“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved” ~ George Sand
“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.”
Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, first known as Aurore, better known as George Sand is one of my favorite literary figures, not so much for what she wrote, but more for who she was and what she did. For one thing, she had an affair with Frederic Chopin, my favorite composer. But more than that, she did pretty much whatever she wanted to do, which, for a Baroness in the mid 19th century, was quite a feat. Although she resisted the label feminist, Sand’s actions, both deliberate and chance, were quite out of character for her time and her station in life.
Sand left her first husband, the Baron Casimir Dudevant, by whom she had two children. However, it was not this separation that gained her notoriety. Sand was fond of dressing in men’s clothing, which she found to be more comfortable than the restrictive clothing that was fashionable for women at the time. In her heavy pants and jackets, she went where she pleased, places where women were often not allowed such as restricted libraries and museums. Waiters were often confused and did not know whether to address Sand as a man or a woman. Sand also openly smoked cigars and cigarettes, another societal custom reserved for men.
Sand enjoyed flouting society’s traditions, and abhorred the double-standards for men and women: ” . . . people think it very natural and pardonable to trifle with what is most sacred when dealing with women: women do not count in the social or moral order. I solemnly vow–and this is the first glimmer of courage and ambition in my life!–that I shall raise woman from her abject position, both through my self and my writing” (Sand writing in a letter to Frederic Girerd, 1837).
Sand enjoyed affairs with many lovers, including Jules Sandeau, with whom she collaborated on some writing projects and from whom she adopted her pen name, George Sand. Other lovers included Alfred de Musset, a poet and dramatist; Jean Pierre Félicien Mallefille, a novelist and playwright; Chopin of course, and she corresponded with Gustave Flaubert. Sand also had an affair with the Parisian actress Marie Dorval, and in correspondence identifies Dorval as her one true love.
Sand was known as temperamental, bitchy, hard to get along with, a terrible mother, moody, loving, possessive, spirited, and ahead of her time. Sand was a prolific writer, producing several short stories, eighty novels, including Indiana and Lélia, and twenty plays. Lélia is often considered to be one of her most important works. Written in the first person, the character delves into deep introspection, eventually coming to lose respect for the men and society in which she lives, as well as losing her beliefs in love and god.
Sand is often considered to be the most gifted female writer of the 19th century, breaking new ground for women, especially in the area of writing novels:
“The world will know and understand me someday.
But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter.
I shall have opened the way for other women.”
Unfortunately, Sand’s popularity did not extend much beyond her lifetime. Her books were overshadowed by her male counerparts: Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas. And Sand is best remembered as the female writer who wore men’s clothes and smoked cigars.
“Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.”
A few posts ago, I wrote about how Corey and the boys and I used to go the the Outer Banks for day trips. Well, I thought that I had written a poem on one of our first trips down there together, and I had. I found it, and I thought that I would post it as a companion to my piece on George Sand since she was such a believer in being in love, even though she never had much success in long-term relationships.
Collecting Shells on the Beach at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
As we stand together at the shore,
searching for stones
and the smallest of shells,
the outgoing tide pulls the sand
from beneath our feet,
steals our balance,
shifts our perceptions
of what we believe we know.
I catch you watching me,
although you pretend to see
something beyond my shoulder, past
the waves. You comment idly
about the warmth of the water,
the hurried race of the sandpipers against the tide,
the tiny crabs that scuttle past your toes.
I smile inwardly
at your forced air of nonchalance,
for I recognize the charade
for what it belies:
Shades of fear that tug at your heart,
tell you, too soon, too soon.
But I am unafraid,
for I already perceive
what your casual comments cannot conceal.
I have not really come to this place,
where salt water meets solid sand
to sift through the sea’s detritus
for nature’s hidden pearls.
I am here to watch the sun
dip low in the western sky,
to catch the striations
of the rays’ pinks and reds
as they are absorbed by your eyes.
I want to see my reflection
bathed in rich ruby hues,
as I would have you see me,
sensuous and aglow,
so that you will know,
so that you will attend what your heart tries
in earnest to hold at bay.
I want to tell you what I know to be true,
but you must arrive at this epiphany on your own.
This denial is futile—
You cannot stem what cannot be contained.
I was once told
that in the seconds before the sun
gives way to the moon,
in that coming twilight
Ondine arises from the waves,
and casts her magical net on the waters,
hoping to capture her one true love.
And those unaware of what they have seen
will be kindred souls,
mated throughout eternity.
I watch the final band of crimson
dip low on the horizon
and I feel the warmth of your hand
as you lay it gently on my back.
Perhaps, at last, you too
have heard the seduction of the sea nymph’s song.
It is not too soon to heed the call.
The enchantment surrounds us,
dances on the tips of the waves
and pulsates in the air about us.
I think about the legend,
and whether the magic is real.
I pray the sea revealed her soul mate
to Ondine, in the mists of the gloaming
as I have discovered mine,
here, among the pebbles and the shells.
July 19, 2001
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