Part 4 out of 4
of birds which he knew so well.
"And all this reminded him of a very old song with which his mother
Zabelli used to sing him to sleep. It was a song with words such
as people used to employ in olden times."
In George Sand's pastoral novels we have some of these old words.
They come to us from afar, and are like a supreme blossoming of
It is all this which characterizes these books, and assigns to them
their place in our literature. We must not compare them with the
rugged studies of Balzac, nor with the insipid compositions of the
bucolic writer, nor even with Bernadin de Saint-Pierre's masterpiece,
as there are too many cocoanut trees in that. They prevent us
seeing the French landscapes. Very few people know the country
in France and the humble people who dwell there. Very few writers
have loved the country well enough to be able to depict its hidden charms.
La Fontaine has done it in his fables and Perrault in his tales.
George Sand has her place, in this race of writers, among the
THE `BONNE DAME' OF NOHANT THE THEATRE--ALEXANDRE DUMAS FILS--
LIFE AT NOHANT
Novelists are given to speaking of the theatre somewhat disdainfully.
They say that there is too much convention, that an author is too much
the slave of material conditions, and is obliged to consider the taste
of the crowd, whilst a book appeals to the lover of literature,
who can read it by his own fireside, and to the society woman,
who loses herself in its pages. As soon, though, as one of their
novels has had more success than its predecessors, they do not
hesitate to cut it up into slices, according to the requirements
of the publishing house, so that it may go beyond the little circle
of lovers of literature and society women and reach the crowd--
the largest crowd possible.
George Sand never pretended to have this immense disdain
for the theatre which is professed by ultra-refined writers.
She had always loved the theatre, and she bore it no grudge,
although her pieces had been hissed. In those days plays that did
not find favour were hissed. At present they are not hissed,
either because there are no more poor plays, or because the public
has seen so many bad ones that it has become philosophical,
and does not take the trouble to show its displeasure. George Sand's
first piece, _Cosima_, was a noted failure. About the year 1850,
she turned to the theatre once more, hoping to find a new form
of expression for her energy and talent. _Francois le Champi_
was a great success. In January, 1851, she wrote as follows,
after the performance of _Claudie: _ "A tearful success and a
financial one. The house is full every day; not a ticket given away,
and not even a seat for Maurice. The piece is played admirably;
Bocage is magnificent. The public weeps and blows its nose,
as though it were in church. I am told that never in the memory
of man has there been such a first night. I was not present myself."
There may be a slight exaggeration in the words "never in the memory
of man," but the success was really great. _Claudie_ is still given,
and I remember seeing Paul Mounet interpret the part of Remy admirably
at the Odeon Theatre. As to the _Mariage de Victorine_, it figures
every year on the programme of the Conservatoire competitions.
It is the typical piece for would-be _ingenues._
_Francois le Champi, Claudie_ and the _Mariage de Victorine_ may be
considered as the series representing George Sand's dramatic writings.
These pieces were all her own, and, in her own opinion, that was
their principal merit. The dramatic author is frequently obliged
to accept the collaboration of persons who know nothing of literature.
"Your characters say this," observes the manager; it is all very well,
but, believe me, it will be better for him to say just the opposite.
The piece will run at least sixty nights longer." There was
a manager at the Gymnase Theatre in those days named Montigny.
He was a very clever manager, and knew exactly what the characters
ought to say for making the piece run. George Sand complained of his
mania for changing every play, and she added: "Every piece that I did
not change, such, for instance, as _Champi_, _Claudie_, _Victorine,
Le Demon du foyer_ and _Le Pressoir_, was a success, whilst
all the others were either failures or they had a very short run."
 _Correspondance:_ To Maurice Sand, February 24, 1855.
It was in these pieces that George Sand carried out her own idea
of what was required for the theatre. Her idea was very simple.
She gives it in two or three words: "I like pieces that make me cry."
She adds: "I like drama better than comedy, and, like a woman,
I must be infatuated by one of the characters." This character is
the congenial one. The public is with him always and trembles for him,
and the trembling is all the more agreeable, because the public
knows perfectly well that all will end well for this character.
It can even go as far as weeping the traditional six tears,
as Madame de Sevigne did for Andromaque. Tears at the theatre are
all the sweeter, because they are all in vain. When, in a play,
we have a congenial character who is there from the beginning to
the end, the play is a success. Let us take _Cyraino de Bergerac_,
for instance, which is one of the greatest successes in the history of
Francois le Champi is eminently a congenial character, for he is
a man who always sets wrong things right. We are such believers
in justice and in the interference of Providence. When good,
straightforward people are persecuted by fate, we always expect to see
a man appear upon the scene who will be the champion of innocence,
who will put evil-doers to rights, and find the proper thing to do
and say in every circumstance.
Francois appears at the house of Madeleine Blanchet, who is a widow
and very sad and ill. He takes her part and defends her from the
results of La Severe's intrigues. He is hard on the latter, and he
disdains another woman, Mariette, but both La Severe and Mariette
love him, so true is it that women have a weakness for conquerors.
Francois only cares for Madeleine, though. On the stage, we like
a man to be adored by all women, as this seems to us a guarantee
that he will only care for one of them.
"Champi" is a word peculiar to a certain district, meaning "natural
son." Dumas _fils_ wrote a play entitled _Le Fils naturel_.
The hero is also a superior man, who plays the part of Providence
to the family which has refused to recognize him.
In _Claudie_, as in _Francois le Champi_, the rural setting
is one of the great charms of the play. The first act is one
of the most picturesque scenes on the stage. It takes place
in a farmyard, the day when the reapers have finished their task,
which is just as awe-inspiring as that of the sowers. A cart,
drawn by oxen, enters the yard, bringing a sheaf all adorned
with ribbons and flowers. The oldest of the labourers, Pere Remy,
addresses a fine couplet to the sheaf of corn which has cost
so much labour, but which is destined to keep life in them all.
Claudie is one of those young peasant girls, whom we met with
in the novel entitled _Jeanne_. She had been unfortunate,
but Jeanne, although virtuous and pure herself, did not despise her,
for in the country there is great latitude in certain matters.
This is just the plain story, but on the stage everything becomes
more dramatic and is treated in a more detailed and solemn fashion.
Claudie's misfortune causes her to become a sort of personage apart,
and it raises her very high in her own esteem.
