Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg: Imagining George Sand

George Sand narrates her life story in two time lines in The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg; one story line starts at the beginning of her life; the other starts when she leaves her husband for Paris where she reinvents herself.

The novel feels 19th c. in language--a time I feel quite at home in. George dominates the book, of course, as does her sensibility, and the reader will feel a knowledge of George. There are many pithy epigrams on life and love.

Berg allows other's viewpoints of George to play out in dialogue. When Franz and Arabella Liszt and George and her children are living together, Frantz warns George of her self-destructive proclivity to chose the wrong men, men who need her maternal care. George confuses being needed and being loved.

The real George Sand has been lost in the many tales and rumors that surround her. Did she have a sexual relationship with her friend the actress Maria Dorval? Berg offers us one liaison between them. Was she a good mother? Was her tough love regarding her daughter Solange justified? Were George's attitudes about sex and love philosophical, an emotional crutch, or a compulsion of need?

George Sand was born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin in 1804. Her father married his mistress against his mother's will, but after her son's death she took her granddaughter under her care. She married badly, and left her family to live in Paris. She wore men's clothing to allow freedom to attend the theater for her reviews and smoked a cigar. To be judged equally to male writers she took the pen name of George Sand; George to sound more English and Sand for her lovers last name.
George was notorious for flaunting convention and living a Bohemian life. She wanted equality and freedom, the end of double standards. She had a romantic sensibility and wherever she found a kindred spirit she would fall in love. She was connected romantically with a series of (usually younger) writers, poets, and musicians including Frederick Chopin. At the same time George was very maternal and domestic, educating her children and making jam and needlework.

Balzac, Flaubert, and Victor Hugo were among her friends and literary admirers. Sand wrote several books a year, as well as plays, keeping to a strict writing regime. She was hugely successful in reputation and financially. Yet today we mostly think of her as a cross-dressing iconoclast who went through a lot of lovers.

The Dream Lover will appeal to readers interested in historical fiction, romance novels, and even to those of a literary bent--like myself--who want an introduction to a writer much neglected in our English speaking culture. I have obtained a Guttenberg copy of Indiana to learn more about George as a writer. I have not got far yet, but the novel starts with an charged scene between an emotionally frail wife and her tyrannical brute of a husband who goes out to shot a trespasser. There was a reason why George was an immediate success!

To put George into perspective, 1832 saw the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Roger Malvern's Funeral, Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra,and Tennyson's Lady of Shalott. Honore Balzac published four novels to George Sands' (and Walter Scott's) two, but Edward Bulwar-Lytton, Benjamin Disraeli, Alexander Pushkin published only one novel. Not bad for a single mother of two!

In 1832 Charles Darwin was voyaging on the HMS Beagle; Henry Schoolcraft found the source of the Mississippi River; Andrew Jackson became President; Sir Walter Scott died; and Louisa May Alcott and Lewis Carroll were born.

George has been called the first professional female writer. Not everyone will feel comfortable with her, but one has to be impressed with her achievements.

I requested this book because I had read Elizabeth Berg's early novels and recalled liking them. I received the free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Dream Lover
Elizabeth Berg
Random House
Publication Date: March 31, 2015
$28.00 hardbbound

Advance praise for The Dream Lover
“Elizabeth Berg is both tender and unflinching as she explores the heart of the enigmatic writer George Sand. Her lyrical prose caused me to pause and savor the words. With an eloquence of the heart worthy of her subject, Elizabeth Berg gives us a very human portrait of a nineteenth-century legend who dared to live and speak freely.”—Nancy Horan

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