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extraordinary, and so evidently the fruit of deep personal feeling, should have been written by a lady whom he had only known as a very quiet person, fond of sewing, and a good hand at making preserves. She lived completely in an inner world of her own, fostering her fancies, brooding over her griefs, surveying as in a vision the men and things of the actual world. Hence, perhaps, arose much of the singular fearlessness with which she wrote, much of the intensity with which she expressed her feelings, and much of the very unpractical character which her theories assumed. She was also acted on very powerfully by the general influences of the time in which her mind was matured, both by the tone of the current literature, and by the sentiments which pervaded the political world of France. She found that the literature of despair was echoed in the profound disappointment caused by the failure of the Revolution of July. Nothing can be more gloomy than the picture she draws of the state of Parisian society and Parisian feeling, when she came to take a part in it as a writer and thinker. The republic dreamt of in July had ended in the massacre of Warsaw and the bloody sacrifice offered to the dynasty of Louis Philippe. The cholera had just decimated the world. St. Simonism had failed. Art had disgraced by its deplorable errors the cradle of its romantic reform. The time was out of joint; and the men and women in it were either given up to the depression of disbelief, or to the search after material prosperity.
It was when subjected to the first great pressure of such influences as these that George Sand wrote Lélia, the most famous and the most typical of her novels. It is to an English reader, and judged of from the point of view of common sense, one of the most incoherent, foolish, morbid, blasphemous, and useless books that have been sent across the Channel during the present century; and yet no one can deny that it discloses much power of writing, and some of thinking. Viewed historically, and judged of by the circumstances under which it was written, it undoubtedly gives a very bold and forcible expression to thoughts then widely current in France. There is, too, a kind of directness and sincerity in it, which gives it, even in the wildness of its ravings, the charm of honesty. But whatever are its merits or faults, at any rate it contains the doctrines of George Sand-the innermost thoughts of her heart, the ideas of her life-in their most salient and repulsive form. The characters are removed into an arena entirely apart from the possibilities of real life. Each represents a phase of the society she saw around her; and as there is no plot nor any dramatic interest, the only aim is to work out this representation to its fullest and last consequences. In Lélia society is entirely dis
solved; the family is not described even as a feature of human life; God is alternately pronounced not to exist, and permitted to enjoy the prerogative of blessing the most vicious and weak fools who will shed a few tears over the cessation of their power to sin. Catholicism is a pageant into which poetical minds in vain endeavour to infuse a new life. Women are either prostitutes, or only refuse to be so because any surrender to the other sex brands them with inequality. Coarseness of thought is equalled by a curious frankness of expression. Lélia, the heroine, cannot make out whether she ought to hate herself as "the most cunning and revolting combination of an infernal will," or whether she ought to despise herself as “an inert production, engendered by chance and matter." Her lover asks what he can do for her. She sends in return the following modest list of her requirements: "Will you blaspheme for me? That may perhaps console me. Will you cast stones at heaven, outrage God, curse eternity, invoke annihilation, adore evil, call down destruction on the works of Providence, and contempt on its worship? Are you capable of killing Abel to avenge me on God, my tyrant? Will you bite the dust and eat the sand, like Nebuchadnezzar? Will you, like Job, exhale your anger and mine in vehement imprecations? Will you, pure and pious young man, plunge up to your neck in scepticism, and roll in the abyss where I expire?" And so it goes on; and this is the way in which Lélia and her friends rave through page after page. The impression which Lélia leaves on us cannot be shaken off. George Sand has long left the stage in which it was written, and, in her memoirs, speaks of it as very crude work. But the mental history of men hangs together; and even in her best and purest and soberest works there is a touch of Lélia to be found.
Love forms the staple of George Sand's novels, as of most of the works of other novelists. But with her neither the analysis nor the description of passion, subtle as she often is in the former, and rich and delicate as she often is in the latter, is the most prominent feature of what she has to say about love. She has a persuasion, we may almost say a creed, to enforce and advocate as to the relation of the sexes. is high-flown, unpractical, and impossible, of a tendency, perhaps, more than doubtful; but it is sincerely felt, powerfully upheld, and in itself appeals to the loftier side of human nature. It is not a doctrine wholly bad to preach, that persons should give play to their genuine feelings and despise concessions to a mercenary world. We are, of course, tempted immediately to ask whether the feelings gratified are pure as well as sincere, and fostered not only to the gain of the indi
vidual entertaining them but without harm to others. It is almost impossible to avoid confounding a free expression of feelings with a blind obedience to animal instincts, unless we are allowed to test the worth of these feelings by looking at their quality and their consequences; and it must be as true in France as every where else, that love is sensual and degrading unless it raises the moral character, and is fulfilled or repressed according to the dictates of unselfishness. George Sand states her theory to be, that love is a solemn sacrifice to be offered in the presence of God, and necessary for the perfection of individuals. At first this seems a mere commonplace; but George Sand draws two conclusions, which society -English society, at any rate-rejects. The first is, that love is its own justification. The lovers meet; they are fitted for each other, they are framed to go together through a process necessary to complete the growth of their religious nature. Society must not interpose any arrangements which will prevent the happiness of the lovers. The barriers of class, the ties of a union that is conventional, not real, must be swept away. The second consequence is, that when the religious feeling, the highest exaltation of passion, ceases, the tie ceases also. There is nothing binding in love excepting the completeness of its existence. Common sense will immediately tell us that this will never do. Society cannot go on, if adultery is not so much justified as abrogated by the assumption that lovers have a right to love. Right feeling warns us that we are here brought to the verge of impurity. Family life, we perceive, could not continue, if the calm and moderated flow of matured affection, although fallen to a lower level of excitement than the first transports of passion, were not sufficient to make the continuance of the most intimate relation of the sexes permissible. But setting aside the ultimate result to which such considerations will bring us, we may easily acknowledge that the arrangements of modern society, or rather of society in every age and place, sacrifice many individuals to the interests of the community; and also that there is much in the tone of society which brutalises and materialises feelings, to invest which with a poetical and spiritual halo is one of the highest achievements of man. George Sand seizes on this truth; and, regardless of the limitations which common sense imposes and morality enjoins, gives the rein to her fancy, her sensibility, and her enthusiasm.