"I am not afraid of anything that can be said about me,"
observes Claudie, "for, on knowing the truth, kind-hearted, upright
people will acknowledge that I do not deserve to be insulted."
Her old grandfather, Remy, has completely absolved her.
"You have repented and suffered enough, and you have worked
and wept and expiated enough, too, my poor Claudie," he says.
Through all this she has become worthy to make an excellent marriage.
It is a case of that special moral code by which, after free love,
the fault must be recompensed.
Claudie is later on the Jeannine of the _Idees de Madame Aubray_,
the Denise of Alexandre Dumas. She is the unmarried mother,
whose misfortunes have not crushed her pride, who, after being outraged,
has a right now to a double share of respect. The first good young
man is called upon to accept her past life, for there is a law
of solidarity in the world. The human species is divided into
two categories, the one is always busy doing harm, and the other
is naturally obliged to give itself up to making good the harm done.
_The Mariage de Victorine_ belongs to a well-known kind of literary
exercise, which was formerly very much in honour in the colleges.
This consists in taking a celebrated work at the place where the
author has left it and in imagining the "sequel." For instance,
after the _Cid_, there would be the marriage of Rodrigue and Chimene
for us. As a continuation of _L'Ecole des Femmes_, there is
the result of the marriage of the young Horace with the tiresome
little Agnes. Corneille gave a sequel to the _Menteur_ himself.
Fabre d'Eglantine wrote the sequel to _Le Misanthrope_, and called
it _Le Philinte de Moliere_. George Sand gives us here the
sequel of Sedaine's _chef-d'oeuvre_ (that is, a _chef-d'oeuvre_
for Sedaine), _Le Philosophe sans le savor._
In _Le Philosophe sans le savoir_ Monsieur Vanderke is a nobleman,
who has become a merchant in order to be in accordance with the ideas
of the times. He is a Frenchman, but he has taken a Dutch name out
of snobbishness. He has a clerk or a confidential servant named Antoine.
Victorine is Antoine's daughter. Vanderke's son is to fight a duel,
and from Victorine's emotion, whilst awaiting the result of this duel,
it is easy to see that she is in love with this young man.
George Sand's play turns on the question of what is to be done when
the day comes for Victorine to marry. An excellent husband is found
for her, a certain Fulgence, one of Monsieur Vanderke's clerks.
He belongs to her own class, and this is considered one of the
indispensable conditions for happiness in marriage. He loves her,
so that everything seems to favour Victorine. We are delighted,
and she, too, seems to be in good spirits, but, all the time that she
is receiving congratulations and presents, we begin to see that she
has some great trouble.
"Silk and pearls!" she exclaims; "oh, how heavy they are, but I am
sure that they are very fine. Lace, too, and silver; oh, such a
quantity of silver. How rich and fine and happy I shall be.
And then Fulgence is so fond of me." (She gets sadder and sadder.)
"And father is so pleased. How strange. I feel stifled."
(She sits down in Antoinc's chair.) "Is this joy? . . . I feel . . .
Ah, it hurts to be as happy as this. . . ." She bursts into tears.
This suppressed emotion to which she finally gives vent, and this
forced smile which ends in sobs are very effective on the stage.
The question is, how can Victorine's tears be dried? She wants
to marry young Vanderke, the son of her father's employer, instead
of the clerk. The only thing is, then, to arrange this marriage.
"Is it a crime, then, for my brother to love Victorine?" asks Sophie,
"and is it mad of me to think that you will give your consent?"
"My dear Sophie," replies Monsieur Vanderke, "there are no unequal
marriages in the sight of God. A servitor like Antoine is a friend,
and I have always brought you up to consider Victorine as your
companion and equal."
This is the way the father of the family speaks. Personally,
I consider him rather imprudent.
As this play is already a sequel to another one, I do not wish
to propose a sequel to _Le Mariage de Victorine_, but I cannot
help wondering what will happen when Vanderke's son finds himself
the son-in-law of an old servant-man, and also what will occur if he
should take his wife to call on some of his sister's friends.
It seems to me that he would then find out he had, made a mistake.
Among the various personages, only one appears to me quite worthy
of interest, and that is poor Fulgence, who was so straightforward
and honest, and who is treated so badly.
But how deep Victorine was! Even if we admit that she did not
deliberately scheme and plot to get herself married by the son
of the family, she did instinctively all that had to be done
for that. She was very deep in an innocent way, and I have come
to the conclusion that such deepness is the most to be feared.
I see quite well all that is lacking in these pieces, and that they
are not very great, but all the same they form a "theatre" apart.
There is unity in this theatrical work of George Sand. Whether it
makes a hero of the natural son, rehabilitates the seduced girl,
or cries down the idea of _mesalliances_, it is always the same fight
in which it is engaged; it is always fighting against the same enemies,
prejudice and narrow-mindedness. On the stage, we call every opinion
contrary to our own prejudice or narrow-mindedness. The theatre
lives by fighting. It matters little what the author is attacking.
He may wage war with principles, prejudices, giants, or windmills.
Provided that there be a battle, there will be a theatre for it.
The fact that George Sand's theatre was the forerunner of the theatre
of Dumas _fils_ gives it additional value. We have already noticed
the analogy of situations and the kinship of theories contained
in George Sand's best plays and in the most noted ones by Dumas.
I have no doubt that Dumas owed a great deal to George Sand.
We shall see that he paid his debt as only he could have done.
He knew the novelist when he was quite young, as Dumas _pere_ and George
Sand were on very friendly terms. In her letter telling Sainte-Beuve
not to take Musset to call on her, as she thought him impertinent,
she tells him to bring Dumas _pere_, whom she evidently considered
well bred. As she was a friend of his father's, she was like a
mother for the son. The first letter to him in the _Correspondance_
is dated 1850. Dumas _fils_ was then twenty-six years of age,
and she calls him "my son."
He had not written _La Dame aux Camelias_ then. It was performed
for the first time in February, 1852. He was merely the author
of a few second-rate novels and of a volume of execrable poetry.
He had not found out his capabilities at that time. There is no doubt
that he was greatly struck by George Sand's plays, imbued as they
were with the ideas we have just pointed out.
All this is worthy of note, as it is essential for understanding
the work of Alexandre Dumas _fils_. He, too, was a natural son,
and his illegitimate birth had caused him much suffering. He was sent
to the Pension Goubaux, and for several years he endured the torture he
describes with such harshness at the beginning of _L'Affaire Clemenceau_.
