Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sand's Journal Intime

George Sand, the famous French writer, cigar smoker and lover of artists, died 140 years ago today. A hard working and prolific author of novels, she also wrote plays and an autobiography. Her commitment to the diary form was, however, intermittent. Nevertheless a collection of her personal writings, under the title Intimate Journal - taken from the French Journal Intime - were published in English in 1929, and have been reprinted several times since then.

Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin was born in 1804, in Paris, and educated at Nohant, her grandmother’s estate, and at a convent in Paris. In 1821, she inherited Nohant, and a year later married Casimir Dudevant. In 1831, though, she left Nohant and her husband and went, with two children, to Paris. The same year she published a first novel, Rose Et Blanche, written in collaboration with Jules Sandeau, from whom she took her early pen-name (Jules Sand), and articles in Le Figaro. Her second novel Indiana, in 1832, written under the pen-name George Sand, brought her near instant fame. It told of a naive woman abused by an older husband and deceived by a selfish seducer.

Thereafter, Sand became a celebrity of sorts, famously dressing in men’s clothes much of the time, and having many love affairs, the most famous of which was with the composer Chopin. Her novels, and there were many, were largely romantic, with the heroes often workmen or peasants, living in the countryside of her childhood near Nohant. They were also often autobiographical, coloured by whoever she was involved with at the time, and overtly romantic with love usually conquering obstacles of class and convention.

Sand’s later years were lived at Nohant, comfortably in a relatively stable relationship with a younger artist, Alexandre Manceau, though he died in 1865, ten years before she herself died on 8 June 1876. There is surprisingly little biographical information readily available online about Sand, at least in English - her Wikipedia biography is much more comprehensive in French than it is in English - though some can be found at Notable Biographies and NNDB. There are also a couple of biographical works freely available online: George Sand - Some aspects of her life and writings by Rene Doumic and translated into English by Alys Hallard in 1910 (Internet Archive or Full Books); and George Sand by E. Caro in 1888 (Internet Archive).

Sand was not a committed diarist though she did leave behind some diary writing in the form of letters addressed to lovers and occasional musings on her intimate relations and on her own shortcomings. These were collected together and first published but Williams & Norgate in an English translation in 1929 as The Intimate Journal of George Sand. It has been reissued several times since then - see Googlebooks for a 1977 version by Cassandra Editions, or Chicago Press Review for a 2000 edition.

There are also the diaries - not translated into English as far as I know - that were kept by Manceau. Evelyne Bloch-Dano, author of The Last Love of George Sand: A Literary Biography (translated by Allison Charente, Arcade Publishing, 2013) explains: ‘George Sand had kept a periodic journal during key moments of her life, more to organise her thoughts than to keep a precise record of her days. She lived too much in the present to feel the need. Alexandre [Manceau] decided to record his lady’s activities, meetings, readings, works, and promenades every day, until his death. At first the Diaries were written in the first person, as if Sand was dictating them, but they morphed into the third person after a few weeks. Marceau would also make personal notes throughout the entries, creating an entirely separate character. The Diaries were his own work, even if George added her own details from time to time or occasionally took up the pen in his place.’

There’s very few examples of Sand’s diary entries freely available online. A few quotable quotes from The Intimate Journal can be found at this Blog. But the following extract, concerning her lover, Alfred de Musset, is taken from Rene Doumic’s book; as is the subsequent diary entry from the Goncourt brothers (see Journal des Goncourt) about a visit to Sand.

24 December 1834
‘And what if I rushed to him when my love is too strong for me. What if I went and broke the bell-pull with ringing, until he opened his door to me. Or if I lay down across the threshold until he came out!’

30 March 1862
‘On the fourth floor, No. 2, Rue Racine. [. . .] We could see a grey shadow against the pale light. It was a woman, who did not attempt to rise, but who remained impassive to our bow and our words. This seated shadow, looking so drowsy, was Madame Sand, and the man who opened the door was the engraver Manceau. Madame Sand is like an automatic machine. She talks in a monotonous, mechanical voice which she neither raises nor lowers, and which is never animated. In her whole attitude there is a sort of gravity and placidness, something of the half-asleep air of a person ruminating. She has very slow gestures, the gestures of a somnambulist. With a mechanical movement she strikes a wax match, which gives a flicker, and lights the cigar she is holding between her lips.

Madame Sand was extremely pleasant; she praised us a great deal, but with a childishness of ideas, a platitude of expression and a mournful good-naturedness that was as chilling as the bare wall of a room. Manceau endeavoured to enliven the dialogue. We talked of her theatre at Nohant, where they act for her and for her maid until four in the morning. . . . We then talked of her prodigious faculty for work. She told us that there was nothing meritorious in that, as she had always worked so easily. She writes every night from one o’clock until four in the morning, and she writes again for about two hours during the day. Manceau explains everything, rather like an exhibitor of phenomena. “It is all the same to her,” he told us, “if she is disturbed. Suppose you turn on a tap at your house, and some one comes in the room. You simply turn the tap off. It is like that with Madame Sand.” ’

The Diary Junction

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