Although I knew little about French author George Sand, I appreciate how Berg
truly acknowledges her genius. From her fractured marriage with Casimir to the birth of her two children, Maurice and Solange, Sand might
have been born into aristocracy, but success and happiness do not come easily in
her youthful years living on the ancestral country estate of Nohant, then her efforts to achieve recognition in Parisís literary underworld.
The female characters in her novels are noted for their passion, their frustrations, and their horror
at being enslaved in a world where sexual mores are dictated by men.
In The Dream Lover, Berg postulates that Sandís lovers--Jules, Marie Dorval, and composer Frederic Chopin--are the originators of Georgeís intimate search for passion and for a love that steadily encapsulates much of her life. From an early age, Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin is introduced to an unconventional life. She loves her father, an aristocrat and brilliant artist who
is also kind, optimistic and intelligent, and her mercurial mother, a ďbeautiful dark-completed bohemian.Ē
Yet itís her grandmother, who turns a blind eye to her sonís dalliances and completely disregards her daughter-in-law--who plans for her granddaughterís marriage to a
wealthy potential suitor.
Berg moves from Sandís dysfunctional, rather lonely childhood at Nohant to her life as a single woman in Paris, where she struggles to find a way to support herself even as the law stipulates that her husband will control both her inherited money and her house at Nohant. But ďif one has courage and resolve, there are ways to take certain matters into oneís own hands.Ē So to Paris George heads, plunging herself into the theaters and museums and the Cityís literary and political events.
From her routine of coffee every day in the corner cafes comes the seeds of Indiana, a novel of domestic manners and Georgeís first great published work.
Here in Paris at only age twenty-eight, George indulges in her sensual pleasures. Dressing as a man and smoking cigars in order to get the best seats at the theater, her new identity becomes a way to exercise her creative approach to her work and also to make a statement about the feminine constraints of her society. For George, fate is not always kind. At first, she barely ekes out an existence, unaware of the absorption and dedication that living the life of an artist would require. From short fiction and fillers to the office of
Le Figaro, George is soon establishing herself as an accomplished writer and in the process becomes fascinated by everything about the politics of Paris and its working class.
Berg allows Sandís creativity to bloom, revealing her heroine not just as an
independent, freethinking woman who has the right to live her own life as she sees fit, but also someone who is at times blind to the needs of her children. Everything changes for free-wheeling George when she falls in love with stage actress Marie Dorval. Marie is driven by Sandís genius and a new kind of passion that allows Sand to write obsessively about the spirit that dwells within, forcing her to abandon her notions of love and to pledge herself to a personís soul:
"Itís not the body that attracts me, but the spirit that dwells within.Ē In the end, love, hate, betrayal, adoration, and deceit are all grist for the mill. Casimir and Grandmother come angrily back into Georgeís
orbit, once again exercising influence over her very existence.
Despite the thorny, convoluted structure, the novel is well-researched. Berg brings Victorian Paris to life as well as Sandís richly detailed interior world. Georgeís goals, aspirations, and frustrations are fully recognized as she vainly attempts to please her unsatisfied, increasingly emotionally unstable grandmother. Bergís easy, relaxed style pulls us into Sandís artistic, aristocratic, and literary legacy, fully capturing the tragic, inspirational affairs of this early literary proto-feminist.
Yet I struggled to finish this novel, constantly picking it up and putting it down.
Something about Sandís constant neediness became too tedious. She was just too self-involved and pretentious in her life choices, her angst, and her lingering disappointments.
I also became irritated at the way that Sand instantly falls in love and then, in a
quite juvenile fashion, suddenly pines for her lost loves. In what became merely a fleeting reflection, I appreciated Bergís take on her protagonist, but the book didnít make me want to read any of Sandís work or explore this character in any greater depth.