|Back||1 2 3 4 5 6||Next|
The first use George Sand made of the liberty granted to her by the law, in 1836, was to start off with Maurice and Solange for Switzerland to join her friends Franz Liszt and the Comtesse d'Agoult. George Sand had made Liszt's acquaintance through Musset. Liszt gave music-lessons to Alfred's sister, Herminie. He was born in 1811, so that he was seven years younger than George Sand. He was twenty-three at the time he first met her, and their friendship was always platonc. They had remarkable affinities of nature. Liszt had first thought of becoming a priest. His religious fervour was gradually transformed into an ardent love of humanity. His early education had been neglected, and he now read eagerly. He once asked Monsieur Cremieux, the advocate, to teach him "the whole of French literature." On relating this to some one, Cremieux remarked: "Great confusion seems to reign in this young man's mind." He had been wildly excited during the movement of 1830, greatly influenced by the Saint-Simon ideas, and was roused to enthusiasm by Lamennals, who had just published the Paroles d'un Croyant. After reading Leone Leoni, he became an admirer of George Sand. Leone Leoni is a transposition of Manon Lescaut into the romantic style. A young girl named Juliette has been seduced by a young seigneur, and then discovers that this man is an abominable swindler. If we try to imagine all the infamous things of which an apache would be capable, who at the same time is devoted to the women of the pavement, we then have Leone Leoni. Juliette, who is naturally honest and straightforward, has a horror of all the atrocities and shameful things she sees. And yet, in spite of all, she comes back to Leone Leoni, and cannot love any one else. Her love is stronger than she is, and her passion sweeps away all scruples and triumphs over all scruples. The difference between the novel of the eighteenth century, which was so true to life, and this lyrical fantasy of the nineteenth century is very evident. Manon and Des Grieux always remained united to each other, for they were of equal value. Everything took place in the lower depths of society, and in the mire, as it were, of the heart. You have only to make a good man of Des Grieux, or a virtuous girl of Manon, and it is all over. The transposing of Leone Leoni is just this, and the romanticism of it delighted Liszt.
He had just given a fine example of applying romanticism to life. Marie d'Agoult, nee de Flavigny, had decided, one fine day, to leave her husband and daughter for the sake of the passion that was everything to her. She accordingly started for Geneva, and Liszt joined her there.
Between these two women a friendship sprang up, which was due rather to a wish to like each other than to a real attraction or real fellow-feeling. The Comtesse d'Agoult, with her blue eyes, her slender figure, and somewhat ethereal style, was a veritable Diana, an aristocrat and a society woman. George Sand was her exact opposite. But the Comtesse d'Agoult had just "sacrificed all the vanities of the world for the sake of an artist," so that she deserved consideration. The stay at Geneva was gay and animated. The Piffoels (George Sand and her children) and the Fellows (Liszt and his pupil, Hermann Cohen) enjoyed scandalizing the whole hotel by their Bohemian ways. They went for an excursion to the frozen lake. At Lausanne Liszt played the organ. On returning to Paris the friends did not want to separate. In October, 1836, George Sand took up her abode on the first floor of the Hotel de France, in the Rue Laffitte, and Liszt and the Corntesse d'Agoult took a room on the floor above. The trio shared, a drawing-room between them, but in reality it became more the Comtesse d'Agoult's salon than George Sand's. Lamennais, Henri Heine, Mickiewicz, Michel of Bourges and Charles Didier were among their visitors, and we are told that this salon, improvised in a hotel was "a reunion of the elite, over which the Comtesse d'Agoult presided with exquisite grace." She was a true society woman, a veritable mistress of her home, one of those who could transform a room in a hotel, a travelling carriage, or even a prison into that exquisite thing, so dear to French polite society of yore--a salon.
Among the habitues of Madame d'Agoult's salon was Chopin. This is a new chapter in George Sand's life, and a little later on we shall be able to consider, as a whole, the importance of this intercourse with great artists as regards her intellectual development.