He was exposed to all kinds of insults and blows. His first contact
with society taught him that this society was unjust, and that it
made the innocent suffer. The first experience he had was that of
the cruelty and cowardice of men. His mind was deeply impressed
by this, and he never lost the impression. He did not forgive,
but made it his mission to denounce the pharisaical attitude
of society. His idea was to treat men according to their merits,
and to pay them back for the blows he had received as a child.
It is easy, therefore, to understand how the private grievances
of Dumas _fils_ had prepared his mind to welcome a theatre which took
the part of the oppressed and waged war with social prejudices.
I am fully aware of the difference in temperament of the two writers.
Dumas _fils_, with his keen observation, was a pessimist.
He despised woman, and he advises us to kill her, under the
pretext that she has always remained "the strumpet of the land of
No." although she may be dressed in a Worth costume and wear a Reboux hat.
 See our study of Dumas _fils_ in a volume entitled _Portraits
As a dramatic author, Alexandre Dumas _fils_ had just what George
Sand lacked. He was vigorous, he had the art of brevity and
brilliant dialogue. It is thanks to all this that we have one of
the masterpieces of the French theatre, _Le Marquis de Villemer_,
as a result of their collaboration.
We know from George Sand's letters the share that Dumas _fils_
had in this work. He helped her to take the play from her novel,
and to write the scenario. After this, when once the play was written,
he touched up the dialogue, putting in more emphasis and brilliancy.
It was Dumas, therefore, who constructed the play. We all know
how careless George Sand was with her composition. She wrote
with scarcely any plan in her mind beforehand, and let herself
be carried away by events. Dumas' idea was that the _denouement_
is a mathematical total, and that before writing the first word
of a piece the author must know the end and have decided the action.
Theatrical managers complained of the sadness of George Sand's plays.
It is to Dumas that we owe the gaiety of the Duc d'Aleria's _role_.
It is one continual flow of amusing speeches, and it saves the piece
from the danger of falling into tearful drama. George Sand had
no wit, and Dumas _fils_ was full of it. It was he who put into
the dialogue those little sayings which are so easily recognized
"What do the doctors say?" is asked, and the reply comes:
"What do the doctors say? Well, they say just what they know:
they say nothing."
"My brother declares that the air of Paris is the only air he
can breathe," says another character.
"Congratulate him for me on his lungs," remarks his interlocutor.
"Her husband was a baron . . ." remarks some one.
"Who is not a baron at present?" answers another person.
A certain elderly governess is being discussed.
"Did you not know her?"
"Mademoiselle Artemise? No, monsieur."
"Have you ever seen an albatross?"
"Not even stuffed? Oh, you should go to the Zoo. It is a curious
creature, with its great beak ending in a hook. . . . It eats
all day long. . . . Well, Mademoiselle Artemise, etc. . . ."
The _Marquis de Villemer_ is in its place in the series of George
Sand's plays, and is quite in accordance with the general tone
of her theatre. It is like the _Mariage de Victorine_ over again.
This time Victorine is a reader, who gets herself married by a
Marquis named Urbain. He is of a gloomy disposition, so that she
will not enjoy his society much, but she will be a Marquise.
Victorine and Caroline are both persons who know how to make their
way in the world. When they have a son, I should be very much
surprised if they allowed him to make a _mesalliance_.
George Sand was one of the persons f or whom Dumas _fils_
had the greatest admiration. As a proof of this, a voluminous
correspondence between them exists. It has not yet been published,
but there is a possibility that it may be some day. I remember,
when talking with Dumas _fils_, the terms in which he always spoke
of "la mere Sand," as he called her in a familiar but filial way.
He compared her to his father, and that was great praise indeed from him.
He admired in her, too, as he admired in his father, that wealth
of creative power and immense capacity for uninterrupted work.
As a proof of this admiration, we have only to turn to the preface
to _Le Fils naturel_, in which Dumas is so furious with the
inhabitants of Palaiseau. George Sand had taken up her abode
at Palaiseau, and Dumas had been trying in vain to discover her
address in the district, when he came across one of the natives,
who replied as follows: "George Sand? Wait a minute. Isn't it
a lady with papers?" "So much for the glory," concludes Dumas,
"of those of us with papers." According to him, no woman had ever
had more talent or as much genius. "She thinks like Montaigne,"
he says, "she dreams like Ossian and she writes like Jean-Jacques.
Leonardo sketches her phrases for her, and Mozart sings them.
Madame de Sevigne kisses her hands, and Madame de Stael kneels
down to her as she passes." We can scarcely imagine Madame de
Stael in this humble posture, but one of the charms of Dumas
was his generous nature, which spared no praise and was lavish
At the epoch at which we have now arrived, George Sand had commenced
that period of tranquillity and calm in which she was to spend the rest
of her life. She had given up politics, for, as we have seen, she was
quickly undeceived with regard to them, and cured of her illusions.
When the _coup d'etat_ of December, 1851, took place, George Sand,
who had been Ledru-Rollin's collaborator and a friend of Barbes, soon made
up her mind what to do. As the daughter of Murat's _aide-de-camp_,
she naturally had a certain sympathy with the Bonapartists.
Napoleon III was a socialist, so that it was possible to come to
an understanding. When the prince had been a prisoner at Ham, he had
sent the novelist his study entitled _L'Extinction du pauperisme_.
George Sand took advantage of her former intercourse with him
to beg for his indulgrence in favour of some of her friends.
This time she was in her proper _role_, the _role_ of a woman.
The "tyrant" granted the favours she asked, and George Sand then
came to the conclusion that he was a good sort of tyrant. She was
accused of treason, but she nevertheless continued to speak of him
with gratitude. She remained on good terms with the Imperial family,
particularly with Prince Jerome, as she appreciated his intellect.
She used to talk with him on literary and philosophical questions.
She sent him two tapestry ottomans one year, which she had worked
for him. Her son Maurice went for a cruise to America on Prince
Jerome's yacht, and he was the godfather of George Sand's little
grandchildren who were baptized as Protestants.
