THE STORY OF GEORGE SAND
To the student of feminine psychology there is no more curious and
complex problem than the one that meets us in the life of the
gifted French writer best known to the world as George Sand.
To analyze this woman simply as a writer would in itself be a
long, difficult task. She wrote voluminously, with a fluid rather
than a fluent pen. She scandalized her contemporaries by her
theories, and by the way in w
ich she applied them in her novels.
Her fiction made her, in the history of French literature, second
only to Victor Hugo. She might even challenge Hugo, because where
he depicts strange and monstrous figures, exaggerated beyond the
limits of actual life, George Sand portrays living men and women,
whose instincts and desires she understands, and whom she makes us
see precisely as if we were admitted to their intimacy.
But George Sand puzzles us most by peculiarities which it is
difficult for us to reconcile. She seemed to have no sense of
chastity whatever; yet, on the other hand, she was not grossly
sensual. She possessed the maternal instinct to a high degree, and
liked better to be a mother than a mistress to the men whose love
she sought. For she did seek men's love, frankly and shamelessly,
only to tire of it. In many cases she seems to have been swayed by
vanity, and by a love of conquest, rather than by passion. She had
also a spiritual, imaginative side to her nature, and she could be
a far better comrade than anything more intimate.
The name given to this strange genius at birth was Amantine Lucile
Aurore Dupin. The circumstances of her ancestry and birth were
quite unusual. Her father was a lieutenant in the French army. His
grandmother had been the natural daughter of Marshal Saxe, who was
himself the illegitimate son of Augustus the Strong of Poland and
of the bewitching Countess of Konigsmarck. This was a curious
pedigree. It meant strength of character, eroticism, stubbornness,
imagination, courage, and recklessness.
Her father complicated the matter by marrying suddenly a Parisian
of the lower classes, a bird-fancier named Sophie Delaborde. His
daughter, who was born in 1804, used afterward to boast that on
one side she was sprung from kings and nobles, while on the other
she was a daughter of the people, able, therefore, to understand
the sentiments of the aristocracy and of the children of the soil,
or even of the gutter.
She was fond of telling, also, of the omen which attended on her
birth. Her father and mother were at a country dance in the house
of a fellow officer of Dupin's. Suddenly Mme. Dupin left the room.
Nothing was thought of this, and the dance went on. In less than
an hour, Dupin was called aside and told that his wife had just
given birth to a child. It was the child's aunt who brought the
news, with the joyous comment:
"She will be lucky, for she was born among the roses and to the
sound of music."
This was at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Lieutenant Dupin was
on the staff of Prince Murat, and little Aurore, as she was
called, at the age of three accompanied the army, as did her
mother. The child was adopted by one of those hard-fighting,
veteran regiments. The rough old sergeants nursed her and petted
her. Even the prince took notice of her; and to please him she
wore the green uniform of a hussar.
But all this soon passed, and she was presently sent to live with
her grandmother at the estate now intimately associated with her
name--Nohant, in the valley of the Indre, in the midst of a rich
country, a love for which she then drank in so deeply that nothing
in her later life could lessen it. She was always the friend of
the peasant and of the country-folk in general.
At Nohant she was given over to her grand-mother, to be reared in
a strangely desultory sort of fashion, doing and reading and
studying those things which could best develop her native gifts.
Her father had great influence over her, teaching her a thousand
things without seeming to teach her anything. Of him George Sand
herself has written:
Character is a matter of heredity. If any one desires to know me,
he must know my father.
Her father, however, was killed by a fall from a horse; and then
the child grew up almost without any formal education. A tutor,
who also managed the estate; believed with Rousseau that the young
should be reared according to their own preferences. Therefore,
Aurore read poems and childish stories; she gained a smattering of
Latin, and she was devoted to music and the elements of natural
science. For the rest of the time she rambled with the country
children, learned their games, and became a sort of leader in
everything they did.
Her only sorrow was the fact that her mother was excluded from
Nohant. The aristocratic old grandmother would not allow under her
roof her son's low-born wife; but she was devoted to her little
grandchild. The girl showed a wonderful degree of sensibility.
