Indiana: Our Readers’ Verdicts

Our book group met at Mycenae House on Friday 15 June to discuss George Sand’s first novel, Indiana. We debated the degree of agency that Indiana has as a character. On the one hand, she spends much of the story languishing on a sofa, dying of grief and despair, waiting for a messiah to come and save her. She saves her love ‘“as a reward for my deliverer”’, having exchanged one master (her father) for another (her husband Colonel Delmare, who is much older than her). The couple are compared to a ‘newly-opened flower in an antiquated vase’, characterising Indiana as a ‘tender plant’ unable to escape from her captivity.

On the other hand, the book revolves around Indiana as a character, and she shows a steely edge as to what she will and will not tolerate from her fickle lover Raymon. Through her tenacious and direct letters, she stands up for her love. Indiana’s husband Colonel Delmare is equally intimidated by the strength of her convictions: rather than stooping to his level, her submission to his will is ‘still and haughty. She always obeyed in silence. But it was the silence and the submission of a slave who has made a virtue of hatred and a merit of misfortune’. Indiana therefore exercises power through her calm indifference, and cold obedience to her husband’s will, which irritates him ‘much more than a skilful rebellion would have done’.

Raymon pleads with Indiana in an illustrated edition of the novel by Tony Johannot (1853), National Library of France.

Throughout the novel, Sand contrasts the emotional expectations placed upon men and women – while the former are physically courageous, fearless, and often impetuous and irascible, the latter are more modest, emotionally sensitive, lacking in reason, and prone to tears. As the historian Ute Frevert argues in her book Emotions in History – Lost and Found (2011), men were seen to possess a ‘creative mind’ able to exercise reason and make cold decisions, but were also associated with harshness, courage, rigour, and ‘hot passions’ such as anger. In contrast, women were generally perceived as ‘the sensitive sex’, associated with softness, gentleness, grace, and compassion.[1]

Our group discussed Sand’s presentation of marriage as a stifling institution that binds women into slavery:

Was she not born to love him, this enslaved woman who was only waiting for a sign in order to break her chain, for a word in order to follow him? Surely the heavens had created for Raymon this sad child of Bourbon Island whom no one had loved and who, but for him, was bound to die.

We discussed how all of the books we have read so far in this group – Letters of a Peruvian Woman (1747), A Sicilian Romance (1790), A Simple Story (1791) and Lolly Willowes (1926) – show women resisting convention and railing against their confinement. This is both metaphorical (confined in marriage and the domestic sphere) and literal (imprisoned in castles, convents, and ships).

Indiana & Ralph
Indiana and Ralph in illustrated edition of the novel by Tony Johannot and Maurice Sand, published by Hetzel (1861), National Library of France.

Readers thought that the best part of the book was the unexpected double suicide of Indiana and her cousin Ralph, at the novel’s climax, where ‘Ralph took his fiancee in his arms and carried her off to plunge with her into the torrent…’ They found it an absorbing plot twist, even with the subsequent discovery that the couple survived, after mistakenly jumping from the wrong part of the path. However, readers noted that even then Indiana does not act herself, but is physically carried off the cliff to her (presumed) death.

We hoped that you enjoyed reading Indiana. In July we will be reading The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts – the first novel published by an enslaved woman. Do look out for our introductory blog post later this week!

[1] Ute Frevert, Emotions in History – Lost and Found (Budapest, 2011), ‘Emotional Topographies of Gender’, pp. 105-119.

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