George Sand deserves special mention for her science in the art
of growing old. It is not a science easy to master, and personally
this is one of my reasons for admiring her. She understood what a
charm there is in that time of life when the voice of the passions
is no longer heard, so that we can listen to the voice of things
and examine the lesson of life, that time when our reason makes us
more indulgent, when the sadness of earthly separations is softened
by the thought that we shall soon go ourselves to join those who
have left us. We then begin to have a foretaste of the calmness
of that Great Sleep which is to console us at the end of all our
sufferings and grief. George Sand was fully aware of the change
that had taken place within her. She said, several times over,
that the age of impersonality had arrived for her. She was delighted
at having escaped from herself and at being free from egoism.
From henceforth she could give herself up to the sentiments which,
in pedantic and barbarous jargon, are called altruistic sentiments.
By this we mean motherly and grandmotherly affection, devotion to
her family, and enthusiasm for all that is beautiful and noble.
She was delighted when she was told of a generous deed, and charmed
by a book in which she discovered talent. It seemed to her as though
she were in some way joint author of it.
"My heart goes out to all that I see dawning or growing . . ."
she wrote, at this time. "When we see or read anything beautiful,
does it not seem as though it belongs to us in a way, that it
is neither yours nor mine, but that it belongs to all who drink
from it and are strengthened by it?"
 _Correspondance:_ To Octave Feuillet, February 27, 1859.
This is a noble sentiment, and less rare than is generally believed.
The public little thinks that it is one of the great joys of
the writer, when he has reached a certain age, to admire the works
of his fellow-writers. George Sand encouraged her young _confreres_,
Dumas _fils_, Feuillet and Flaubert, at the beginning of their career,
and helped them with her advice.
We have plenty of information about her at this epoch. Her intimate
friends, inquisitive people and persons passing through Paris,
have described their visits to her over and over again. We have the
impressions noted down by the Goncourt brothers in their _Jounal_.
We all know how much to trust to this diary. Whenever the Goncourts
give us an idea, an opinion, or a doctrine, it is as well to be wary
in accepting it. They were not very intelligent. I do not wish,
in saying this, to detract from them, but merely to define them.
On the other hand, what they saw, they saw thoroughly, and they noted
the general look, the attitude or gesture with great care.
We give their impressions of George Sand. In March, 1862, they went
to call on her. She was then living in Paris, in the Rue Racine.
They give an account of this visit in their diary.
"_March_ 30, 1862.
"On the fourth floor, No. 2, Rue Racine. A little gentleman,
very much like every one else, opened the door to us. He smiled,
and said: `Messieurs de Goncourt!' and then, opening another door,
showed us into a very large room, a kind of studio.
"There was a window at the far end, and the light was getting dim,
for it was about five o'clock. We could see a grey shadow against
the pale light. It was a woman, who did not attempt to rise, but who
remained impassive to our bow and our words. This seated shadow,
looking so drowsy, was Madame Sand, and the man who opened.
the door was the engraver Manceau. Madame Sand is like an
automatic machine. She talks in a monotonous, mechanical voice
which she neither raises nor lowers, and which is never animated.
In her whole attitude there is a sort of gravity and placidness,
something of the half-asleep air of a person ruminating.
She has very slow gestures, the gestures of a somnambulist. With a
mechanical movement she strikes a wax match, which gives a flicker,
and lights the cigar she is holding between her lips.
"Madame Sand was extremely pleasant; she praised us a great deal,
but with a childishness of ideas, a platitude of expression
and a mournful good-naturedness that was as chilling as the bare
wall of a room. Manceau endeavoured to enliven the dialogue.
We talked of her theatre at Nohant, where they act for her and
for her maid until four in the morning. . . . We then talked
of her prodigious faculty for work. She told us that there was
nothing meritorious in that, as she had always worked so easily.
She writes every night from one o'clock until four in the morning,
and she writes again for about two hours during the day.
Manceau explains everything, rather like an exhibitor of phenomena.
`It is all the same to her,' he told us, `if she is disturbed.
Suppose you turn on a tap at your house, and some one comes
in the room. You simply turn the tap off. It is like that with
The Goncourt brothers were extremely clever in detracting from the
merits of the people about whom they spoke. They tell us that George
Sand had "a childishness in her ideas and a platitude of expression."
They were unkind without endeavouring to be so. They ran down
people instinctively. They were eminently literary men. They were
also artistic writers, and had even invented "artistic writing,"
but they had very little in common with George Sand's attitude
of mind. To her the theory of art for the sake of art had always
seemed a very hollow theory. She wrote as well as she could,
but she never dreamed of the profession of writing having anything
in common with an acrobatic display.
In September, 1863, the Goncourt brothers again speak of George Sand,
telling us about her life at Nohant, or rather putting the account
they give into the mouth of Theophile Gautier. He had just returned
from Nohant, and he was asked if it was amusing at George Sand's.
"Just as amusing as a monastery of the Moravian brotherhood,"
he replies. "I arrived there in the evening, and the house is
a long way from the station. My trunk was put into a thicket,
and on arriving I entered by the farm in the midst of all the dogs,
which gave me a fright. . . ."
As a matter of fact, Gautier's arrival at Nohant had been quite
a dramatic poem, half tragic and half comic. Absolute freedom
was the rule of Nohant. Every one there read, wrote, or went
to sleep according to his own will and pleasure. Gautier arrived
in that frame of mind peculiar to the Parisian of former days.
He considered that he had given a proof of heroism in venturing
outside the walls of Paris. He therefore expected a hearty welcome.
He was very much annoyed at his reception, and was about to start back
again immediately, when George Sand was informed of his arrival.
She was extremely vexed at what had happened, and exclaimed, "But had
not any one told him how stupid I am!"
The Goncourt brothers asked Gautier what life at Nohant was like.
"Luncheon is at ten," he replied, "and when the finger was on
the hour, we all took our seats. Madame Sand arrived, looking like
a somnambulist, and remained half asleep all through the meal.
After luncheon we went into the garden and played at _cochonnet_.
This roused her, and she would then sit down and begin to talk."
It would have been more exact to say that she listened, as she
was not a great talker herself. She had a horror of a certain kind
of conversation, of that futile, paradoxical and spasmodic kind which
is the speciality of "brilliant talkers." Sparkling conversation
of this sort disconcerted her and made her feel ill at ease.
She did not like the topic to be the literary profession either.
This exasperated Gautier, who would not admit of there being anything
else in the world but literature.