This life was adapted to her nature. She fed her imagination in a
perfectly healthy fashion; and, living so much out of doors, she
acquired that sound physique which she retained all through her
When she was thirteen, her grandmother sent the girl to a convent
school in Paris. One might suppose that the sudden change from the
open woods and fields to the primness of a religious home would
have been a great shock to her, and that with her disposition she
might have broken out into wild ways that would have shocked the
nuns. But, here, as elsewhere, she showed her wonderful
adaptability. It even seemed as if she were likely to become what
the French call a devote. She gave herself up to mythical
thoughts, and expressed a desire of taking the veil. Her
confessor, however, was a keen student of human nature, and he
perceived that she was too young to decide upon the renunciation
of earthly things. Moreover, her grandmother, who had no intention
that Aurore should become a nun, hastened to Paris and carried her
back to Nohant.
The girl was now sixteen, and her complicated nature began to make
itself apparent. There was no one to control her, because her
grandmother was confined to her own room. And so Aurore Dupin, now
in superb health, rushed into every sort of diversion with all the
zest of youth. She read voraciously--religion, poetry, philosophy.
She was an excellent musician, playing the piano and the harp.
Once, in a spirit of unconscious egotism, she wrote to her
Do you think that my philosophical studies are compatible with
The shrewd ecclesiastic answered, with a touch of wholesome irony:
I doubt, my daughter, whether your philosophical studies are
profound enough to warrant intellectual pride.
This stung the girl, and led her to think a little less of her own
abilities; but perhaps it made her books distasteful to her. For a
while she seems to have almost forgotten her sex. She began to
dress as a boy, and took to smoking large quantities of tobacco.
Her natural brother, who was an officer in the army, came down to
Nohant and taught her to ride--to ride like a boy, seated astride.
She went about without any chaperon, and flirted with the young
men of the neighborhood. The prim manners of the place made her
subject to a certain amount of scandal, and the village priest
chided her in language that was far from tactful. In return she
refused any longer to attend his church.
Thus she was living when her grandmother died, in 1821, leaving to
Aurore her entire fortune of five hundred thousand francs. As the
girl was still but seventeen, she was placed under the
guardianship of the nearest relative on her father's side--a
gentleman of rank. When the will was read, Aurore's mother made a
violent protest, and caused a most unpleasant scene.
"I am the natural guardian of my child," she cried. "No one can
take away my rights!"
The young girl well understood that this was really the parting of
the ways. If she turned toward her uncle, she would be forever
classed among the aristocracy. If she chose her mother, who,
though married, was essentially a grisette, then she must live
with grisettes, and find her friends among the friends who visited
her mother. She could not belong to both worlds. She must decide
once for all whether she would be a woman of rank or a woman
entirely separated from the circle that had been her father's.
One must respect the girl for making the choice she did.
Understanding the situation absolutely, she chose her mother; and
perhaps one would not have had her do otherwise. Yet in the long
run it was bound to be a mistake. Aurore was clever, refined, well
read, and had had the training of a fashionable convent school.
The mother was ignorant and coarse, as was inevitable, with one
who before her marriage had been half shop-girl and half
courtesan. The two could not live long together, and hence it was
not unnatural that Aurore Dupin should marry, to enter upon a new
Her fortune was a fairly large one for the times, and yet not
large enough to attract men who were quite her equals. Presently,
however, it brought to her a sort of country squire, named Casimir
Dudevant. He was the illegitimate son of the Baron Dudevant. He
had been in the army, and had studied law; but he possessed no
intellectual tastes. He was outwardly eligible; but he was of a
coarse type--a man who, with passing years, would be likely to
take to drink and vicious amusements, and in serious life cared
only for his cattle, his horses, and his hunting. He had, however,
a sort of jollity about him which appealed to this girl of
eighteen; and so a marriage was arranged. Aurore Dupin became his
wife in 1822, and he secured the control of her fortune.
The first few years after her marriage were not unhappy. She had a
son, Maurice Dudevant, and a daughter, Solange, and she loved them
both. But it was impossible that she should continue vegetating
mentally upon a farm with a husband who was a fool, a drunkard,
and a miser. He deteriorated; his wife grew more and more clever.
Dudevant resented this. It made him uncomfortable. Other persons
spoke of her talk as brilliant. He bluntly told her that it was
silly, and that she must stop it. When she did not stop it, he
boxed her ears. This caused a breach between the pair which was
never healed. Dudevant drank more and more heavily, and jeered at
his wife because she was "always looking for noon at fourteen
o'clock." He had always flirted with the country girls; but now he
openly consorted with his wife's chambermaid.
