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GEORGE SAND by Belinda Jack


A Woman’s Life Writ Large

by Belinda Jack

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2000
ISBN: 0-679-45501-9
Publisher: Knopf

A biography of the 19th-century author that succeeds in highlighting the need for a new account of Sand’s life—without providing one.

Aurore Dupin (better known as George Sand) was controversial and conflicted practically from the day of her birth in 1804. Her father was an aristocrat who had married a prostitute without his otherwise liberal family’s sanction; his death ignited a complex feud between Aurore’s highly imaginative and rather unstable mother (whom she adored) and her socially conventional but politically progressive grandmother (who eventually took over her education). The scenes of public violence and private drama that marked Sand’s early life clearly informed her later career, driven as it was by sexual and political fervor and a remarkable talent for self-dramatization. Jack (French/Christ Church, Oxford) purports to explore the “inner life” of her subject by considering Sand’s mistaken marriage, emergent writing career, and long string of lovers almost exclusively in Sand’s own terms, culled chiefly from her 1854 autobiography and voluminous letters. Jack acknowledges that the story she tells is “highly condensed,” but the intended effect of such “interpretive biography” is a failure, chiefly because of the gaps in the narrative, which render it too incoherent to support any specific view or argument. For example, though Sand’s love affairs are meticulously chronicled, we learn nothing about the processes—inner or outer—by which she established the large and distinguished circle of correspondents that generated her most enduring writing; nor are we offered any account of how and when her relations with her daughter Solonge degenerated, let alone why. Many similarly important developments in Sand’s life appear suddenly as faits accomplis, subject to brief commentary, without sustained explanation or analysis. While such abridgements might be justified in a critical study, they are unacceptable in biography, especially when written for a general readership unfamiliar with Sand to begin with.

Poorly conceived and stylistically weak: Sand deserves more critical and detached treatment.