"At three o'clock," he continued, "Madame Sand went away to
write until six. We then dined, but we had to dine quickly,
so that Marie Caillot would have time to dine. Marie Caillot
is the servant, a sort of little Fadette whom Madame Sand
had discovered in the neighbourhood for playing her pieces.
This Marie Caillot used to come into the drawing-room in the evening.
After dinner Madame Sand would play patience, without uttering a word,
until midnight. . . . At midnight she began to write again until four
o'clock. . . . You know what happened once. Something monstrous.
She finished a novel at one o'clock in the morning, and began another
during the night. . . . To make copy is a function with Madame Sand."
The marionette theatre was one of the Nohant amusements. One of the
joys of the family, and also one of the delights of _dilettanti_,
was the painting of the scenery, the manufacturing of costumes,
the working out of scenarios, dressing dolls and making them talk.
 "The individual named George Sand is very well. He is enjoying
the wonderful winter which reigns in Berry; he gathers flowers,
points out any interesting botanical anomalies, sews dresses and
mantles for his daughter-in-law, and costumes for the marionettes,
cuts out stage scenery, dresses dolls and reads music. . .
."--_Correspondance:_ To Flaubert, January 17, 1869.
In one of her novels, published in 1857, George Sand introduces
to us a certain Christian Waldo, who has a marionette show.
He explains the attraction of this kind of theatre and the
fascination of these _burattini_, which were living beings to him.
Those among us who, some fifteen years ago, were infatuated by a
similar show, are not surprised at Waldo's words. The marionettes
to which we refer were to be seen in the Passage Vivienne.
Sacred plays in verse were given, and the managers were Monsieur
Richepin and Monsieur Bouchor. For such plays we preferred actors
made of wood to actors of flesh and blood, as there is always
a certain desecration otherwise in acting such pieces.
George Sand rarely left Nohant now except for her little flat
in Paris. In the spring of 1855, she went to Rome for a short time,
but did not enjoy this visit much. She sums up her impressions
in the following words: "Rome is a regular see-saw." The ruins
did not interest her much.
"After spending several days in visiting urns, tombs, crypts
and columns, one feels the need of getting out of all this a
little and of seeing Nature."
Nature, however, did not compensate her sufficiently for her
disappointment in the ruins.
"The Roman Campagna, which has been so much vaunted, is certainly
singularly immense, but it is so bare, flat and deserted, so monotonous
and sad, miles and miles of meadow-land in every direction,
that the little brain one has left, after seeing the city,
is almost overpowered by it all."
This journey inspired her with one of the weakest of her novels,
_La Daniella_. It is the diary of a painter named Jean Valreg,
who married a laundry-girl. In 1861, after an illness, she went
to Tamaris, in the south of France. This name is the title
of one of her novels. She does not care for this place either.
She considers that there is too much wind, too much dust, and that
there are too many olive-trees in the south of France.
I am convinced that at an earlier time in her life she would,
have been won over by the fascination of Rome. She had comprehended
the charm of Venice so admirably. At an earlier date, too,
she would not have been indifferent to the beauties of Provence,
as she had delighted in meridional Nature when in Majorca.
The years were over, though, for her to enjoy the variety of outside
shows with all their phantasmagoria. A time comes in life,
and it had already come for her, when we discover that Nature,
which has seemed so varied, is the same everywhere, that we have
quite near us all that we have been so far away to seek, a little
of this earth, a little water and a little sky. We find, too, that we
have neither the time nor the inclination to go away in search
of all this when our hours are counted and we feel the end near.
The essential thing then is to reserve for ourselves a little space
for our meditations, between the agitations of life and that moment
which alone decides everything for us.
THE GENIUS OF THE WRITER
CORRESPONDENCE WITH FLAUBERT--LAST NOVELS
With that maternal instinct which was so strong within her, George Sand
could not do without having a child to scold, direct and take to task.
The one to whom she was to devote the last ten years of her life,
who needed her beneficent affection more than any of those she
had adopted, was a kind of giant with hair turned back from his forehead
and a thick moustache like a Norman of the heroic ages. He was just
such a man as we can imagine the pirates in Duc Rollo's boats.
This descendant of the Vikings had been born in times of peace,
and his sole occupation was to endeavour to form harmonious phrases
by avoiding assonances.
I do not think there have been two individuals more different from
each other than George Sand and Gustave Flaubert. He was an artist,
and she in many respects was _bourgeoise_. He saw all things at
their worst; she saw them better than they were. Flaubert wrote
to her in surprise as follows: "In spite of your large sphinx eyes,
you have seen the world through gold colour."
She loved the lower classes; he thought them detestable,
and qualified universal suffrage as "a disgrace to the human mind."
She preached concord, the union of classes, whilst he gave his
opinion as follows:
"I believe that the poor hate the rich, and that the rich are afraid
of the poor. It will be like this eternally."
It was always thus. On every subject the opinion of the one was
sure to be the direct opposite of the opinion of the other.
This was just what had attracted them.
"I should not be interested in myself," George Sand said, "if I
had the honour of meeting myself." She was interested in Flaubert,
as she had divined that he was her antithesis.
"The man who is Just passing," says Fantasio, "is charming. There are
all sorts of ideas in his mind which would be quite new to me."
George Sand wanted to know something of these ideas which were new
to her. She admired Flaubert on account of all sorts of qualities
which she did not possess herself. She liked him, too, as she
felt that he was unhappy.
She went to see him during the summer of 1866. They visited the
historic streets and old parts of Rouen together. She was both
charmed and surprised. She could not believe her eyes, as she
had never imagined that all that existed, and so near Paris, too.
She stayed in that house at Croisset in which Flaubert's whole
life was spent. It was a house with wide windows and a view
over the Seine. The hoarse, monotonous sound of the chain towing
the heavy boats along could be heard distinctly within the rooms.
Flaubert lived there with his mother and niece. To George Sand
everything there seemed to breathe of tranquillity and comfort,
but at the same time she brought away with her an impression
of sadness. She attributed this to the vicinity of the Seine,
coming and going as it does according to the bar.
"The willows of the islets are always being covered and uncovered,"
she writes; "it all looks very cold and sad.
 _Correspondance:_ To Maurice Sand, August 10, 1866.
She was not really duped, though, by her own explanation. She knew
perfectly well that what makes a house sad or gay, warm or icy-cold
is not the outlook on to the surrounding country, but the soul of
those who inhabit it and who have fashioned it in their own image.
