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The hero and the sage: Elizabeth Barrett's Sonnets "To George Sand" in Victorian context.

IN DECEMBER OF 1844 AMEDEE PICHOT, EDITOR OF REVUE BRITANNIQUE, published a French translation of To George Sand: A Desire" along with the English version. (1) Elizabeth Barrett had published her two sonnets "To George Sand" only a few months earlier in Poems, 1844. (2) In a footnote, Pichot asserted that the purpose of Revue Britannique was partly to redress "les injustes attaques" against French culture and partly to recognize "les hommages" from foreigners for French national figures. He sent to Sand a copy of his French version of Barrett's sonnet, which begins with a dramatic apostrophe:
 Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man,
 Self-called George Sand! whose soul, amid the lions
 Of thy tumultuous senses, moans defiance
 And answers roar for roar, as spirits can. (3)

In 1844, she was close to forty, and with her more radical days behind her, Sand responded with wit and modesty. She wrote back to Pichot, "Je ne suis plus d'age a entendre tant de lions rugir en moi-meme et je ne me souviens pas qu'ils y aient jamais fait si grand vacarme" ("I am no longer of an age when I hear so much lions roaring within me, and I do not recall that they ever made that much of an uproar"--English translation mine). (4) Then she added that the press gave her more credit for social change than she deserved. The press? Even though she was reading poetic language in French translation, Sand recognized diction from the English press debates about her controversial novels and social conduct.

The topical language apparent to Sand is no longer apparent to readers. As a result, although the sonnets "To George Sand" have regularly appeared in anthologies since the late twentieth century, they remain two of Barrett's most difficult poems. Feminist critics like Sandra Donaldson praise the sonnets for showing "the variety of women's experiences" and a "union of the manly and womanly in a 'pure genius'" like Sand. (5) Yet even sympathetic readers of the poems question their aesthetic merit. How could a poet who was often so skillful with language produce poems that seem "clumsy, involuted and laborious" (Patricia Thomson) or "awkward" if "desperately sincere" (Elaine Showalter)? (6)

Part of the difficulty stems from the poet's attitude toward Sand, which Dorothy Mermin has aptly described as "profoundly mixed." (7) Sand appears in Barrett's letters as a "brilliant monstrous woman" who might be a "genius" and who might be "dangerous" because of the "irresistible power she attributes to human passion." (8) The seemingly clumsy form of the two sonnets could reflect this confused adoration.

However, part of the difficulty also stems from a twentieth-century critical tradition in which a poem would be evaluated in terms of aesthetic, organic unity without necessarily considering historical context. For the past few decades, historicist critics like Antony H. Harrison have advanced a methodology that provides a bridge between aesthetic considerations and historical setting--"an archaeology that will eventually expose the complete and particular contexts surrounding the production, publication, and reception of literary works." (9) In fact, close attention to the topical nuances in poetic language can enrich the aesthetic experience of readers no longer in the Victorian era. In the case of Barrett's sonnets, the Victorian context reveals carefully chosen diction that responds to specific issues raised in the English press--about Sand, of course, but about other public issues as well, like heroes and heroism, and even the value of literary and Biblical texts. Most importantly for understanding the difficult style, the diction and syntax of the sonnets "To George Sand" correspond to sage discourse. Elizabeth Barrett admired Thomas Carlyle, and while asserting the heroism of Sand, she was also experimenting with the voice of a cultural sage for herself.