Mme. Dudevant, on her side, would have nothing more to do with
this rustic rake. She formed what she called a platonic
friendship--and it was really so--with a certain M. de Seze, who
was advocate-general at Bordeaux. With him this clever woman could
talk without being called silly, and he took sincere pleasure in
her company. He might, in fact, have gone much further, had not
both of them been in an impossible situation.
Aurore Dudevant really believed that she was swayed by a pure and
mystic passion. De Seze, on the other hand, believed this mystic
passion to be genuine love. Coming to visit her at Nohant, he was
revolted by the clownish husband with whom she lived. It gave him
an esthetic shock to see that she had borne children to this boor.
Therefore he shrank back from her, and in time their relation
faded into nothingness.
It happened, soon after, that she found a packet in her husband's
desk, marked "Not to be opened until after my death." She wrote of
this in her correspondence:
I had not the patience to wait till widowhood. No one can be sure
of surviving anybody. I assumed that my husband had died, and I
was very glad to learn what he thought of me while he was alive.
Since the package was addressed to me, it was not dishonorable for
me to open it.
And so she opened it. It proved to be his will, but containing, as
a preamble, his curses on her, expressions of contempt, and all
the vulgar outpouring of an evil temper and angry passion. She
went to her husband as he was opening a bottle, and flung the
document upon the table. He cowered at her glance, at her
firmness, and at her cold hatred. He grumbled and argued and
entreated; but all that his wife would say in answer was:
"I must have an allowance. I am going to Paris, and my children
are to remain here."
At last he yielded, and she went at once to Paris, taking her
daughter with her, and having the promise of fifteen hundred
francs a year out of the half-million that was hers by right.
In Paris she developed into a thorough-paced Bohemian. She tried
to make a living in sundry hopeless ways, and at last she took to
literature. She was living in a garret, with little to eat, and
sometimes without a fire in winter. She had some friends who
helped her as well as they could, but though she was attached to
the Figaro, her earnings for the first month amounted to only
Nevertheless, she would not despair. The editors and publishers
might turn the cold shoulder to her, but she would not give up her
ambitions. She went down into the Latin Quarter, and there shook
off the proprieties of life. She assumed the garb of a man, and
with her quick perception she came to know the left bank of the
Seine just as she had known the country-side at Nohant or the
little world at her convent school. She never expected again to
see any woman of her own rank in life. Her mother's influence
became strong in her. She wrote:
The proprieties are the guiding principle of people without soul
and virtue. The good opinion of the world is a prostitute who
gives herself to the highest bidder.
She still pursued her trade of journalism, calling herself a
"newspaper mechanic," sitting all day in the office of the Figaro
and writing whatever was demanded, while at night she would prowl
in the streets haunting the cafes, continuing to dress like a man,
drinking sour wine, and smoking cheap cigars.
One of her companions in this sort of hand-to-mouth journalism was
a young student and writer named Jules Sandeau, a man seven years
younger than his comrade. He was at that time as indigent as she,
and their hardships, shared in common, brought them very close
together. He was clever, boyish, and sensitive, and it was not
long before he had fallen at her feet and kissed her knees,
begging that she would requite the love he felt for her. According
to herself, she resisted him for six months, and then at last she
yielded. The two made their home together, and for a while were
wonderfully happy. Their work and their diversions they enjoyed in
common, and now for the first time she experienced emotions which
in all probability she had never known before.
Probably not very much importance is to be given to the earlier
flirtations of George Sand, though she herself never tried to stop
the mouth of scandal. Even before she left her husband, she was
credited with having four lovers; but all she said, when the
report was brought to her, was this: "Four lovers are none too
many for one with such lively passions as mine."
This very frankness makes it likely that she enjoyed shocking her
prim neighbors at Nohant. But if she only played at love-making
then, she now gave herself up to it with entire abandonment,
intoxicated, fascinated, satisfied. She herself wrote:
How I wish I could impart to you this sense of the intensity and
joyousness of life that I have in my veins. To live! How sweet it
is, and how good, in spite of annoyances, husbands, debts,
relations, scandal-mongers, sufferings, and irritations! To live!
