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George Sand

In an era when women writers were considered unladylike, one woman stood out from the rest.  She called herself George Sand in order to protect her true identity.  A French Romantic writer who produced wildly popular novels throughout most of her adult life, Sand was born on July 1 of an aristocratic father and a lower-class mother.  She was reared by her austere paternal grandmother on a country estate in Berry. 

After entering a convent in Paris, she returned to the countryside and led an unconventional life, donning the male clothes that became a mark of her rebellion.  

Her real name was Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin.  Over her literary career, she produced more than 70 novels, 24 plays, and 40,000 letters.  She wrote about everything from love, adventure, and foreign lands to French secret societies.  But her real legacy lay in her own force of personality and the way she defied convention while pioneering a path to independence for other women to follow.

Acclaimed nearly as much for her love affairs with prominent figures as for her writings, Sand was over the course of her life involved with Prosper Merimée, Alfred de Musset (1833-34), Frédéric Chopin, (1838-47), Alexandre Manceau (1849-65), Flaubert, Balzac, Franz Liszt, and other personalities of the time.  Her works influenced Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoi, Gustave Flaubert, and Marcel Proust.  In 1842, English critic George Henry Lewes wrote that Sand was ''the most remarkable writer of the present century.''

Widespread critical attention accompanied the publication of most of Sand's novels, beginning with Indiana (1832), a story of a naive, love-starved woman abused by her much older husband and deceived by a selfish seducer. 

Sand received her education at Nohant, her grandmother's estate, and at Couvent des Anglaises, Paris (1817-20).  In 1822, she married the baron Casimir Dudevant, to whom she bore one son and one daughter.  She inherited Nohant in 1821, but because of her unhappy marriage, she left her family in 1831 and returned to Paris.

In 1831, Sand began writing for the magazine, Le Figaro.  She also contributed to the Revue des Deux Mondes (1832-41) and La République (1848) and was a coeditor of Revue Indépendante (1841).  She befriended several poets, artists, philosophers, and politicians and wrote in a few weeks with her lover Jules Sandeau a novel, Rose et Blanche, under the pseudonym Jules Sand.  The second novel, Indiana (1832), gained immediate fame.  It was followed by Valentine (1832) and Lelia (1833).  After reading Indiana, poet Alfred de Musset wrote an admiring letter to Sand, marking the beginning of a passionate love affair. 

At the age of 33, Sand began an affair with Chopin.  The composer, however, did not at first find her very attractive.  "Something about her repels me," he said to his family.  The 1991 film, Impromptu, covers their first meeting, as the more recent Chopin's Funeral unravels their estrangement.  In the author's own story, A Winter in Majorca, Sand wrote of the relationship's most famous high-note, a four-month island retreat undertaken so that Chopin's tuberculosis might improve and that he might work in peace.  Their relationship ended in 1847 when Sand suspected the composer had fallen in love with her daughter, Solange.

In her early works, Sand's writings show the influence of the writers with whom she was associated.  From the 1840s on, she had discovered her own literary voice, which had roots in her childhood's peasant milieu.  For the rest of her life, she was committed to the ideals of Socialism, which her friend Flaubert rejected in their dispute.  After the failed 1848 French Revolution, Sand settled at Nohant.  From 1864 to 1867, she lived in Palaiseau, near Versailles.

Sand spent the rest of her life writing and traveling.  Throughout her literary career, Sand played an important role in the evolution of the form of the modern-day novel.  Her books, although popular, were also controversial.  She often questioned the sexual identity and gender destinies in fiction.  Sand herself was accused of lesbianism and nymphomania, partly because of affairs with well-known celebrities.  In Consuelo (1843), the musically gifted heroine defies the tragic destiny depicted in Madame de Staël's Corinne (1807).  In her mid-life autobiography, Story of My Life (1854-55), she displaces conventional distinctions separating male from female, fact from fiction, and public life from private.

Besides writing numerous novels, Sand also wrote memoirs, short stories, essays, and fairy tales. 

George Sand died on June 8, 1876.  Following her death, her literary reputation began a slow but steady decline.  By the beginning of the 20th century, her work attracted virtually no attention.  But that wouldn't have bothered the headstrong and iron-willed author.

"The world will know and understand me someday," she once wrote to her critics.  "But if that day does not arrive, it does not greatly matter.  I shall have opened the way for other women."

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