To many writers of the Victorian press, Sand was hardly heroic. The press debate about Sand had been initiated in 1836 when a lengthy essay in The Quarterly Review attacked scrofulous French novels and the decadent state of French morals. (10) Faulting the novels for "moral contagion" of culture (p. 66), the reviewer outlined the plots from the works of seven novelists, including Hugo, Dumas, Balzac, and Sand, and then carefully identified news reports of copycat tragedies and crimes. Sand was singled out as dangerous for female readers, in particular, because of "impassioned rhetorick and sensual ideas" (p. 99) along with a scandalous social reputation. In 1841 a writer for The Foreign Quarterly Review reiterated the fear of social "contagion." The reviewer concluded that French novels by women like Sand reveal "a second fall of Eve from tasting a new fruit of knowledge": "warning and animadversions on these French doctrines are the more called for at present, inasmuch as the contagion has already begun to spread amongst ourselves." (11)

In the debate that ensued between the mid-1830s and mid-1840s Sand had her defenders, but among English writers they were in the minority. She was regularly defended in the English press by French journalist Jules Janin and Italian exile Joseph Mazzini with language that would find its way into Barrett's sonnets. In 1837 Janin proclaimed Sand "the greatest phenomenon of the present day," and he alternated masculine (he/him) and feminine (she/her) personal pronouns in reference to her throughout his essay. (12) Janin's only negative criticism concerned the novel Leila--"a blot upon the literary life of George Sand"--because the title character is "an abominable creature ... who goes howling like a lioness after the senses in which she is deficient" (p. 425). As Betty Miller noted, this review probably influenced the opening metaphor, "lions / Of thy tumultuous senses," in Barrett's first sonnet. (13) In 1839 Mazzini compared Leila with Byron's Manfred and Goethe's Faust, the only difference being that "man lives more by the brain, and woman by the heart." (14) He asserted rather dramatically, "'Leila' is food for the strong; let the weak abstain" (p. 32). Then he argued that evaluations of Sand's private life should not appear in literary reviews. Even further, he claimed that her novels are "sanctified" because they do not advocate immoral behavior but expose the consequences of it (p. 32).

Barrett's sonnets also drew language from an 1841 piece in The North American Review that described a Byronic "gloom and violence" in Sand's novels, which might seem indelicate to "merely English readers" who do not share continental tastes in art. (15) Comparing Sand with Rousseau, this reviewer commented that the author's "determination to unsex herself" with a "boldness," "warmth," and "freedom" of style, cannot hide the "woman's pen" (p. 111).

Then, in the summer of 1844, about the same time that Barrett's sonnets were published, The Foreign Quarterly Review published an essay tracing the English image of Sand from the 1836 attack and arguing that her art had not been objectively evaluated because of the prejudices stemming from the English press. (16) When Barrett entered this debate with her two sonnets, her rhetorical strategy involved reshaping the public image of Sand by redefining key words and phrases. Interestingly, she began by critiquing the defenders of Sand. In answer to Mazzini, her poems begin by mixing up the language of head and heart with "large-brained woman and large-hearted man." Also unlike Mazzini, Barrett implied that Sand's public persona should be as much a valid text as her novels: echoing Mazzini's word "sanctified," the first sonnet ends by desiring that "the angel's grace / Of a pure genius sanctified from blame" (ll. 11-12) be added to Sand's public image so that it might inspire a "stainless fame" (l. 14). In response to Janin, the first sonnet rephrases his derogatory comment about Leila: the French writer's spiritual strength can match roars with her "tumultuous senses" (l. 3). Then in answer to the writer of The North American Review, the sonnets recalled the questionable compliment about a "woman's pen." Barrett's second sonnet describes Sand as "True genius, but true woman" (l. 1) whose attempt to deny her "woman's nature" (l. 2) is a "vain denial" (l. 5) because a "woman's voice" (l. 6), a voice of "strength" (l. 8), can be discerned throughout her writing.

By ending the sonnet pair with the word "unsex" (l. 13), Barrett addressed a cliche in antifeminist journalism. According to the OED "unsex" entered the language with Lady Macbeth, who calls for the "spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts" to "unsex" her and "fill" her "from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty" (1.5.38-41). The word reappeared at the end of the eighteenth century in anti-Jacobin journalism, to attribute the cruel ambition of Lady Macbeth to women political writers: for example, in 1797 Thomas Mathias commented, "Our unsexed female writers now instruct, or confuse, us and themselves in the labyrinth of politics," and in 1798 Richard Polwhele published his satirical poem The Unsex'd Females. (17) By the mid-nineteenth century, a reviewer, even a seeming defender, who commented that Sand had a "determination to unsex herself," echoed this tradition in the British press. In 1844 Barrett's initial response used repetition to emphasize the word "unsex" at the close of the two sonnets: "Till God unsex thee on the spirit-shore; / To which alone unsexing, purely aspire." (18) When she amended the lines for the 1850 edition, she eliminated the emphasis of repetition, but clarified a positive redefinition of the word:
 Beat purer, heart, and higher,
 Till God unsex thee on the heavenly shore
 Where unincarnate spirits purely aspire! (ll. 12-14)

