cover image GEORGE SAND


Elizabeth Harlan, . . Yale Univ., $35 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-300-10417-2

Danielle Steele would be hard-pressed to concoct a juicer tale than the scandalous life of 19th-century French writer George Sand (1804–1876), revisited in this perceptive and original biography by novelist Harlan (Footfalls , Watershed ). Sand, née Aurore Dupin, left her husband and two children in provincial France and successfully launched herself as a self-supporting writer in Paris, donning men's clothing to ease passage into the professional world and taking a pseudonym to protect her aristocratic family's name. Sand took on many lovers, among them poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frédéric Chopin. Yet despite Sand's outward daring, as Harlan shows, she obsessed over her identity, as both a woman and an aristocrat. Based on her interpretation of Sand's letters, Harlan says that this question of identity is at the root of Sand's compulsively prolific writing, which produced scores of novels and plays, and 20,000 letters. Sand may indeed not have been her nobleman father's biological daughter, and her mother was from the lower classes. So, "with a tendency toward self-contradiction," she bounced ambivalently between ideals of feminine submission and emancipation, and sometimes obscured, sometimes flaunted her lineage. Harlan sensitively analyzes the gaps and idiosyncrasies in her subject's heavily self-edited correspondence, autobiography and novels to uncover a fresh portrait of this volatile, imaginative woman of letters. B&w illus. (Jan. 4)