Book club

George Sand (1804-76), Indiana

This post introduces the fifth book in our Emotions Book Club, Indiana, published in 1832. The novel was written by the French writer Amantine Aurore Dupin (full name Amantine-Aurore-Lucile-Dupont), under the pseudonym G. Sand, a name which she updated in later works to George Sand.

George Sand
George Sand by Nadar, albumen carte-de-visite, 1866, NPG Ax17907, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sand was born in Paris in 1804, to parents who had married just four weeks earlier. Her mother was a prostitute, and her father died when she was only four years old, meaning that she was raised in her grandmother’s house.  While she was best known for being a writer, she was also an accomplished artist, painting both portraits and landscapes, particularly when travelling later in life. Before the publication of Indiana she made money by decorating boxes and cases of ‘Spa wood.’[1]

Sand is characterised by her biographer, Belinda Jack, as a ‘mischievous, flamboyant rebel at the centre of French intellectual and artistic life.’ She was well known for her cigar smoking (at a time when women were not expected to smoke) and also for cross-dressing, sometimes for fun and sometimes for practical reasons. Sand had many lovers, both male and female. She had, for example, a long romance with the musician Chopin. She was also lovers with the well-known French actress, Marie Dorval. However, Jack argues that it was only her final lover, engraver Alexandre Damien Manceau, with whom she was able to share both love and friendship.[2]

Sand was a prolific writer, writing dozens of novels and plays as well as hundreds of personal letters. Indiana was her first novel, although she had previously collaborated with a lover, writer Jules Sandeau, on other publications. The novel examines the nature of love and desire, and the institution of marriage, through the life of its protagonist, Indiana. It is set partly in France and partly in the French colony of Réunion near Madagascar.

Reunuon
A map of ‘Ile de La Réunion, Colonie Française (Océan Indien)’ by Victor Jules Levasseur in 1850

Indiana, along with many of Sand’s later novels, highlights the troubling situation for women in nineteenth-century France, including women’s lack of freedom in love and the need for reform to marriage law which discriminated against women. In her 1842 preface to the novel Sand says that she was ‘obeying very strong, sincere feelings which overflowed into a series of novels [including Indiana] almost all based on the ill-organized relationship between the sexes due to the constitution of society.’ Sand says that she ‘had to write it’ and that she had ‘yielded to a powerful instinct of complaint and reproach.’ She was influenced, she writes, by a ‘deep and legitimate’ feeling ‘of the injustice and barbarity of the laws which still govern the existence of women in marriage, in the family, and in society.’[3] However, despite this, Sand wrote later in 1852 that she was not writing with any particular agenda in mind:

‘People wanted to see it as a carefully thought-out argument against marriage. I was not trying to do anything like so important and I was completely surprised by all the fine things that the critics found to say about my subversive intentions.'[4]

Indiana was written at the time that realism was beginning to emerge in European literature, in part a reaction against the Romantic movement. As Naomi Schor highlights, this form of writing gave Sand a way of challenging wider romanticised views of femininity, in order to describe the realities of women’s lives, and particularly their status in marriage. Sand gives her own definition of this writing style in her 1832 preface:

‘The writer is only a mirror which reflects them [society’s inequalities and fate’s whims], a machine which traces their outline, and he has nothing for which to apologize if the impressions are correct and the reflection is faithful.'[5]

Contemporaries had mixed views of the novel after its publication. However, Naomi Schor suggests that since the emergence of the second wave feminist movement the novel Indiana has achieved classic status.[6] We hope that you enjoy reading it, and look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  1. See Sand, George pseudonym of Auore Amantine Lucile Dupin, Later Baronne Dudevant on www.oxfordartonline.com
  2. Belinda Jack, George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large, (Penguin Random House, 2001).
  3. George Sand, ‘Preface to the 1842 Edition’, in Sand, Indiana, with an Introduction by Naomi Schor and trans. Sylvia Raphael, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1994] 2000), 10, 13.
  4. George Sand, ‘Introduction’, in Sand, Indiana, (2000), 1852.
  5. George Sand, ‘Preface to the 1832 Edition’, pp. 5-9 in Sand, Indiana, (2000).
  6. Naomi Schor, ‘Introduction’ to Sand, Indiana, (2000), p. xxii.

Further reading:

Belinda Jack, George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large, (Penguin Random House, 2001).

Naomi Schor, ‘Introduction’ to George Sand, Indiana, trans. Sylvia Raphael, Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1994] 2000.

James M. Vest, ‘Dreams and the Romance Tradition in George Sand’s Indiana’, French Forum, Vol. 3, No.1, (January 1978), 35-47.

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