Instead of meaning a woman who acts unnaturally, "unsex" here refers to a transcendent, "unincarnate" spirit, which is the source of goodness and poetic authority in man or woman.

In addition to subtle redefinition, Barrett drew from Victorian public discussions about heroism to place the French author in a history of controversial heroes who are nonetheless respected as spiritual leaders. Carlyle advanced the public discussion with his lectures On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, published in 1840. The heroic impulse, according to Carlyle, resides in visionary social leaders; it also appears, in less potent form, in followers who recognize a heroic leader. Carlyle was criticized in 1843 by Anglican priest William Thomson in the Christian Remembrancer for bringing together in an equal discussion Christian, Muslim, and secular, literary heroes of questionable domestic character (like Robert Burns). (19) Thomson, in fact, warned readers that this "is not a Christian Book" (p. 186). Like Carlyle, Barrett presented a cluster of Biblical and literary heroic narratives, but, unlike Carlyle, she included women in her history.

The first Biblical allusion involves Samson. In The Book of Judges 13-16, Samson was born to be a hero for the Israelites against the Philistines. His narrative involves a series of episodes, in the first of which Samson destroys a roaring lion with his bare hands--like a typical folk-hero. Samson, however, also has the character trait of a strong sexual appetite. The narrative describes three women, and even though he tries to marry the first, a Philistine woman, he marries none of them. The second woman is a prostitute, and the third is Delilah, who gets Samson to tell her the source of his strength, his uncut hair. In this well-known episode, Delilah has Samson's hair cut while he sleeps, making him vulnerable to the Philistines, who capture him, blind him, and then eventually tie him between pillars of their temple so that they might make a spectacle of him at a banquet. When Samson prays for and receives one last burst of strength, he pulls down the pillars, killing hundreds of Philistines along with himself. In the Bible, Samson appears again in a list of heroes in Hebrews 11. 32.

In the most famous literary version of the story, Milton's seventeenth-century Samson Agonistes, Samson is respectably married to Delilah. Delilah--now "My wife, my Traytress"--becomes another version of Eve. (20) And Samson becomes a type of Christ because of his martyrdom at the Philistine banquet. Milton's Samson is the agon, agonistes, contender for God against the materialist, sensual pagans.

By the time Barrett composed her sonnets "To George Sand" Samson was a complex figure. Nineteenth-century scholars raised questions about the Hebrew Samson as well as Milton's revision. Theologians often expressed the wish that Samson had been more sexually self-disciplined. In the words of one theologian: "The fidelity of the inspired narrative has perpetuated the record of infirmities which must for ever mar the lustre of his noble deeds." (21) However, typological interpretations continued to present Samson as an imperfect type of Christ because of his martyrdom. (22) At the same time, literary scholars wrote that Milton's version seemed autobiographical because of the work's misogyny; one commentator described Samson Agonistes as an "expression of [Milton's] private griefs" and a variation of his pamphlet defending the "Doctrine of Divorce." (23) Even so, Milton's heroic version became the popular version. In 1843 Carlyle described gifted, visionary leaders as heaven-sent heroes, "born champions, strong men, and liberatory Samsons" who could rise above a materialistic "poor Delilah-world." (24) Once an ancient Hebrew hero of physical, even sexual, strength, Samson became the Victorian visionary liberator in a materialistic, feminine, "Delilah-world."