It is intoxicating! To love, and to be loved! It is happiness! It
In collaboration with Jules Sandeau, she wrote a novel called Rose
et Blanche. The two lovers were uncertain what name to place upon
the title-page, but finally they hit upon the pseudonym of Jules
Sand. The book succeeded; but thereafter each of them wrote
separately, Jules Sandeau using his own name, and Mme. Dudevant
styling herself George Sand, a name by which she was to be
illustrious ever after.
As a novelist, she had found her real vocation. She was not yet
well known, but she was on the verge of fame. As soon as she had
written Indiana and Valentine, George Sand had secured a place in
the world of letters. The magazine which still exists as the Revue
des Deux Mondes gave her a retaining fee of four thousand francs a
year, and many other publications begged her to write serial
stories for them.
The vein which ran through all her stories was new and piquant. As
was said of her:
In George Sand, whenever a lady wishes to change her lover, God is
always there to make the transfer easy.
In other words, she preached free love in the name of religion.
This was not a new doctrine with her. After the first break with
her husband, she had made up her mind about certain matters, and
One is no more justified in claiming the ownership of a soul than
in claiming the ownership of a slave.
According to her, the ties between a man and a woman are sacred
only when they are sanctified by love; and she distinguished
between love and passion in this epigram:
Love seeks to give, while passion seeks to take.
At this time, George Sand was in her twenty-seventh year. She was
not beautiful, though there was something about her which
attracted observation. Of middle height, she was fairly slender.
Her eyes were somewhat projecting, and her mouth was almost sullen
when in repose. Her manners were peculiar, combining boldness with
timidity. Her address was almost as familiar as a man's, so that
it was easy to be acquainted with her; yet a certain haughtiness
and a touch of aristocratic pride made it plain that she had drawn
a line which none must pass without her wish. When she was deeply
stirred, however, she burst forth into an extraordinary vivacity,
showing a nature richly endowed and eager to yield its treasures.
The existence which she now led was a curious one. She still
visited her husband at Nohant, so that she might see her son, and
sometimes, when M. Dudevant came to town, he called upon her in
the apartments which she shared with Jules Sandeau. He had
accepted the situation, and with his crudeness and lack of feeling
he seemed to think it, if not natural, at least diverting. At any
rate, so long as he could retain her half-million francs, he was
not the man to make trouble about his former wife's arrangements.
Meanwhile, there began to be perceptible the very slightest rift
within the lute of her romance. Was her love for Sandeau really
love, or was it only passion? In his absence, at any rate, the old
obsession still continued. Here we see, first of all, intense
pleasure shading off into a sort of maternal fondness. She sends
Sandeau adoring letters. She is afraid that his delicate appetite
is not properly satisfied.
Yet, again, there are times when she feels that he is irritating
and ill. Those who knew them said that her nature was too
passionate and her love was too exacting for him. One of her
letters seems to make this plain. She writes that she feels
uneasy, and even frightfully remorseful, at seeing Sandeau "pine
away." She knows, she avows, that she is killing him, that her
caresses are a poison, and her love a consuming fire.
It is an appalling thought, and Jules will not understand it. He
laughs at it; and when, in the midst of his transports of delight,
the idea comes to me and makes my blood run cold, he tells me that
here is the death that he would like to die. At such moments he
promises whatever I make him promise.
This letter throws a clear light upon the nature of George Sand's
temperament. It will be found all through her career, not only
that she sought to inspire passion, but that she strove to gratify
it after fashions of her own. One little passage from a
description of her written by the younger Dumas will perhaps make
this phase of her character more intelligible, without going
further than is strictly necessary:
Mme. Sand has little hands without any bones, soft and plump. She
is by destiny a woman of excessive curiosity, always disappointed,
always deceived in her incessant investigation, but she is not
fundamentally ardent. In vain would she like to be so, but she
does not find it possible. Her physical nature utterly refuses.
The reader will find in all that has now been said the true
explanation of George Sand. Abounding with life, but incapable of
long stretches of ardent love, she became a woman who sought
conquests everywhere without giving in return more than her
temperament made it possible for her to do. She loved Sandeau as
much as she ever loved any man; and yet she left him with a sense
that she had never become wholly his. Perhaps this is the reason
why their romance came to an end abruptly, and not altogether
She had been spending a short time at Nohant, and came to Paris
without announcement. She intended to surprise her lover, and she
surely did so. She found him in the apartment that had been
theirs, with his arms about an attractive laundry-girl. Thus
closed what was probably the only true romance in the life of
George Sand. Afterward she had many lovers, but to no one did she
so nearly become a true mate.
