The Dream Lover and Marianne

9780812993158_p0_v1_s260x420Before 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.


What’s In A Name? “Nom de Plume” Reveals All

Hiding a real identity sounds seductive and a little criminal, but writers have been using pseudonyms to mask their real names for a while.  Carmela Ciuraru focuses on a small group of famous writers and the reasons behind their deceit – some we already know about, but in each case, Ciuraru gives us more information than we may know, and feeds our hunger to know the person behind the name.

Why do writers use another name? In the case of the  Brontë sisters, it may have been the hope of better reviews, in a time when women were relegated to nonliterary pursuits. For Charlotte, aka Currer Bell, it worked – not so much for her sisters, Emily and Anne.

Trapped in an arranged marriage, George Sand (whose real name was Aurore) escaped to Paris.  With mentors like Balzac, Zola, Dumas, and Flaubert, she found the courage to write and publish – but under a man’s name. Her real life was bohemian for the times, living with her lover for six months and then returning to her country home to care for her child the other half of the year.  She flaunted her rebelliousness – smoking cigars, wearing sturdy boots; her disguise went beyond using another name.

Through sixteen chapters, Ciuraru explores the lives and writings of those we knew by another name, sometimes another life – from George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, and O’Henry to Pauline Réage – and more.  Her style can be academic at times, but through her careful research, the information becomes biographical.  You may not want to read about all the authors, but it is possible to pick and choose, since each chapter is a story itself and each author is clearly identified in the chapter title.

As one who has used a pseudonym, I found myself immersed in the stories of the writers.  For most, their reasons for hiding behind another name were understandable; eventually, readers discovered the real name anyway.  But, for a time, they were able to stay secluded in their own worlds – without criticism or exposure – and keeping a piece of themselves to themselves – hard to do when you write.

“Never to be yourself and yet always – that is the problem.”                        Virginia Woolf

Carmela Ciuraru wrote an essay for the New York Times Book Review about pseudonyms that could be an introduction to her book – and she used her own name.

Read Ciuraru’s New York Times Article:  The Rise and Fall of Pseudonyms