Elizabeth Barrett challenged these representations of masculine and feminine character. There is a parallel between the character flaws of the Hebrew folk-hero and the charges of indecency leveled against George Sand in the British press. When Sand's spiritual self "answers roar for roar" the "lions" of "tumultuous senses" ("A Desire," ll. 2-4), the poem alludes to the first episode of Samson's heroism. The second sonnet, subtitled "A Recognition," completes this allusion and makes it more explicit by referring to the episode with Delilah: "Thy woman's hair, my sister, all unshorn / Floats back dishevelled strength in agony, / Disproving thy man's name" (ll. 7-9). These poetic gender-reversals refer to the Biblical Samson as well as to Milton's agon, with a pun, "strength in agony." As several feminist readers have noted, Barrett's poetry often revises Milton's portrayal of Eve. (25) The sonnets "To George Sand" respond, as well, to the Eve-like Delilah of Samson Agonistes. By alluding to different accounts of Samson, the sonnets also imply the shifting cultural values in hero-construction. In the ancient world, Samson's flaw was mainly his attraction to non-Hebrew women. In Milton's Renaissance poetic drama, the flaw was Samson's excessive trust in a woman. For Victorians, it was the strength of his sexuality, undisciplined by marriage. By bringing together these accounts, Barrett's sonnets "To George Sand" suggest that there is an element of historical contingency in heroism. More directly, they show that a woman, even with character flaws like those of Samson, can be a contender for God and spirituality when she reveals that she is more than her socially contingent identity.

The sonnets "To George Sand," in fact, enact the art of hero-construction with allusions that move analogically through historical and literary texts of Christian history. The lions and spectacle of Samson's story become, by imaginative association, the lions of the Roman "applauded circus" (l. 6), recalling the heroism of early Christian martyrs.

Then the allusion to Christian martyrdom becomes, by analogy, an allusion to the "holier light" (l.10) of Joan of Arc, another famous, French cross-dresser. Throughout the nineteenth century there were numerous representations of Joan's story in drama, poetry, essays, and journalistic short sketches, written by people like Southey, de Quincey, Schiller, and Chateaubriand. In the 1830s and 1840s, the same scholarly interest in manuscripts that led to the Higher Criticism also led scholars to turn their attention to the manuscripts of Joan's trial. As a result, two important scholarly works were published: in 1841 Jules Michelet's biography, Vie de Jeanne d'Arc, and from 1841-1849, Jules Quicherat's edition of the trial proceedings. In November 1841 Barrett considered composing a poem about Joan but wrote that she would "treat the subject differently" than Southey or Schiller (BC, 5:171). Her proposed poem would emphasize religious inspiration, rather than the military exploits of Joan, while "preserving faithfully & tenderly her womanly nature unrusted in the iron which sheathes it" (BC, 5.173).

Although Barrett did not compose a saga about Joan, her sonnets "To George Sand" allude to common legends about Joan's life and brutal death. In one legend, Joan's entrance into a village was often accompanied by thunder and lightning as signs of her divine appointment. In another, Joan's heart remained intact as she was burned to death. These are the words of one 1836 sketch of Joan's death from The American Monthly Review:
 The Maiden perished, and the terror-stricken soldiery, who gazed
 on her unmurmuring agonies beheld--or fancied they beheld--a
 saintly light, paler but brighter than the lurid glare of the
 fagots, circling her dark locks and lovely features; they imagined
 that her spirit--visible to mortal eyes--soared upward, dove-like
 on white pinions, into the viewless heaven--and they shuddered,
 when they found, amid the cinders of the pile, that heart which had
 defied their bravest, unscathed by fire, and ominous to them of
 fearful retribution! (26)

Comparable diction appears in Barrett's first sonnet, subtitled "A Desire":
 I would some mild miraculous thunder ran
 Above the applauded circus, in appliance
 Of thine own nobler nature's strength and science,
 Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,
 From thy strong shoulders, to amaze the place
 With holier light! (ll. 5-10)

This sonnet echoes images of thunder, a "saintly light," and "white pinions" from the legends. The second sonnet, "A Recognition," acknowledges a "woman-heart" (l. 11) that continues to "beat evermore" (l. 11) without being destroyed by a "poet-fire" (l. 10). With allusions like these, the sonnets imply that Sand is part of a history of Christian heroes who were political and controversial. Furthermore, to qualify Carlyle, this history includes women as well as men.