As it was, she ended her association with Sandeau, and each
pursued a separate path to fame. Sandeau afterward became a well-
known novelist and dramatist. He was, in fact, the first writer of
fiction who was admitted to the French Academy. The woman to whom
he had been unfaithful became greater still, because her fame was
not only national, but cosmopolitan.
For a time after her deception by Sandeau, she felt absolutely
devoid of all emotions. She shunned men, and sought the friendship
of Marie Dorval, a clever actress who was destined afterward to
break the heart of Alfred de Vigny. The two went down into the
country; and there George Sand wrote hour after hour, sitting by
her fireside, and showing herself a tender mother to her little
This life lasted for a while, but it was not the sort of life that
would now content her. She had many visitors from Paris, among
them Sainte-Beuve, the critic, who brought with him Prosper
Merimee, then unknown, but later famous as master of revels to the
third Napoleon and as the author of Carmen. Merimee had a certain
fascination of manner, and the predatory instincts of George Sand
were again aroused. One day, when she felt bored and desperate,
Merimee paid his court to her, and she listened to him. This is
one of the most remarkable of her intimacies, since it began,
continued, and ended all in the space of a single week. When
Merimee left Nohant, he was destined never again to see George
Sand, except long afterward at a dinner-party, where the two
stared at each other sharply, but did not speak. This affair,
however, made it plain that she could not long remain at Nohant,
and that she pined for Paris.
Returning thither, she is said to have set her cap at Victor Hugo,
who was, however, too much in love with himself to care for any
one, especially a woman who was his literary rival. She is said
for a time to have been allied with Gustave Planche, a dramatic
critic; but she always denied this, and her denial may be taken as
quite truthful. Soon, however, she was to begin an episode which
has been more famous than any other in her curious history, for
she met Alfred de Musset, then a youth of twenty-three, but
already well known for his poems and his plays.
Musset was of noble birth. He would probably have been better for
a plebeian strain, since there was in him a touch of the
degenerate. His mother's father had published a humanitarian poem
on cats. His great-uncle had written a peculiar novel. Young
Alfred was nervous, delicate, slightly epileptic, and it is
certain that he was given to dissipation, which so far had
affected his health only by making him hysterical. He was an
exceedingly handsome youth, with exquisite manners, "dreamy rather
than dazzling eyes, dilated nostrils, and vermilion lips half
opened." Such was he when George Sand, then seven years his
senior, met him.
There is something which, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, seems far more
absurd than pathetic about the events which presently took place.
A woman like George Sand at thirty was practically twice the age
of this nervous boy of twenty-three, who had as yet seen little of
the world. At first she seemed to realize the fact herself; but
her vanity led her to begin an intrigue, which must have been
almost wholly without excitement on her part, but which to him,
for a time, was everything in the world.
Experimenting, as usual, after the fashion described by Dumas, she
went with De Musset for a "honeymoon" to Fontainebleau. But they
could not stay there forever, and presently they decided upon a
journey to Italy. Before they went, however, they thought it
necessary to get formal permission from Alfred's mother!
Naturally enough, Mme. de Musset refused consent. She had read
George Sand's romances, and had asked scornfully:
"Has the woman never in her life met a gentleman?"
She accepted the relations between them, but that she should be
asked to sanction this sort of affair was rather too much, even
for a French mother who has become accustomed to many strange
things. Then there was a curious happening. At nine o'clock at
night, George Sand took a cab and drove to the house of Mme. de
Musset, to whom she sent up a message that a lady wished to see
her. Mme. de Musset came down, and, finding a woman alone in a
carriage, she entered it. Then George Sand burst forth in a
torrent of sentimental eloquence. She overpowered her lover's
mother, promised to take great care of the delicate youth, and
finally drove away to meet Alfred at the coach-yard.
They started off in the mist, their coach being the thirteenth to
leave the yard; but the two lovers were in a merry mood, and
enjoyed themselves all the way from Paris to Marseilles. By
steamer they went to Leghorn; and finally, in January, 1834, they
took an apartment in a hotel at Venice. What had happened that
their arrival in Venice should be the beginning of a quarrel, no
one knows. George Sand has told the story, and Paul de Musset--
Alfred's brother--has told the story, but each of them has
doubtless omitted a large part of the truth.
