‘Mauprat’ by George Sand, Part 2 – A Woman Ahead of Our Time

 

‘Mauprat’ by George Sand (1837) – 384 pages                     Translated from the French by Mary K. Artois

George Sand (Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) was a woman who was so far ahead of her time that we still haven’t caught up with her. In ‘Mauprat’, Sand gives the reader something new and different, a woman hero, not a heroine but a woman hero.

At the center of ‘Mauprat’ is the love story of Bernard and Edmee. Bernard’s life before meeting Edmee was one of banditry and drunkenness. He falls madly in love with Edmee on first meeting her, but the young lady Edmee does not allow herself to become the victim of a tyrannical and dissolute husband. Here is Bernard, still unable to control his passion:

But I was unable to obey her. My head was turned; I locked my arms around Edmee’s waist, and it was in vain that I tried to loosen them; my lips touched her neck in spite of myself ; she turned pale with rage.”

She will not marry Bernard until he meets her requirements for being civilized. She sets the rules. Edmee transforms her brutal second cousin Bernard from an ignorant coupe-jarret (cutthroat) to a humane and tender human being. Edmee teaches Bernard to subdue his passions, to honor his fellow man, and to respect her personal freedom. In ‘Mauprat’, love leads to social justice.

As the critic Mikhail Mikhailov wrote of Edmee, she was a woman who was “sufficiently educated and idealistic to infuse life with her convictions, ideas, and actions”. Another Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky in the 1840s praised ‘Mauprat’ for “its profound and poetic idea, that of a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman raising a man above his bestial passions”.

George Sand wrote romantic novels that were full of passionate personal revolt and heartfelt feminism, attitudes that went against societal conventions and outraged her early British and American critics.

Here is George Sand in real life writing to a man she may have been having a romance with:

Immodest creature, you do not want a woman who will accept your faults, you want the one who pretends you are faultless – one who will caress the hand that strikes her and kiss the lips that lie to her.”

This was written in 1837, the same year ‘Mauprat’ was published, and it certainly reflects the spirit of that novel.

I could go on and discuss other aspects of ‘Mauprat’ such as it was one of the first novels that was written in serial installments for a magazine, but I think I will leave it with one final quote from George Sand:

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.”

 

Grade:   A

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

13 responses to this post.

  1. Really interesting Tony – especially to hear about the responses of the Russian critics. Thanks.

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    • Hi Mike,
      Yes, whereas the British and American critics were outraged by the feminine independence in the novel, the Russians seemed to take it seriously. The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev had a close personal friendship with George Sand, and Turgenev wrote a novel ‘On the Eve’ later that also had a woman as hero.

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      • I may be wrong about this, but I think the upper echelons of Russian society were keen on French culture — I read this in a book about Russian cuisine, pre and post Soviet so make of that what you will — and they spoke French among themselves (as they do in Tolstoy). So it makes sense that they would have been interested in French literature.
        I find it interesting to look at Wikipedia’s ‘Years in Literature’. These pages are hardly comprehensive: they’re obviously hit-and-miss as contributors discover things and decide to add them to the page in what amounts to an ad hoc list…
        Mauprat isn’t included in 1837 though Dickens is. It’s an Anglo-centric list, as we might expect given the development of the novel at that time (and as WP mostly is anyway, dominated by the US). I was hoping to find a tidy list at the Russian Lit page so that we could compare what was around in the first half of the C19th, but no, it’s too messy to make that easy. What I did find under the heading External Influences/French Lit (where Sand doesn’t get a mention) was “Writers such as Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac were widely influential. Also, Jules Verne inspired several generations of Russian science fiction writers.” (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_literature#Golden_Age)
        I dug out my trusty Aspects of the Novel, which is the nearest thing I have to a survey of world lit, (which made me realise my collection of Lit reference books is nationalistic) but no, the Russians are there in the index, and so is Flaubert and Gide, but Sand isn’t… which is interesting because she was such an early practitioner of the novel as we know it.
        So my little project to dedicate a web page to her seems like A Good Thing to Do. (I have added this post, thank you.)

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        • Hi Lisa,
          I found an excellent article about the influence of George Sand and the novel ‘Mauprat’ on certain Russian writers including Turgenev at JSTOR. Here is the link.
          https://www.jstor.org/stable/25748058?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
          This is probably the best literary article I have read in years.
          To access this entire article you need to login, but you can login using Google.

          Turgenev is actually one of my Russian favorites, because his work is lighter than most. I too have noticed the French/Russian connection.

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          • Thanks, Tony, that’s really helpful. I’ve got it open and am about to read it…

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            • OK, I’ve read it, and it *is* interesting.
              I’ve taken some notes and stashed them in the innards of the Sand website.
              And (you knew this was coming) I’m wondering if I can persuade you to join the team? At the moment it consists only of Dagny, Bill Holloway and me, but we’d welcome you as a co-conspirator and you could cross-post your Sand reviews!

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              • The Team? Is this the George Sand Team? Just let me know which team you would like me to join. Thanks.

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              • it is indeed the George Sand team. The blog is a collaborative blog because like the ones I set up for Zola, Balzac and Maupassant, there is too much for any one person to do all on her own. So enthusiasts are invited to join so that they can post whatever they like as long as it is related to the subject of the blog. Zola’s is the best one so far, because we had learned from what we did with Balzac and it’s been going for a good few years now, see https://readingzola.wordpress.com/. There’s not much on the Maupassant or Sand ones because I only set them up so that we could have the name, and so there’s still plenty to do.
                If you’re interested, say the word, and I’ll send you an invitation which will give you full rights to the blog except the right to delete it!

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              • OK then, sign me up! If you sign me up for the George Sand blog, will I also be able to post to the Maupassant, Zola, and Balzac blogs? I very well could be reading one of those authors also.

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              • Signing up for one doesn’t give you access to the others, but I can send invitations for those ones too. Will aim to do it today, but the sun is shining and the dog is campaigning for a walk…

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              • Yes, sign me up for all three. Thanks.

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  2. Inspirational! You make me even keener to read it, Tony!

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