Books by George Sand

Released: Jan. 30, 1999

Two novellas by the celebrated 19th-century French novelist, translated into English for the first time. The novel of manners has come far since the18th century'so far, actually, that by today it has pretty well wandered off the horizon. A growing number of feminists and cultural historians, however, are reexamining the romances and —penny dreadfuls—of earlier periods for insights into the conditions of life for women during these eras, and it will be largely among such readers that these novellas (hardly Sand's best) will find their audience. The Marquise offers an elderly French aristocrat's recollections of the one grand passion of her life: an infatuation she developed for Lelio, an Italian actor at the ComÇdie Francaise. Reversing the usual gender roles (the rich pursuer is a woman, the naive victim male) gives the story a twist, but not enough to make up for the stale plot and hackneyed prose (— —Take pity on me,— he said, —kill me, drive me away— —).On the other hand, Pauline is a more conventional woman-wronged tale. Here, an innocent country girl, emboldened by her childhood friend's success on the Parisian stage, moves to the city in search of fame and fortune—only to be toyed with by a philandering boulevardier who impregnates her while carrying on with her best friend. Although not without touches of wit (—Thus this trite tale ended in marriage, and that was Pauline's greatest misfortune—), the entire narrative resembles a crude outline of Madame Bovary written for children. For the archives only. Sand is an important enough figure to merit posthumous publication and translation, but little here will interest anyone not already very interested in her. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1998

Written in 1873 and most recently appearing in print in English in the 1930s, this tale of a lame, timorous lad who grows out of his "wings of fear" makes a theatrical coming-of-age story, with fantasy elements and antique, but not cloying, sentiments stirred in. Thought to be a simpleton because of his weak leg and timid nature, Clopinet, 11, is apprenticed to a malodorous tailor, a hunchback known as "Pull-To-The-Left" because he is left-handed. Then Clopinet escapes to a cave on the Normandy coast where he can watch the birds, always his favorite occupation. So great is his longing to fly that in moments of extreme feeling or danger he grows wings; he uses them to rescue the feared tailor from drowning, and loses them thereafter until the very end of his life. The self-reliance he learns while living alone takes him through years as a traveler, taxidermist (working only on birds killed by others), and, at last, heir to a childless local baron. Shifting the emphasis from character to plot, Wersba (Whistle Me Home, 1997, etc) reworks Margaret Bloom's 1930 translation (Tales of a Grandmother), preserving the structure and some dialogue but trimming longwinded speeches, minor scenes, and Clopinet's bird observations, tightening the prose, and reducing Pull-To-The-Left's presence. The result is still a leisurely, formally told story, but patient readers will be as absorbed by Clopinet's gentle spirit and profound delight in the natural world as by his occasional transformations. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
HORACE by George Sand
Released: Oct. 2, 1995

First English translation of an 1840s novel that switches between a contemporary sensibility and old-fashioned preachiness as it limns the life of that so-very-19th-century phenomenon: a young man from the provinces with little money and high hopes. Sand's story scandalized French society when it appeared serially in 1842-43, for its heroine, Marthe, is a gentle barmaid who has lovers, bears a child, and yet, unlike the conventional fallen woman of the times, is not only saved by the love of a good man but ultimately prospers. Marthe is the moral foil, the stable center, that contrasts with Horace, her sometime lover who abandons her when she's pregnant and at her most vulnerable. The pair's story is told by ThÇophile, a freethinking medical student and longtime acquaintance of Marthe's who befriends Horace soon after his arrival in Paris. Set in the early 1830s, when poor and ambitious young men flocked to the city to study or to join revolutionaries plotting against the restored monarchy, the novel is a portrait of a society on the cusp. EugÇnie, ThÇophile's mistress, believes in sexual equality, while the corrupt Viscountess LÇonie, whom Horace also seduces, prefers the old orthodoxy. Horace, not yet 20, is one of those people ``who seem to be acting a part, even as they seriously play out the drama of their lives.'' And while Horace plays out his self-centered drama, friends like saintly artist Paul Arsäne and radical leader Jean Laraviniäre nearly lose their lives on the barricades, and ThÇophile nurses cholera victims. Horace has the highest ideals and great charm but manages not only to ruin himself by gambling, extravagance, and indolence, but almost to kill Marthe, whom he claims to love—until she became pregnant. Tame for today, though Horace as a type can still be foundeven if the means of self-destruction may have changed. A voice from the past with something still to say. Read full book review >
FLAUBERT-SAND by Gustave Flaubert
Released: Feb. 10, 1993

A charming exchange between two extraordinary writers, from 1866 to 1876, with an illuminating introduction and continuity provided by Steegmuller (A Woman, A Man, and Two Kingdoms, 1991, etc.). Her translation (assisted by Barbara Bray) captures all of the qualities that led Alphonse Jacobs (who edited the French edition, on which this one is based) to conclude that this may be the finest correspondence of all time. When Flaubert began writing to Sand, she was 62 years old and 17 years his senior; a successful author and playwright; a grandmother with a scandalous past that included affairs with Chopin and Musset; a woman possessed of an independent spirit and an insouciant attitude. Flaubert was past the scandals of Madame Bovary, living in seclusion in Croisset with his aging mother and niece, periodically going to Paris to debauch with his literary friends. Along with their respective preferences and pleasures, families, travels, religion, and politics, the writers discuss their aesthetic principles: Sand scolds Flaubert for ``annihilating'' himself in his literature; for his misanthropic attitudes; for his obsession with form; and for his elitism, writing for ``only twenty intelligent people.'' The younger author defends himself, tactfully praises the many works Sands sends him (although, in truth, he dislikes her writing), and objects to her populism, her optimism, her subjectivity. The letters are flirtatious, even passionate, full of embraces and vows of love, but mostly Sand remains ``chäre maåtre adorable''—more a teacher than a lover, criticizing and affirming—while Flaubert is her ``troubadour'' whose self-deprecation brings out her most nurturing self. Caring, private, revealing: a treasure of friendship and a rare exchange enriched by the careful participation of Steegmuller- -more a tactful mediator than an editor—who has turned the correspondence into a work of art. Read full book review >