INFAMOUS WOMAN: The Life of George Sand by Joseph Barry

INFAMOUS WOMAN: The Life of George Sand

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George Sand has been much in evidence lately, what with Curtis Cate's 1975 biography and Ruth Jordan's more modest study of this year (p. 715). Infamous Woman might have been welcome had it not been for this spate of Sandiana; in the event, one is less inclined to make allowances for its flaws. Chief among these is an appalling disdain for English grammar and idiom: Barry turns ""carriage"" and ""riposte"" into verbs, invents words like ""polarly"" and ""duplicitly,"" and burbles of Chopin that ""as tensilely tough as his genius was the fragility of his sexuality."" His approach does have one admirable feature: he insists that the range of George Sand's own sexual experimentation is in no way neurotic or abnormal (Cate spoke modishly of ""nympholepsy""), but a supremely healthy, brave expression of integrated human potential. More determinedly than Jordan, he makes some effort to trace genuine thought and moral commitment in George Sand's novels: for him she is the pioneer androgyne par excellence, Flaubert's ""great man,"" a hero of the ongoing struggle for whole and direct human experience. But this recognition is aborted by Barry's primitive critical vocabulary and clumsy rhetorical posturings; too often it degenerates into noisy cliches about triumph over convention. Cate's book remains the most richly detailed and substantial analysis of the three; Jordan's is perhaps the most attractively realized as a straightforward (if not very ambitious) narrative. Infamous Woman maddeningly fritters away a splendidly sympathetic insight: ""She did not write manifestoes about what life could be in a better society for women and await that miracle; she lived out her life despite the actual odds--and that was her revolutionary act to the end of her life.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1976
Publisher: Doubleday