She had just been staying in the house of the misanthropist.
When Moliere put the misanthropist on the stage with his
wretched-looking face, he gave him some of the features which
remind us so strongly of Flaubert. The most ordinary and
everyday events were always enough to put Alceste into a rage.
It was just the same with Flaubert. Everyday things which we are
philosophical enough to accept took his breath away. He was angry,
and he wanted to be angry. He was irritated with every one and
with everything, and he cultivated this irritation. He kept himself
in a continual state of exasperation, and this was his normal state.
In his letters he described himself as "worried with life,"
"disgusted with everything," "always agitated and always indignant."
He spells _hhhindignant_ with several h's. He signs his letters,
"The Reverend Father Cruchard of the Barnabite Order, director of the
Ladies of Disenchantment." Added to all this, although there may
have been a certain amount of pose in his attitude, he was sincere.
He "roared" in his own study, when he was quite alone and there was no
one to be affected by his roaring. He was organized in a remarkable
way for suffering. He was both romantic and realistic, a keen
observer and an imaginative man. He borrowed some of the most pitiful
traits from reality, and recomposed them into a regular nightmare.
We agree with Flaubert that injustice and nonsense do exist in life.
But he gives us Nonsense itself, the seven-headed and ten-horned
beast of the Apocalypse. He sees this beast everywhere, it haunts
him and blocks up every avenue for him, so that he cannot see the
sublime beauties of the creation nor the splendour of human intelligence.
In reply to all his wild harangues, George Sand gives wise answers,
smiling as she gives them, and using her common sense with which
to protect herself against the trickery of words. What has he
to complain of, this grown-up child who is too naive and who
expects too much? By what extraordinary misfortune has he such
an exceptionally unhappy lot? He is fairly well off and he has
great talent. How many people would envy him! He complains of life,
such as it is for every one, and of the present conditions of life,
which had never been better for any one at any epoch. What is the
use of getting irritated with life, since we do not wish to die?
Humanity seemed despicable to him, and he hated it. Was he not
a part of this humanity himself? Instead of cursing our fellow-men
for a whole crowd of imperfections inherent to their nature,
would it not be more just to pity them for such imperfections?
As to stupidity and nonsense, if he objected to them, it would be
better to pay no attention to them, instead of watching out for them
all the time. Beside all this, is there not more reason than we
imagine for every one of us to be indulgent towards the stupidity
of other people?
"That poor stupidity of which we hear so much," exclaimed George Sand.
"I do not dislike it, as I look on it with maternal eyes."
The human race is absurd, undoubtedly, but we must own that we
contribute ourselves to this absurdity.
There is something morbid in Flaubert's case, and with equal clearness
of vision George Sand points out to him the cause of it and the remedy.
The morbidness is caused in the first place by his loneliness,
and by the fact that he has severed all bonds which united him to the
rest of the universe. Woe be to those who are alone! The remedy
is the next consideration. Is there not, somewhere in the world,
a woman whom he could love and who would make him suffer? Is there
not a child somewhere whose father he could imagine himself to be,
and to whom he could devote himself? Such is the law of life.
Existence is intolerable to us as long as we only ask for our own
personal satisfaction, but it becomes dear to us from the day when we
make a present of it to another human being.
There was the same antagonism in their literary opinions.
Flaubert was an artist, the theorist of the doctrine of art for art,
such as Theophile Gautier, the Goncourt brothers and the Parnassians
comprehended it, at about the same epoch. It is singularly
interesting to hear him formulate each article of this doctrine,
and to hear George Sand's fervent protestations in reply.
Flaubert considers that an author should not put himself into
his work, that he should not write his books with his heart,
and George Sand answers:
"I do not understand at all, then. Oh no, it is all incomprehensible
With what was an author to write his books, if not with his own
sentiments and emotions? Was he to write them with the hearts
of other people? Flaubert maintained that an author should only
write for about twenty persons, unless he simply wrote for himself,
"like a _bourgeois_ turning his serviette-rings round in his attic."
George Sand was of opinion that an author should write "for all those
who can profit by good reading." Flaubert confesses that if attention
be paid to the old distinction between matter and form, he should give
the greater importance to form, in which he had a religious belief.
He considered that in the correctness of the putting together,
in the rarity of the elements, the polish of the surface and
the perfect harmony of the whole there was an intrinsic virtue,
a kind of divine force. In conclusion, he adds:
"I endeavour to think well always, _in order to_ write well,
but I do not conceal the fact that my object is to write well."
This, then, was the secret of that working up of the style,
until it became a mania with him and developed into a torture.
We all know of the days of anguish which Flaubert spent in searching
for a word that escaped him, and the weeks that he devoted to rounding
off one of his periods. He would never write these down until he
had said them to himself, or, as he put it himself, until "they
had gone through his jaw." He would not allow two complements
in the same phrase, and we are told that he was ill after reading
in one of his own books the following words: "Une couronne _de_
"You do not know what it is," he wrote, "to spend a whole day holding
one's head and squeezing one's brains to find a word. Ideas flow
with you freely and continually, like a stream. With me they come
like trickling water, and it is only by a huge work of art that I
can get a waterfall. Ah, I have had some experience of the terrible
torture of style!" No, George Sand certainly had no experience
of this kind, and she could not even conceive of such torture.
It amazed her to hear of such painful labour, for, personally, she let
the wind play on her "old harp" just as it listed.
Briefly, she considered that her friend was the victim of a
hopeless error. He took literature for the essential thing, but there
was something before all literature, and that something was life.
"The Holy of Holies, as you call literature, is only secondary
to me in life. I have always loved some one better than it,
and my family better than that some one."
This, then, was the keynote of the argument. George Sand considered
that life is not only a pretext for literature, but that literature
should always refer to life and should be regulated by life,
as by a model which takes the precedence of it and goes far
beyond it. This, too, is our opinion.
The state of mind which can be read between the lines in George Sand's
letters to Flaubert is serenity, and this is also the characteristic
of her work during the last period of her life. Her "last style"
is that of _Jean de la Rocke_, published in 1860. A young nobleman,
Jean de la Roche, loses his heart to the exquisite Love Butler.
She returns his affection, but the jealousy of a young brother
obliges them to separate. In order to be near the woman he loves,
Jean de la Roche disguises himself as a guide, and accompanies
the whole family in an excursion through the Auvergne mountains.