Barrett also challenged traditional assumptions about gender and heroism with the heroic/political sonnet form, which was similar to the Italian, amatory model in rhyme scheme (abba,abba,cdcdcd). The heroic/political sonnet, however, has a prescribed rougher texture in poetic language, created by enjambment (often of octave and sestet), abrupt syntax, and pauses irregularly placed in the poetic lines. After sixteenth-century Italian poets developed the form, Milton introduced it into English. (27) Then Wordsworth revived it in the "Liberty Sonnets" of his Poems, 1807, describing the form privately in letters as "manly and dignified." (28) Barrett signaled the use of this form by the Italian rhyme scheme with enjambment of octave and sestet:
 To George Sand: A Desire

 Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man,
 Self-called George Sand! whose soul, amid the lions
 Of thy tumultuous senses, moans defiance
 And answers roar for roar, as spirits can:
 I would some mild miraculous thunder ran
 Above the applauded circus, in appliance
 Of thine own nobler nature's strength and science,
 Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,
 From thy strong shoulders, to amaze the place
 With holier light! that thou to woman's claim
 And man's, mightst join beside the angel's grace
 Of a pure genius sanctified from blame,
 Till child and maiden pressed to thine embrace
 To kiss upon thy lips a stainless fame.

 To George Sand: A Recognition

 True genius, but true woman! dost deny
 The woman's nature with a manly scorn,
 And break away the gauds and armlets worn
 By weaker women in captivity?
 Ah, vain denial! that revolted cry
 Is sobbed in by a woman's voice forlorn,--
 Thy woman's hair, my sister, all unshorn
 Floats back dishevelled strength in agony,
 Disproving thy man's name: and while before
 The world thou burnest in a poet-fire,
 We see thy woman-heart beat evermore
 Through the large flame. Beat purer, heart, and higher,
 Till God unsex thee on the heavenly shore
 Where unincarnate spirits purely aspire!

In addition to the enjambment, the exclamation points ("A Desire," 11.2 and 10; "A Recognition," 1. 4) result in abrupt internal stops, along with other, less dramatic, grammatical pauses and stops placed irregularly throughout the poetic lines. Readers expecting the gracefulness of a love sonnet will find these sonnets awkward. Early Victorian reviews and anthology introductions often linked the names of Milton and Wordsworth with the heroic/political sonnet, and it was one of the most respected sonnet forms. (29) I have argued elsewhere that Barrett experimented with the heroic sonnet form in her Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) because she was unsatisfied with the expectations placed on women poets. (30) In 1844 Barrett clothed her feminine praise of Sand in poetic forms associated with men, in parallel with the French author's particular kind of cross-dressing social rebelliousness.

While the abrupt rhythms reflect the heroic sonnet, the mixed metaphors indicate the enigmatic style of sage discourse. Barrett described Carlyle's prose in such terms. His diction seemed to be created from "savage derivatives" that are "rushed together in ... combinations" which are nonetheless "the significant articulation of a living soul" because marked by the writer's individuality: "If it [Carlyle's prose] was not 'style' and 'classicism,' it was something better; it was soul-language. There was a divinity at the shaping of these rough-hewn periods" (BC, 8:353).

