’s clothing in order to gain access to those parts of Paris where it was not decorous for ladies to go. She scandalised Parisian society by smoking in public. Sand’s love affairs would include high-profile relationships with the composer Frédéric Chopin, the novelist Prosper Mérimée, and the poet and playwright Alfred de Musset. Not everyone approved of her unconventional love life: the poet Charles Baudelaire labelled her a ‘slut’. She once observed: ‘There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.’ George Sand died in 1876 at Nohant, the estate she had inherited from her grandmother.
If you found this very short introduction to George Sand’s life useful, you can find a more detailed biography here.
Image: George Sand via Wikimedia Commons.