A young nobleman as a guide is by no means an ordinary thing,
but in love affairs such disguises are admitted. Lovers in the
writings of Marivaux took the parts of servants, and in former
days no one was surprised to meet with princes in disguise on the
George Sand's masterpiece of this kind is undoubtedly _Le Marquis
de Villemer_, published in 1861. A provincial _chateau_,
an old aristocratic woman, sceptical and indulgent, two brothers
capable of being rivals without ceasing to be friends, a young
girl of noble birth, but poor, calumny being spread abroad,
but quickly repudiated, some wonderful pages of description,
and some elegant, sinuous conversations. All this has a certain charm.
The poor girl marries the Marquis in the end. This, too, is a return
to former days, to the days when kings married shepherdesses.
The pleasure that we have in reading such novels is very much
like that which we used to feel on hearing fairy-stories.
"If some one were to tell me the story of _Peau d'Ane_, I should
be delighted," confessed La Fontaine, and surely it would be bad
form to be more difficult and over-nice than he was. Big children
as we are, we need stories which give food to our imagination,
after being disappointed by the realities of life. This is perhaps
the very object of the novel. Romance is not necessarily an exaggerated
aspiration towards imaginary things. It is something else too.
It is the revolt of the soul which is oppressed by the yoke
of Nature. It is the expression of that tendency within us towards
a freedom which is impossible, but of which we nevertheless dream.
An iron law presides over our destiny. Around us and within us,
the series of causes and effects continues to unwind its hard chain.
Every single one of our deeds bears its consequence, and this goes
on to eternity. Every fault of ours will bring its chastisement.
Every weakness will have to be made good. There is not a moment
of oblivion, not an instant when we may cease to be on our guard.
Romantic illusion is, then, just an attempt to escape, at least in
imagination, from the tyranny of universal order.
It is impossible, in this volume, to consider all George Sand's works.
Some of her others are charming, but the whole series would
perhaps appear somewhat monotonous. There is, however, one novel
of this epoch to which we must call attention, as it is like a
burst of thunder during calm weather. It also reveals an aspect
of George Sand's ideas which should not be passed over lightly.
This book was perhaps the only one George Sand wrote under the
influence of anger. We refer to _Mademoiselle La Quintinie_.
Octave Feuillet had just published his _Histoire de Sibylle_,
and this book made George Sand furiously angry. We are at a loss
to comprehend her indignation. Feuillet's novel is very graceful
and quite inoffensive. Sibylle is a fanciful young person,
who from her earliest childhood dreams of impossible things.
She wants her grandfather to get a star for her, and another time
she wants to ride on the swan's back as it swims in the pool.
When she is being prepared for her first communion, she has
doubts about the truth of the Christian religion, but one night,
during a storm, the priest of the place springs into a boat and goes
to the rescue of some sailors in peril. All the difficulties
of theological interpretations are at once dispelled for her.
A young man falls in love with her, but on discovering that he is
not a believer she endeavours to convert him, and goes moonlight
walks with him. Moonlight is sometimes dangerous for young girls,
and, after one of these sentimental and theological strolls, she has
a mysterious ailment. . . .
In order to understand George Sand's anger on reading this novel,
which was both religious and social, and at the same time very harmless,
we must know what her state of mind was on the essential question
In the first place, George Sand was not hostile to religious ideas.
She had a religion. There is a George Sand religion. There are not
many dogmas, and the creed is simple. George Sand believed firmly
in the existence of God. Without the notion of God, nothing can
be explained and no problem solved. This God is not merely the
"first cause." It is a personal and conscious God, whose essential,
if not sole, function is to forgive--every one.
"The dogma of hell," she writes, "is a monstrosity, an imposture,
a barbarism. . . . It is impious to doubt God's infinite pity,
and to think that He does not always pardon, even the most guilty
of men." This is certainly the most complete application that has ever
been made of the law of pardon. This God is not the God of Jacob,
nor of Pascal, nor even of Voltaire. He is not an unknown God either.
He is the God of Beranger and of all good people. George Sand
believed also, very firmly, in the immortality of the soul.
On losing any of her family, the certainty of going to them some day
was her great consolation.
"I see future and eternal life before me as a certainty," she said;
"it is like a light, and, thanks to its brilliancy, other things
cannot be seen; but the light is there, and that is all I need."
Her belief was, then, in the existence of God, the goodness of
Providence and the immortality of the soul. George Sand was an adept
in natural religion.
She did not accept the idea of any revealed religion, and there
was one of these revealed religions that she execrated.
This was the Catholic religion. Her correspondence on this subject
during the period of the Second Empire is most significant.
She was a personal enemy of the Church, and spoke of the Jesuits
as a subscriber to the _Siecle_ might do to-day. She feared
the dagger of the Jesuits for Napoleon III, but at the same
time she hoped there might be a frustrated attempt at murder,
so that his eyes might be opened. The great danger of modern times,
according to her, was the development of the clerical spirit.
She was not an advocate for liberty of education either.
"The priestly spirit has been encouraged," she wrote. "France
is overrun with convents, and wretched friars have been allowed
to take possession of education." She considered that wherever
the Church was mistress, it left its marks, which were unmistakable:
stupidity and brutishness. She gave Brittany as an example.
 _Correspondance:_ To Barbes, May 12, 1867.
"There is nothing left," she writes, "when the priest and Catholic
vandalism have passed by, destroying the monuments of the old world
and leaving their lice for the future."
 _Ibid.:_ To Flaubert, September 21, 1860.
It is no use attempting to ignore the fact. This is anti-clericalism
in all its violence. Is it not curious that this passion, when once
it takes possession of even the most distinguished minds, causes them
to lose all sentiment of measure, of propriety and of dignity.
_Mademoiselle La Quintinie_ is the result of a fit of anti-clerical
mania. George Sand gives, in this novel, the counterpart of _Sibylle_.
Emile Lemontier, a free-thinker, is in love with the daughter of
General La Quintinie. Emile is troubled in his mind because, as his
_fiancee_ is a Catholic, he knows she will have to have a confessor.
The idea is intolerable to him, as, like Monsieur Homais, he considers
that a husband could not endure the idea of his wife having private
conversations with one of those individuals. Mademoiselle La
Quintinie's confessor is a certain Moreali, a near relative of Eugene
Sue's Rodin. The whole novel turns on the struggle between Emile
and Moreali, which ends in the final discomfiture of Moreali.