Both John Holloway and George Landow have contributed much to our understanding of the genre of sage discourse; even though their analyses focus on Victorian and modern prose, their insights also can be helpful for understanding the poetic voice of Barrett's two sonnets. As Holloway has shown, the Victorian sage/speaker often employed redefinition as a rhetorical strategy for "controlling and modifying the senses" of words. (31) Landow adds a moral dimension:
 The central role of definition in the works of nineteenth- and
 twentieth-century sages implies that only the speaker knows the true
 meaning of words, that the audience has lost knowledge both of the
 words its members use and of the reality to which these words refer,
 and that, finally, only the sage still retains the capacity for true
 speech. (32)

Barrett exercised a sage's "corrective redefinition" of words (Landow, p. 119). As I discussed earlier in this essay, she extended the meaning of "sanctified" so that it should include Sand's persona as well as her novels. Then she qualified the meaning of a "woman's voice" to be the voice of strength. Finally, attempting to neutralize the negative cultural power of the term "unsex" for women writers, Barrett gave the word a spiritual meaning. In addition, her sonnets "To George Sand" use another strategy typical of sage writers--Biblical allusion and typology--with her catalogue of spiritual heroes.

As Landow has observed, the sage voice was not easy for a woman to assume. Sage writing often involved the creation of an "aggressively individualistic" or even eccentric persona--like Carlyle's Professor Teufelsdrockh--to challenge "conventional wisdom and conventional notions of rationality"; culturally marginalized groups, like women, might find it "doubly difficult" to establish authority with such a persona. (33) Yet Barrett experimented with this voice throughout her career. Marjorie Stone has remarked that the highly subjective, unreliable narrator in Aurora Leigh can represent an experiment with the voice of the sage (pp. 137-188). Although the two sonnets "To George Sand" do not indicate an eccentric ethos or unreliable narrator, they do show that Barrett was experimenting with techniques of sage writing in eccentric or awkward metaphors. The fact that the two sonnets have been often received as inept or "awkward" rather than experimental only illustrates Landow's point that a woman writer might have trouble being taken seriously if she assumes the eccentric style of the sage.

Another case in point is the presence of the grotesque in the sonnets. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar have commented that the sonnets "To George Sand" reflect the identity crisis of a woman writer by "drastic, melodramatic, even grotesque" imagery. (34) However, Landow's analysis of "grotesque symbols" (Elegant Jeremiahs, pp. 73-115) in sage discourse can help in understanding the sophisticated experiment with this style. Two forms of the grotesque imagination, which Landow draws from Ruskin's Modern Painters (even though published in 1856, eleven years after Barrett's sonnets), are especially relevant. An obvious form of grotesque symbol refers to a scene of horror (Elegant Jeremiahs, p. 82), like the closing metaphor for creative activity in Barrett's second sonnet, constructed from the horrible burning of Joan of Arc. Ruskin also discussed a kind of image in visual art formed from "a series of symbols thrown together in a bold and fearless connection" so that the "gaps, left or overleaped" in meaning make the image seem grotesque (quoted in Landow, Elegant Jeremiahs, p. 78). In effect, the "beholder" must "work out" the connections between the symbols. Landow draws a parallel with verbal art composed of a series of seemingly discontinuous symbols or allusions, a series that "communicates complex truths with more power and economy that can discursive prose" (p. 78).

This second kind of grotesque recalls seventeenth-century metaphysical poetics and looks forward to modernist poetics, both of which bring together a seemingly disparate collection of images into one metaphor, if for different thematic purposes. In Barrett's first sonnet, the concentrated cluster of allusions to Samson, the Christian martyrs of Rome, and the Victorian journalism of Jules Janin--all loosely held together with "lions"--forms this kind of mixed allusion. Like the metaphysical conceit, it forces readers to find both the connections between allusions and a meaning beyond words. Like the modernist conceit, it invites readers to see a phenomenon--"George Sand"--in a new perspective.

Landow also outlines a prophetic pattern that connects the sage/ speaker with the Hebrew prophets: this pattern includes pointing to some sign of the times, indicating a falling away from God, warning of coming disaster, and offering a visionary alternative (Elegant Jeremiahs, p. 26). A sage might draw from some or all of these parts. In the role of the sage, Victorian writers often "move back and forth between allying themselves with their audience and pulling away to attack it by shifting between you and we," and they "inevitably require special techniques to avoid alienating the ... intended audience" (Elegant Jeremiahs, p. 54).

