The author of this engaging new biography of George Sand (born Aurore Dupin), one of nineteenth-century France's most prolific and celebrated writers, brings an original perspective to Sand's much-examined life. Elizabeth Harlan stakes out a balanced ground between previous biographers who intensified the scandalous aspects of the writer's unconventional life and those who are so "in thrall to Sand's greatness" that they do not cast critical enough scrutiny on their subject (296). Placing Sand's life within the intergenerational context of her relations with her mother, grandmother, and daughter, Harlan unravels key issues related to Sand's identity as a woman and a writer.
Harlan draws on a variety of sources and builds her representation with a series of remarkable juxtapositions, such as contrasting letters written by family members and other key figures with Sand's own autobiographical writings, material in novels with autobiographical accounts, and nonfictional accounts of the same events written at different times. Comparisons between external perspectives and Sand's autobiographical writings uncover some "blatant discrepancies" that allow Harlan to show, for example, how Sand's depiction of her parents' relationship in her Story of My Life was much rosier than the actual situation (32, 94). Further, Harlan's careful reading of correspondence helps her to document one of her key insights: that Sand's aristocratic father, Maurice Dupin, was likely not her biological father, as his letters suggest that he was away from her mother at the time she would have been conceived (95). Although Sand never addressed these questions regarding her identity directly in her writing, the material Sand did include in both her fiction and nonfiction suggests that writing provided her a means of self-discovery.
Harlan's evenhanded approach to her subject (providing clarification of misunderstood elements of the Sand legend while also underscoring the writer's faults as she sees them) is evinced in her treatment of Sand's love life. Harlan quotes a letter from Sand's husband, Casimir Dudevant, that portrays him in a more sensitive light than most characterizations of Sand's marriage (177). By staying attuned to repetition of family patterns from one generation to the next, Harlan offers a fresh interpretation of Sand's renowned maternal behavior toward her lovers by suggesting a kind of role reversal from a woman who "craved the love she had never received from her mother" (182). Although Harlan dismisses autobiographical interpretations of sexual frigidity in Sand's novel Lelia, she nevertheless asks the question, "Was Sand sexually inhibited in ways that disappointed her partners? By her own admission, it would seem so" (182). Interpreting Sand's puzzlingly strong rejection of female suffragists who, following the 1848 Revolution, proposed Sand as a candidate for the National Assembly, Harlan points to "Sand's conflict about women in general and her own female identity in particular" (255). Moreover, Harlan's exploration of issues of female identity lead her to pay special attention to Sand's troubled relationship with her daughter, Solange, in ways that help to correct the bias in previous accounts against the latter.
At once scholarly and highly readable, this thoroughly researched and documented biography will be of great interest to professional and casual readers alike for its sensitive psychological portrait of the writer and her oeuvre.
Deborah Houk Schocket
Bowling Green State University
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|Author:||Schocket, Deborah Houk|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2005|
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