July 1

1804


George Sand, though if she had been born "today in 2004", rather than "today in 1804", no one could or would have wanted to prevent her from signing her books as Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin Dudevant...

But the question that brings me to this blog-page is not the patriarchal one; rather it is the rather more straightforward: why have I never read her? Her books, anyway - I have read most of her letters back-and-forth with Gustave Flaubert, but that was because I was interested in Flaubert, not in Sand. And on a family holiday in Mallorca, back in 2003, I tracked her ghost down in Valldemossa, where she and her new romantic partner, Frederic Chopin, spent an isolated winter in the monastery, because no one on the island would give rooms to a couple so obviously embroiled in unmarried scandal.

She was, at earlier times, the lover of both de Musset and of Merimée (Prosper, not Stephan), though Chopin was the great passion, and Flaubert possibly the most enduring friend (Julian Barnes's "Flaubert's Parrot" is the place to go for more detail on this); she complained relentlessly that he delivered "desolation" while she delivered "consolation" - though that may actually be why he has endured, and she tends to be forgotten. Nevertheless she influenced, and this by their own admission, Chateaubriand, Tolstoy, Dostoievski, Proust and Flaubert - than which it would be hard to concoct a more illustrious list of names from that epoch. George Henry Lewes wrote that she was "the most remarkable writer of the present century" - and somehow survived the ensuing wrath of Mary Evans (I wonder if Mary chose her pen-name from life-partner GHL, or as a tribute to Madame Dudevant? George Eliot, if you're wondering who this is).

But now, once again: why have I not read her? And why do I never see her books in bookshops, or in libraries, and therefore think to purchase one? And why is it hard to find excerpts on the web? Even in French?

I did find this though, from de Musset to Sand:

               Quand je mets à vos pieds un éternel hommage,
               Voulez-vous qu'un instant je change de visage?
               Vous avez capturé les sentiments d'un coeur
               Que pour vous adorer forma le créateur.
               Je vous chéris, amour, et ma plume en délire
               Couche sur le papier ce que je n'ose dire.
               Avec soin de mes vers lisez les premiers mots,
               Vous saurez quel remède apporter à mes maux.
to which Sand replied :-
               Cette indigne faveur que votre esprit réclame
               Nuit à mes sentiments et répugne à mon âme.
which strangely de Musset did not take as a rejection. And not really all that surprising, because Sand was a skilful reader as well as a skilful writer, and he started the flirtatious game, so why wouldn't she play back? Neither poem meets the criteria for great poetry, but as a pair they may be the finest example of an exchange of accrostic, or acrostic, or abecederian bill-and-coo ever written - if you haven't figured it out yet, go, as he instructs, by "les premiers mots" - the first words, not just the first letter, of each line; she replies in the same code.

Whereas Chopin wrote to a friend that "Something about her repels me”, before beginning a 9-year love affair.




Amber pages



Johann H. Heidegger, theologist of reformation, born today in 1633


Gottfried Leibnitz, the best of all German philosophers, born today in 1646


Louis Bleriot, French aviator (the first to fly the English channel), born today in 1872


Estée Lauder, cosmetics executive, born today in 1908 - two personal stories to tell here, one the school in Warsaw, the other her chief rival, Max Factor...



The first flight around the world completed, today in 
1931 - 8 days, 16 hours. Wiley Post the pilot - and yet another Sherpa Tenzing for my list, the man in the other seat, the man without whom it could never have been done, but who is generally forgotten: Harold Gatty the name on this occasion, Post's navigator.




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