In judging George Sand, we cannot too often call to mind that she is French, and that in many of the things which seem strange to us she is but describing the habits, or following the fashion, of her countrymen. It is not only that
she looks on life generally from the foreign point of view, and, more especially, treats marriage as the necessary preliminary, not the end, of love-making; but there are a thousand minor touches which separate her widely from English readers, and which belong more to the country than to the individual writer. Not a little of what seems her sentimentalism is really the reflection of actual life. We presume, for example, that we may take as founded on an adequate induction the curious fact that French lovers cry. This alone places the love-stories of France in quite a different sphere from those of England. George Sand's young men think nothing of having a good gush of tears, real running tears, because their mistress pleases them or offends them, or smiles or frowns, or keeps or misses an appointment. An Englishman crying and weeping because a young woman whom he is fond of does not come as soon as he expects, is an impossibility. And if men can cry for such things, how can we, who have no similar feelings whatever, say but that at a stage of excitement a little higher, Frenchmen might feel it not much out of the way if a young lady, when she did come, were to ask them to curse eternity and eat grass? Then, again, George Sand is most wonderfully coarse. Her language would be considered rather plain in England for men to use in conversation with each other; it appears doubly strange from the pen of a female writer. But the French are habitually what we should call coarse, and they call plain-spoken. They call a spade a spade. They do not distinguish between the passions, and speak of the physical symptoms and issues of love as they would of those of fear. We may say of them what Dr. Livingstone says of some of the African tribes, that "they seem to have lost all tradition of the fig-leaf." When, therefore, a Frenchwoman speaks a little more openly than we should, we must not look on her as we should on a woman who violated decorum in a country where vestiges of the tradition still remain.
Nor ought we to call George Sand's novels in a very high degree immoral, if we judge them by the standard of French fiction. No test of immorality can be more crucial than the mode in which female chastity is regarded. Now, although female frailty is the topic on which George Sand writes most largely, it cannot be said that she takes pleasure in the overthrow of chastity, or even that she regards it as a matter of indifference. In most French novels that can fairly be called immoral, the author looks on chastity as a thing which it is a triumph and a glory to surmount. But George Sand feels truly and deeply the mournfulness and the pity of the termination of purity. But then she goes into a field which modern
English writers wholly avoid, not because it does not exist, but because they do not like to enter on it. They never let their female characters wander beyond the influence of those safeguards which the fabric of family life plants round Englishwomen of the upper classes. But in George Sand, as in almost all foreign writers, these external safeguards are never allowed to interfere with the great problem to answer which is the main object of interest with her. She only asks herself what will be the conduct of lovers under given circumstances. Consuelo the heroine is thrown into every temptation which can endanger virtue, ardent passion, dangerous proximity, and isolation from the world. But she has a simplicity which guards her, and she remains pure because she had promised her mother that she would be so. The whole object of Consuelo is to show that by the possession of this simplicity, and its consequent purity, she was raised above the women around her. In Valentine, the most touching and beautiful of George Sand's earlier tales, the heroine is overcome; but it would be absurd to say that a person who conceived and worked out the character of Valentine thought lightly of chastity. Valentine struggles hard, she watches herself, she has little sentimentalism, she honestly and truly desires not to deceive her husband. and lose her self-respect. The authoress undoubtedly impels Valentine to her sorrowful end in order to illustrate her main theme, that society has no right to interpose barriers in the way of true affection, and thus create scruples which must finally give way. But the tone which pervades the tale is not at all that of a woman, who could believe that the delights of sensuous passions are any compensation for the loss of purity. To an English reader accustomed to the safeguards of English society, a novel portraying the guilty love of a married woman must seem in some degree immoral; for the whole range of thought is one which it is the object of English society to eliminate from at least the surface of family life. But to a person within this range of thought, and accustomed to look on such temptations as very possible and real, we can conceive the best of George Sand's tales might prove a source of strength quite as much as of weakness. We cannot deny that their warmth of language, their fatalism, and their tendency to shift the blame from the individual on to society, are sources of weakness. But the high value set on purity, and the general elevation of the standard by which the worth of love is tried, might, on the other hand, prove sources of strength.
If we want to see George Sand on her best side, we must observe her estimate of men. The great source of that superiority