It is likely that on their long journey each had learned too much
of the other. Thus, Paul de Musset says that George Sand made
herself outrageous by her conversation, telling every one of her
mother's adventures in the army of Italy, including her relations
with the general-in-chief. She also declared that she herself was
born within a month of her parents' wedding-day. Very likely she
did say all these things, whether they were true or not. She had
set herself to wage war against conventional society, and she did
everything to shock it.
On the other hand, Alfred de Musset fell ill after having lost ten
thousand francs in a gambling-house. George Sand was not fond of
persons who were ill. She herself was working like a horse,
writing from eight to thirteen hours a day. When Musset collapsed
she sent for a handsome young Italian doctor named Pagello, with
whom she had struck up a casual acquaintance. He finally cured
Musset, but he also cured George Sand of any love for Musset.
Before long she and Pagello were on their way back to Paris,
leaving the poor, fevered, whimpering poet to bite his nails and
think unutterable things. But he ought to have known George Sand.
After that, everybody knew her. They knew just how much she cared
when she professed to care, and when she acted as she acted with
Pagello no earlier lover had any one but himself to blame.
Only sentimentalists can take this story seriously. To them it has
a sort of morbid interest. They like to picture Musset raving and
shouting in his delirium, and then, to read how George Sand sat on
Pagello's knees, kissing him and drinking out of the same cup. But
to the healthy mind the whole story is repulsive--from George
Sand's appeal to Mme. de Musset down to the very end, when Pagello
came to Paris, where his broken French excited a polite ridicule.
There was a touch of genuine sentiment about the affair with Jules
Sandeau; but after that, one can only see in George Sand a half-
libidinous grisette, such as her mother was before her, with a
perfect willingness to experiment in every form of lawless love.
As for Musset, whose heart she was supposed to have broken, within
a year he was dangling after the famous singer, Mme. Malibran, and
writing poems to her which advertised their intrigue.
After this episode with Pagello, it cannot be said that the life
of George Sand was edifying in any respect, because no one can
assume that she was sincere. She had loved Jules Sandeau as much
as she could love any one, but all the rest of her intrigues and
affinities were in the nature of experiments. She even took back
Alfred de Musset, although they could never again regard each
other without suspicion. George Sand cut off all her hair and gave
it to Musset, so eager was she to keep him as a matter of
conquest; but he was tired of her, and even this theatrical trick
was of no avail.
She proceeded to other less known and less humiliating adventures.
She tried to fascinate the artist Delacroix. She set her cap at
Franz Liszt, who rather astonished her by saying that only God was
worthy to be loved. She expressed a yearning for the affections of
the elder Dumas; but that good-natured giant laughed at her, and
in fact gave her some sound advice, and let her smoke
unsentimentally in his study. She was a good deal taken with a
noisy demagogue named Michel, a lawyer at Bourges, who on one
occasion shut her up in her room and harangued her on sociology
until she was as weary of his talk as of his wooden shoes, his
shapeless greatcoat, his spectacles, and his skull-cap, Balzac
felt her fascination, but cared nothing for her, since his love
was given to Mme. Hanska.
In the meanwhile, she was paying visits to her husband at Nohant,
where she wrangled with him over money matters, and where he would
once have shot her had the guests present not interfered. She
secured her dowry by litigation, so that she was well off, even
without her literary earnings. These were by no means so large as
one would think from her popularity and from the number of books
she wrote. It is estimated that her whole gains amounted to about
a million francs, extending over a period of forty-five years. It
is just half the amount that Trollope earned in about the same
period, and justifies his remark--"adequate, but not splendid."
One of those brief and strange intimacies that marked the career
of George Sand came about in a curious way. Octave Feuillet, a man
of aristocratic birth, had set himself to write novels which
portrayed the cynicism and hardness of the upper classes in
France. One of these novels, Sibylle, excited the anger of George
Sand. She had not known Feuillet before; yet now she sought him
out, at first in order to berate him for his book, but in the end
to add him to her variegated string of lovers.
It has been said of Feuillet that he was a sort of "domesticated
Musset." At any rate, he was far less sensitive than Musset, and
George Sand was about seventeen years his senior. They parted
after a short time, she going her way as a writer of novels that
were very different from her earlier ones, while Feuillet grew
more and more cynical and even stern, as he lashed the abnormal,
neuropathic men and women about him.