Before finishing our study of this epoch in her life, we must notice how much George Sand's talent had developed and blossomed out. Mauprat was published in 1837, and is undoubtedly the first of her chefs-d'oeuvre. In her uninterrupted literary production, which continued regularly in spite of and through all the storms of her private life, there is much that is strange and second-rate and much that is excellent. Jacques is an extraordinary piece of work. It was written at Venice when she was with Pagello. George Sand declared that she had neither put herself nor Musset into this book. She was nevertheless inspired by their case, and she merely transposed their ideal of renunciation. Andre may be classed among the second-rate work. It is the story of a young noble who seduces a girl of the working-class. It is a souvenir of Berry, written in a home-sick mood when George Sand was at Venice. Simon also belongs to the second-rate category. The portrait of Michel of Bourges can easily be traced in it. George Sand had intended doing more for Michel than this. She composed a revolutionary novel in three volumes, in his honour, entitled: Engelwald with the high forehead. Buloz neither cared for Engelwald nor for his high forehead, and this novel was never published.
According to George Sand, when she wrote Mauprat her idea was the rehabilitation of marriage. "I had just been petitioning for a separation," she says. I had, until then, been fighting against the abuses of marriage, and, as I had never developed my ideas sufficiently, I had given every one the notion that I despised the essential principles of it. On the contrary, marriage really appeared to me in all the moral beauty of those principles, and in my book I make my hero, at the age of eighty, proclaim his faithfulness to the only woman he has ever loved."
"She is the only woman I have ever loved," says Bernard de Mauprat. "No other woman has ever attracted my attention or been embraced by me. I am like that. When I love, I love for ever, in the past, in the present and in the future."
Mauprat, then, according to George Sand, was a novel with a purpose, just as Indiana was, although they each had an opposite purpose. Fortunately it is nothing of the kind. This is one of those explanations arranged afterwards, peculiar sometimes to authors. The reality about all this is quite different.
In this book George Sand had just given the reins to her imagination, without allowing sociological preoccupations to spoil everything. During her excursions in Berry, she had stopped to gaze at the ruins of an old feudal castle. We all know the power of suggestion contained in those old stones, and how wonderfully they tell stories of the past they have witnessed to those persons who know how to question them. The remembrance of the chateau of Roche Mauprat came to the mind of the novelist. She saw it just as it stood before the Revolution, a fortress, and at the same time a refuge for the wild lord and his eight sons, who used to sally forth and ravage the country. In French narrative literature there is nothing to surpass the first hundred pages in which George Sand introduces us to the burgraves of central France. She is just as happy when she takes us to Paris with Bernard de Mauprat, to Paris of the last days of the old regime. She introduces us to the society which she had learnt to know through the traditions of her grandmother. It is not only Nature, but history, which she uses as a setting for her story. How cleverly, too, she treats the analysis which is the true subject of the book, that of education through love. We see the untamed nature of Bernard de Mauprat gradually giving way under the influence of the noble and delicious Edmee.
There are typical peasants, too, in Mauprat. We have Marcasse, the mole-catcher, and Patience, the good-natured Patience, the rustic philosopher, well up in Epictetus and in Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who has gone into the woods to live his life according to the laws of Nature and to find the wisdom of the primitive days of the world. We are told that, during the Revolution, Patience was a sort of intermediary between the chateau and the cottage, and that he helped in bringing about the reign of equity in his district. It is to be hoped this was so.
In any case, it is very certain that we come across this Patience again in Russian novels with a name ending in ow or ew. This is a proof that if the personage seems somewhat impossible, he was at any rate original, new and entertaining.
We hear people say that George Sand is no longer read. It is to be hoped that Mauprat is still read, otherwise our modern readers miss one of the finest stories in the history of novels. This, then, is the point at which we have arrived in the evolution of George Sand's genius. There may still be modifications in her style, and her talent may still be refreshed under various influences, but with Mauprat she took her place in the first rank of great storytellers.}
|Back||1 2 3 4 5 6||Next|
George Sand, Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings -by- Rene Doumic