The Last Love of George Sand
by Evelyne Bloch-Dano

Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2013. ISBN 978-1-611-45716-2.
Reviewed by Susan Schoch
Posted on 03/13/2013

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: Creative Life

"Let us try to stay young and trembling until we are old, and to believe until we are at death's door, that our lives have only just begun," wrote George Sand in one of the thousands of letters she composed. The evident passion and candor were the making of her career, and caused her much suffering.

She was complicated. Most Americans think of her simply as the French woman who chose a man's name, wrote books that few of us have actually read, and had a long tempestuous affair with Frédéric Chopin. But as Evelyne Bloch-Dano reveals in this translation of her biography, The Last Love of George Sand, she was a woman ahead of her time, and refused to be constricted by narrow gender roles.

Born in Paris as Aurore Dupin in 1804, Sand's father died when she was four, and at five her mother gave guardianship to her paternal grandmother in exchange for a pension. Her grandmother's estate, Nohant, was almost 500 acres of fields and forest, and became Aurore's inheritance when she was seventeen. Located about 150 miles south of Paris, the small chateau and the income from the land's tenant farmers would be the security that allowed an independent young woman to flourish.

Married on impulse at 18 to the Baron Dudevant, within a decade she was legally separated, was the mother of two troubled children, and had published her first novel, which advocated against marriage and for freedom in love. Breaking with literary tradition of the time, she wrote in the modern vernacular, and spoke out in ways that both shocked and made her a celebrity under the new name she had chosen, George Sand. She also adopted a look that became her signature for years, wearing a tailored frockcoat, a top hat snugged on her long dark waves, and holding a cane or cigar in her hand.

Meanwhile Sand flaunted other conventions, taking lovers without shame and working seriously as a writer in a field of men. Always political, she was active in the French uprising of 1848 and would remain an advocate for social justice, generously funding liberal causes and using her influence to intercede for political prisoners. She supported not only her family but also many friends with her popular novels, plays, essays, and memoirs. George Sand was a libertine and a disciplined, hard-working woman, much admired and much criticized.

Bloch-Dano has chosen to focus on the later part of Sand's life, when she had learned to appreciate stability and found herself in love with Alexandre Manceau, a talented engraver thirteen years her junior. Drawing on correspondence and the diary that he and Sand kept jointly, the author shows us a Manceau who is devoted to Sand, a man who is talented enough to be included in the elite Paris Salon exhibitions but whose "insatiable goodness" causes him to sacrifice much of his ambition in support of his beloved's. He became her manager, creative partner, and greatest friend. At the same time, Bloch-Dano reveals the remarkable George Sand in her many roles, from writer to farm manager to doting mother hen and harsh critic. Without sugar-coating, yet clearly with admiration, this biography describes a powerful and vulnerable woman as she shares life with "the man who loved her in the secret corners of her heart."

This is not an easy read, for the text deserves much better editing and at times a more graceful translation, while the author's peripatetic style can be more confusing than expressive. Yet this acclaimed biographer has done her research. I was fascinated, and perseverance proved worth the effort. If more books by George Sand were available in English translation, Bloch-Dano would have me searching them out. As it is, Sand's memoir, Story of My Life, was published here in 1991 and can be found by diligent readers who want to experience George Sand more directly. This book is a romantic and intriguing introduction to a writer who continues to deserve attention, a woman whose concerns are still relevant.

Evelyne Bloch-Dano is the renowned author of Madame Proust, and of Madame Zola, for which she won the prestigious Grand Prix des lectrices de Elle. She lives in France. For more information, and an interesting album of photographs related to George Sand, visit her website.

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