But who is the intended audience in the sonnets "To George Sand"? In fact, the poems have two audiences. In the titles and in the opening "Thou," the sonnets explicitly address the French novelist; in the diction, they implicitly address those journalists who have not seen the spiritual value of "George Sand."

In effect, the two sonnets manipulate three different forms of the grotesque as the speaker assumes a prophetic voice. The speaker begins by naming a cultural phenomenon that has been called perverse or grotesque in English journalism. Then the speaker devises an aesthetically grotesque cluster of allusions to rename Sand as part of a history of controversial, Christian heroes. Finally, the speaker aligns herself with English readers and tells them what "We see" ("A Recognition," 1. 11): a revisionary image of Sand in which she bums both grotesquely as a French martyr of the English press and sublimely as an artist of passionate intensity. By exposing the elements of gender identity that have been socially determined, Sand's persona implies a spiritual identity that is "purer ... and higher" ("A Recognition," 1. 12). Thus the gender confusion named in the opening lines of the first sonnet, which might have been interpreted as perversion, becomes instead a form of redemption, a visionary alternative of spiritual purity, "on the heavenly shore" ("A Recognition," 1. 14).

Like other Victorian writers, Barrett used rhetorical strategies of the sage/speaker to introduce a new way of seeing a cultural phenomenon. Holloway emphasizes the point that sage writing does not involve "some quite new reality" but "seeing old things in a new way" (p. 9). Even further, "what he [the sage] has to say is not a matter just of "content" or narrow paraphrasable meaning, but is transfused by the whole texture of his writing as it constitutes an experience for the reader" (pp. 10-11). Similarly, Barrett's sonnets create a spiritual history for a new way of seeing "George Sand" and her art. In fact, the sonnets are about seeing. On the one hand, they praise a transcendent, heroic impulse. On the other, they reveal the historical contingency in the construction of heroism. The sonnets "To George Sand" bring together Biblical, literary, and historical texts, to imply questions about textual and cultural authority that parallel the questions raised in the Higher Criticism of the 1840s. But Barrett's sonnets add two new, Victorian texts to the mix: the public persona "George Sand" and the popular press. As a result, Barrett drew from a variety of texts to create a new (con)text of heroism for the radical, French author. At the same time, the sonnets celebrate George Sand by exercising the voice of the feminine sage/poet.


(1) Amedee Pichot, "A George Sand," Revue Britannique 6 (December 1844): 717.

(2) "George Sand" was the pen name for French author Aurore Dudevant (1804-1876). Her early novels challenged the convention of marriage by showing women who sought passion. Her early lifestyle included leaving her own arranged marriage and taking a series of lovers. She was also known for challenging social conventions by wearing trousers and top-hat in public, sometimes while smoking a cigar.

(3) Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Complete Works of Mrs. E. B. Browning, ed. Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clark (New York: Crowell, 1900), 2:239. Porter and Clark print the 1850 revision of the sonnets "To George Sand," which is usually anthologized today. The only significant revision from 1844 is in the closing lines of the second sonnet, and I discuss it below in my essay. Further references to the sonnets "To George Sand" come from this edition.

(4) George Sand, Correspondance de George Sand, ed. Georges Lubin (Paris: Gamier freres, 1964), 6:745-746. Sand's response was as follows:

S'il ya un compliment qui me touche, c'est quand on me dit que j'ai toujours eu de bonnes intentions, et que, soit dans la negation, soit dans l'aspiration, j'au toujours aime la verite....

Je ne suis plus d'age a entendre tant de lions rugir en moi-meme et je ne me souviens pas qu'ils y aient jamais fait is grand vacarme. S'il y a eu des victoires remporter, elles n'ont pas eu autant de merite que la presse veunt bien le dire.

(5) Sandra M. Donaldson, " Elizabeth Barrett's Two Sonnets to George Sand," SBHC 5, no. 1 (1977): 19.

(6) Patricia Thomson, George Sand and the Victorians: Her Influence and Reputation in Nineteenth-Century England (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1977), p. 46; and Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977), p. 102.