The last great emotional crisis in George Sand's life was that
which centers around her relations with Frederic Chopin. Chopin
was the greatest genius who ever loved her. It is rather odd that
he loved her. She had known him for two years, and had not
seriously thought of him, though there is a story that when she
first met him she kissed him before he had even been presented to
her. She waited two years, and in those two years she had three
lovers. Then at last she once more met Chopin, when he was in a
state of melancholy, because a Polish girl had proved unfaithful
It was the psychological moment; for this other woman, who was a
devourer of hearts, found him at a piano, improvising a
lamentation. George Sand stood beside him, listening. When he
finished and looked up at her, their eyes met. She bent down
without a word and kissed him on the lips.
What was she like when he saw her then? Grenier has described her
in these words:
She was short and stout, but her face attracted all my attention,
the eyes especially. They were wonderful eyes--a little too close
together, it may be, large, with full eyelids, and black, very
black, but by no means lustrous; they reminded me of unpolished
marble, or rather of velvet, and this gave a strange, dull, even
cold expression to her countenance. Her fine eyebrows and these
great placid eyes gave her an air of strength and dignity which
was not borne out by the lower part of her face. Her nose was
rather thick and not over shapely. Her mouth was also rather
coarse, and her chin small. She spoke with great simplicity, and
her manners were very quiet.
Such as she was, she attached herself to Chopin for eight years.
At first they traveled together very quietly to Majorca; and
there, just as Musset had fallen ill at Venice, Chopin became
feverish and an invalid. "Chopin coughs most gracefully," George
Sand wrote of him, and again:
Chopin is the most inconstant of men. There is nothing permanent
about him but his cough.
It is not surprising if her nerves sometimes gave way. Acting as
sick nurse, writing herself with rheumatic fingers, robbed by
every one about her, and viewed with suspicion by the peasants
because she did not go to church, she may be perhaps excused for
her sharp words when, in fact, her deeds were kind.
Afterward, with Chopin, she returned to Paris, and the two lived
openly together for seven years longer. An immense literature has
grown around the subject of their relations. To this literature
George Sand herself contributed very largely. Chopin never wrote a
word; but what he failed to do, his friends and pupils did
Probably the truth is somewhat as one might expect. During the
first period of fascination, George Sand was to Chopin what she
had been to Sandeau and to Musset; and with her strange and subtle
ways, she had undermined his health. But afterward that sort of
love died out, and was succeeded by something like friendship. At
any rate, this woman showed, as she had shown to others, a vast
maternal kindness. She writes to him finally as "your old woman,"
and she does wonders in the way of nursing and care.
But in 1847 came a break between the two. Whatever the mystery of
it may be, it turns upon what Chopin said of Sand:
"I have never cursed any one, but now I am so weary of life that I
am near cursing her. Yet she suffers, too, and more, because she
grows older as she grows more wicked."
In 1848, Chopin gave his last concert in Paris, and in 1849 he
died. According to some, he was the victim of a Messalina.
According to others, it was only "Messalina" that had kept him
alive so long.
However, with his death came a change in the nature of George
Sand. Emotionally, she was an extinct volcano. Intellectually, she
was at her very best. She no longer tore passions into tatters,
but wrote naturally, simply, stories of country life and tales for
children. In one of her books she has given an enduring picture of
the Franco-Prussian War. There are many rather pleasant
descriptions of her then, living at Nohant, where she made a
curious figure, bustling about in ill-fitting costumes, and
smoking interminable cigarettes.
She had lived much, and she had drunk deep of life, when she died
in 1876. One might believe her to have been only a woman of
perpetual liaisons. Externally she was this, and yet what did
Balzac, that great master of human psychology, write of her in the
intimacy of a private correspondence?
She is a female bachelor. She is an artist. She is generous. She
is devoted. She is chaste. Her dominant characteristics are those
of a man, and therefore, she is not to be regarded as a woman. She
is an excellent mother, adored by her children. Morally, she is
like a lad of twenty; for in her heart of hearts, she is more than
chaste--she is a prude. It is only in externals that she comports
herself as a Bohemian. All her follies are titles to glory in the
eyes of those whose souls are noble.
A curious verdict this! Her love-life seems almost that of neither
man nor woman, but of an animal. Yet whether she was in reality
responsible for what she did, when we consider her strange
heredity, her wretched marriage, the disillusions of her early
life--who shall sit in judgment on her, since who knows all?