Mademoiselle La Quintinie is to marry Emile, who will teach her to be
a free-thinker. Emile is proud of his work of drawing a soul away
from Christian communion. He considers that the light of reason
is always sufficient for illuminating the path in a woman's life.
He thinks that her natural rectitude will prove sufficient for making
a good woman of her. I do not wish to call this into question,
but even if she should not err, is it not possible that she may suffer?
This free-thinker imagines that it is possible to tear belief
from a heart without rending it and causing an incurable wound.
Oh, what a poor psychologist! He forgets that beliefis the
summing up and the continuation of the belief of a whole series
of generations. He does not hear the distant murmur of the prayers
of by-gone years. It is in vain to endeavour to stifle those prayers;
they will be heard for ever within the crushed and desolate soul.
_Mademoiselle La Quintinie_ is a work of hatred. George Sand was
not successful with it. She had no vocation for writing such books,
and she was not accustomed to writing them. It is a novel full
of tiresome dissertations, and it is extremely dull.
From that date, though, George Sand experienced the joy of a
certain popularity. At theatrical performances and at funerals the
students manifested in her honour. It was the same for Sainte-Beuve,
but this does not seem to have made either of them any greater.
We will pass over all this, and turn to something that we can admire.
The robust and triumphant old age of George Sand was admirable.
Nearly every year she went to some fresh place in France to find a
setting for her stories. She had to earn her living to the very last,
and was doomed to write novels for ever. "I shall be turning my wheel
when I die," she used to say, and, after all, this is the proper
ending for a literary worker.
In 1870 and 1871, she suffered all the anguish of the "Terrible Year."
When once the nightmare was over, she set to work once more like
a true daughter of courageous France, unwilling to give in.
She was as hardy as iron as she grew old. "I walk to the river,"
she wrote in 1872, "and bathe in the cold water, warm as I am.
. . . I am of the same nature as the grass in the field.
Sunshine and water are all I need."
For a woman of sixty-eight to be able to bathe every day in the cold
water of the Indre is a great deal. In May, 1876, she was not well,
and had to stay in bed. She was ill for ten days, and died without
suffering much. She is buried at Nohant, according to her wishes,
so that her last sleep is in her beloved Berry.
In conclusion, we would say just a few words about George Sand's genius,
and the place that she takes in the history of the French novel.
On comparing George Sand with the novelists of her time, what strikes us
most is how different she was from them. She is neither like Balzac,
Stendhal, nor Merimee, nor any story-teller of our thoughtful,
clever and refined epoch. She reminds us more of the "old novelists,"
of those who told stories of chivalrous deeds and of old legends, or,
to go still further back, she reminds us of the _aedes_ of old Greece.
In the early days of a nation there were always men who went to the
crowd and charmed them with the stories they told in a wordy way.
They scarcely knew whether they invented these stories as they
told them, or whether they had heard them somewhere. They could
not tell either which was fiction and which reality, for all
reality seemed wonderful to them. All the people about whom they
told were great, all objects were good and everything beautiful.
They mingled nursery-tales with myths that were quite sensible, and
the history of nations with children's stories. They were called poets.
George Sand did not employ a versified form for her stories,
but she belonged to the family of these poets. She was a poet
herself who had lost her way and come into our century of prose,
and she continued her singing.
Like these early poets, she was primitive. Like them, she obeyed
a god within her. All her talent was instinctive, and she had all
the ease of instinctive talent. When Flaubert complained to George
Sand of the "tortures" that style cost him, she endeavoured to admire him.
"When I see the difficulty that my old friend has in writing his novel,
I am discouraged about my own case, and I say to myself that I am
writing poor sort of literature."
This was merely her charity, for she never understood that there could
be any effort in writing. Consequently she could not understand
that it should cause suffering. For her, writing was a pleasure,
as it was the satisfaction of a need. As her works were no effort
to her, they left no trace in her memory. She had not intended
to write them, and, when once written, she forgot them.
"_Consuelo and La Comtesse de Rudolstadt_, what are these books?"
she asks. "Did I write them? I do not remember a single word
Her novels were like fruit, which, when ripe, fell away from her.
George Sand always returned to the celebration of certain great
themes which are the eternal subjects of all poetry, subjects such
as love and nature, and sentiments like enthusiasm and pity.
The very language completes the illusion. The choice of words was often
far from perfect, as George Sand's vocabulary was often uncertain,
and her expression lacked precision and relief. But she had the
gift of imagery, and her images were always delightfully fresh.
She never lost that rare faculty which she possessed of being surprised
at things, so that she looked at everything with youthful eyes.
There is a certain movement which carries the reader on, and a rhythm
that is soothing. She develops the French phrase slowly perhaps,
but without any confusion. Her language is like those rivers which flow
along full and limpid, between flowery banks and oases of verdure,
rivers by the side of which the traveller loves to linger and to lose
himself in dreams.
The share which belongs to George Sand in the history of the French
novel is that of having impregnated the novel with the poetry
in her own soul. She gave to the novel a breadth and a range
which it had never hitherto had. She celebrated the hymn of Nature,
of love and of goodness in it. She revealed to us the country
and the peasants of France. She gave satisfaction to the romantic
tendency which is in every one of us, to a more or less degree.
All this is more even than is needed to ensure her fame. She denied
ever having written for posterity, and she predicted that in fifty
years she would be forgotten. It may be that there has been for her,
as there is for every illustrious author who dies, a time of test
and a period of neglect. The triumph of naturalism, by influencing
taste for a time, may have stopped our reading George Sand.
At present we are just as tired of documentary literature as we
are disgusted with brutal literature. We are gradually coming back
to a better comprehension of what there is of "truth" in George Sand's
conception of the novel. This may be summed up in a few words--
to charm, to touch and to console. Those of us who know something
of life may perhaps wonder whether to console may not be the final
aim of literature. George Sand's literary ideal may be read in the
following words, which she wrote to Flaubert:
"You make the people who read your books still sadder than they
were before. I want to make them less unhappy." She tried
to do this, and she often succeeded in her attempt. What greater
praise can we give to her than that? And how can we help adding
a little gratitude and affection to our admiration for the woman
who was the good fairy of the contemporary novel?