(7) Dorothy Mermin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 108.

(8) The Brownings' Correspondence, 14 vols., ed. Philip Kelley, Ronald Hudson, and Scott Lewis (Winfield, Kansas: Wedgestone Press, 1984), 6:234, 8:211, 9:167; hereafter cited as BC.

(9) Antony H. Harrison, Christina Rossetti in Context (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1988), p. ix.

(10) "French Novels," The Quarterly Review 56 (1836): 65-131.

(11) "Rousseau's Nouvelle Heloise and the Modern Litterature Extravagante," The Foreign Quarterly Review 27 (1841): 71.

(12) Jules Janin, "Literature of the Nineteenth Century, France," The Atheneaum, No. 502 (June 10, 1837): 423.

(13) Betty Miller, Elizabeth Barrett to Miss Mitford (London: John Murray, 1954), p. 226 n. 3.

(14) Joseph Mazzini, "George Sand," The Monthly Chronicle 4 (1839): 33.

(15) "Works of George Sand," North American Review 53 (1841): 111.

(16) "Balzac and George Sand," The Foreign Quarterly Review 33 (1844): 268-298.

(17) Thomas Mathias, Pursuits of Literature: A Satirical Poem in Four Decalogues with notes (Philadelphia, 1800), p. 204.

(18) Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Poems, in Two Volumes (London, 1844), 1:148.

(19) Christian Remembrancer 6 (August 1843): 121-143; repr. in Thomas Carlyle: The Critical Heritage, ed. Jules Paul Seigel (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971), pp. 171-192.

(20) John Milton: The Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957), p. 569, 1. 725.

(21) "Samson," Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature (Boston, 1857), p. 709.

(22) "Samson," Dictionary of the Holy Bible (New York, 1846), pp. 439-440.

(23) "Milton," North American Review 47 (1838): 71.

(24) Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, ed. Richard D. Altick (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1965), p. 286.

(25) See Helen Cooper's chapter "Rebellion: Eve's Songs of Innocence" in her Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman & Artist (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1988), pp. 68-98; Dorothy Mermin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry, pp. 87-90; Linda M. Lewis, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Spiritual Progress: Face to Face with God (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1998), pp. 49-65; Margaret M. Morlier, "She for God in Her: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's New Eve," in Sexuality, the Female Gaze, and the Arts: Women, the Arts, and Society, ed. Ronald Dotterer and Susan Bowers (Susquehanna, Pennsylvania: Susquehanna Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 127-144; and Marjorie Stone, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), pp. 77-83.

(26) H.W.H., "The Death of La Pucelle," The American Monthly Magazine 7, n.s. 1 (1836): 225.

(27) For a discussion of the heroic/political sonnet see F. T. Prince, The Italian Element in Milton's Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), pp. 14-33, 89-107.

(28) William Wordsworth, Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years, 1787-1805, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, 2nd ed., revised by Chester L. Shaver (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 379.

(29) George Sanderlin, "The Influence of Milton and Wordsworth on the Early Victorian Sonnet," ELH 5 (1938): 226-227.

(30) Margaret M. Morlier, "Sonnets from the Portuguese and the Politics of Rhyme," VLC 27, no.1 (1999): 98-99.

(31) John Holloway, The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument (London: Macmillan, 1953), p. 16.

(32) George P. Landow, Elegant Jeremiahs: The Sage from Carlyle to Mailer (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1986), p. 127.

(33) George P. Landow, "Aggressive (Re)interpretations of the Female Sage: Florence Nightingale's Cassandra," in Victorian Sages and Cultural Discourse: Renegotiating Gender and Power, ed. Thais E. Morgan (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 44-45.

(34) Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979; New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1984), p. 67.

MARGARET M. MORLIER is an Associate Professor of English at Reinhardt College. She has published articles about Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Victorian Literature and Culture as well as Studies in Browning and His Circle. She has also published articles about Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins in The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies and Victorian Poetry.
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Author:Morlier, Margaret
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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