Before reading Elizabeth Berg’s historical fiction The Dream Lover, my image of the author George Sand was the cigar-smoking, cross-dressing lover of Chopin, as portrayed by Judy Davis in the 1990’s movie Impromptu. George Sand, born Aurore Dupin, is more than her movie stereotype, and halfway through reading Berg’s book, I stopped to find one of George Sands’ novels. I had never read one.
The only book available in my library system was Marianne:
Marilyn French in her essay for the New York Times – More Than the Sum of Her Sex Life – motivated me to read more when she wrote about Sand:
This (Marianne) is one of Sand’s last works, a short pastoral romance, a love story in which the impediments arise not from external events but from the psychologies of the characters themselves. It is charming and utterly believable…One subject frequently found in Sand’s work – the attitudes of propertied men toward marriage and women as appropriate grounds for male exploitation – is only backdrop in this novel, although social pressures are as intricately woven into its fabric as are the joys of nature. The translation is a pleasure to read…
French’s forward in “Marianne” uses almost as many pages as Sands’ story,, but reading her short review of George Sands’ life created a good point of reference. Sands’ “Marianne” is only about 80 pages, and, at first, seems to be a lovely romance between a young woman and her older guardian. But Sands’ auspicious opinions on women and women’s rights quickly seep through the lines, providing a provocative as well as entertaining story. I plan to find more by Sands (she wrote over 100 pieces).
Berg, one of my favorite authors, detours from her usual fare of contemporary issues and follows her research well in delivering a readable and informative story in The Dream Lover about the French writer who has been ranked with Victor Hugo. The story alternates between George’s childhood and her adult life as a writer. No one living at that time could understand her passion – for men (and women), for her children, for writing, for living her own life on her own terms. Perhaps few could understand it today, but more women are willing to try. Because Berg chooses key elements in the author’s life to evoke sympathy rather than criticism of her life decisions, the struggle of wanting it all – a career as a writer, a life as wife and mother, a satisfying romantic relationship – is sad and difficult to follow at times.
But after reading French’s introduction and Sands’ “Maraianne,” I’ve decided to begin again to read Berg’s The Dream Lover – with a better perspective on George Sands and relishing the discovery of how her life influenced her work.