Monday, 29 June 2015

George Eliot& George Sand

Yesterday I was working on a post called "Some wonderful letters by George Sand", then I felt it might have been a bit long, and decided to paste it in Word. Turned out, that post was more 14000 words! 
Which means that it won't be published. Or maybe it will be published in a series of posts. Or heavily cut. 
Anyway, as I was rereading parts of The George Sand- Gustave Flaubert Letters (translated by A. L. McKenzie), I discovered something interesting- in many passages George Sand sounds just like George Eliot. 
For example, look at this:
"“Not put one’s heart into what one writes?” I don’t understand at all, oh! not at all! As for me, I think that one can not put anything else into it. Can one separate one’s mind from one’s heart? Is it something different? Can sensation itself limit itself? Can existence divide itself? In short, not to give oneself entirely to one’s work, seems to me as impossible as to weep with something else than one’s eyes, and to think with something else than one’s brain." 
A while ago there was a post on this blog about a discussion between her and Flaubert, who had opposing views, on whether the author should express their opinions in a literary work. The other George, we all know, wrote didactic novels and often used intrusive narrators, and could have called impersonality "a sort of idiocy which is peculiar to me" as George Sand did, and said "I attach less importance to [style] than you do". 
The French George talked about love for humanity: 
"And what, you want me to stop loving? You want me to say that I have been mistaken all my life, that humanity is contemptible, hateful, that it has always been and always will be so? And you chide my anguish as a weakness, and puerile regret for a lost illusion? You assert that the people has always been ferocious, the priest always hypocritical, the bourgeois always cowardly, the soldier always brigand, the peasant always stupid? You say that you have known all that ever since your youth and you rejoice that you never have doubted it, because maturity has not brought you any disappointment; have you not been young then? Ah! We are entirely different, for I have never ceased to be young, if being young is always loving." 
And her optimism: 
"One needs to see the putting-on of a play in order to understand that, and if one is not armed with humor and inner zest for the study of human nature in the actual individuals whom the fiction is to mask, there is much to rage about. But I don’t rage any more, I laugh; I know too much of all that to get excited about it, and I shall tell you some fine stories about it when we meet.
However, as I am an optimist just the same, I look at the good side of things and people; but the truth is that everything is bad and everything is good in this world." 
"... And YET, in the midst of all that, my soul exults and has ecstasies of faith; these terrific lessons which are necessary for us to understand our imbecility, must be of use to us. We are perhaps making our last return to the ways of the old world. There are sharp and clear principles for everyone today that ought to extricate them from this torment. Nothing is useless in the material order of the universe. The moral order cannot escape the law. Bad engenders good..." 
That love, acceptance of everything, and optimism, can be felt in Middllemarch as well as in Adam Bede and Daniel Deronda. Everyone, or almost everyone, in these novels is depicted with understanding and sympathy. People may have faults, but they may improve. People may make mistakes, but they may learn through experience and become wiser. People may suffer injustices, but if honest and good may be later rewarded; and even if the happiness is not "absolute" in the end, there's a calm acceptance. 
Look at this excerpt from another letter from George Sand to Flaubert: 
"I make my life in the midst of all that, and as I like my life I like all that nourishes it and renews it. They do me a lot of ill turns which I see, but which I no longer feel. I know that there are thorns in the hedges, but that does not prevent me from putting out my hands and finding flowers there. If all are not beautiful, all are interesting. The day you took me to the Abbey of Saint-Georges I found the scrofularia borealis, a very rare plant in France. I was enchanted; there was much . . . in the neighborhood where I gathered it. Such is life!
And if one does not take life like that, one cannot take it in any way, and then how can one endure it? I find it amusing and interesting, and since I accept EVERYTHING, I am so much happier and more enthusiastic when I meet the beautiful and the good. If I did not have a great knowledge of the species, I should not have quickly understood you, or known you or loved you.." 
There are still other passages which sound as though they could have been written by George Eliot: 
"The deluge comes and death captures us. In vain you are prudent and withdraw, your refuge will be invaded in its turn, and in perishing with human civilization you will be no greater a philosopher for not having loved, than those who threw themselves into the flood to save some debris of humanity. The debris is not worth the effort, very good! They will perish none the less, that is possible. We shall perish with them, that is certain, but we shall die while in the fulness of life. I prefer that to a hibernation in the ice, to an anticipated death. And anyway, I could not do otherwise. Love does not reason. If I asked why you have the passion for study, you would not explain it to me any better than those who have a passion for idleness can explain their indolence." 
"Can one live peaceably, you say, when the human race is so absurd? I submit, while saying to myself that perhaps I am as absurd as every one else and that it is time to turn my mind to correcting myself."
"I pity humanity, I wish it were good, because I cannot separate myself from it; because it is myself; because the evil it does strikes me to the heart; because its shame makes me blush; because its crimes gnaw at my vitals, because I cannot understand paradise in heaven nor on earth for myself alone." 
"You have too much knowledge and intelligence, you forget that there is something above art: namely, wisdom, of which art at its apogee is only the expression. Wisdom comprehends all: beauty, truth, goodness, enthusiasm, in consequence. It teaches us to see outside of ourselves, something more elevated than is in ourselves, and to assimilate it little by little, through contemplation and admiration." 
If I had never known about these letters, and if somebody had replaced the name, I might have thought that those letters were written by George Eliot. So in a way I have a vague idea about what she and Flaubert would have said to each other, had they been acquaintances. 
I've never read any novel by George Sand however. Are the 2 Georges similar?


  1. Only read Marianne, which I believe was her last novel. So far it seems nothing like what Eliot has written - she was more emotional and less rational I think in her writing. Charlotte Bronte was drawn to the honesty of her passion in her novels.

  2. The Haunted Pool / The Devil's Pond / etc. is a lot like Eliot, the idyllic Eliot of Adam Bede and Silas Marner. I have no doubt that Eliot knew the novella. So maybe not like Eliot in the ways you note in your post, but in other ways, yes, similar.

  3. Tom,
    Tell me more. In what ways? And is it good?

  4. Yes, it's good. Worth reading.

    The novella share Eliot's interest in the idyllic peasant setting - it does share the optimism and love of humanity you wrote about. Eliot's big party scenes have an origin in the last chapters of The Devil's Pool.