It is a curious paradox that, in the face of George Sand's countless affairs of the heart, and a life which appears on the surface to have been almost exclusively devoted to love, one is left with the impression that, after all, Balzac's estimate of this singular woman is correct. "In her heart," he says, 'she is a prude. It is only in externals that she comforts herself as an artist."
Never at any time was she the "grande amoureuse" she imagined herself to be. She never once gave herself wholly; her real self was rarely implicated; it remained looking on, an interested spectator; and it is doubtful whether George Sand's real self was truly passionate. There is the same difficulty in taking her love adventures seriously as there is in the case of Byron; they are too self-conscious, too deliberate; an atmosphere of the stage hangs over them. They are private theatricals, if you will, but still theatricals, so much so that it seems a little out of place to criticise the actors. One needs a new standard of judgment. In dealing, for instance, with Shelley, with his terrible sincerity, one is on different ground. For Shelley was more concerned with love than the verse he could make out of it. One cannot treat his life as "literature," but it is a little difficult to treat George Sand's as anything else.
The Barrier of Her Personality
She endeavoured to live with a perseverance which is almost pathetic. She took up life conscientiously as a study, but she had not sufficient self-forgetfulness to derive much profit from it. She reminds one of the kindly actor of blameless life in one of Villier de l'lsle d'adam's "Contes Cruels," who, having grown weary of his fictitious existence on the stage, yearns ardently to experience at least one real emotion before he dies. He sets fire, therefore, to a crowded theatre, hoping, at least, to be devoured by remorse. What is his surprise and disappointment to find he can feel absolutely nothing. The deed involved no more of his true self than an action on the stage, and he remains disillusioned, and as far from real life as ever. So with George Sand, do what she would, there was always the barrier of her personality, like thin glass, between her and the world. She never, one imagines, stood face to face with her own soul. Had she done so, no one would have been more frankly astonished than she herself at what she found there. Unconsciously, she posed perpetually, chiefly as a priestess; but the attitude of a priestess is very far removed from that of a "grande amoureuse."
It must not be forgotten, however, that the whole tendency of her period was towards heroic attitudes. The artist was expected to behave in a certain way, and it would have been ungracious to do otherwise. It was a time of transition, and of rebellion against traditions, and the rebels were apt to be hailed as saviours of mankind.
The courage and consistency of. George Sand, however, compensate for much. With her there was no compromise; she believed, and she acted. In her old age, when the essential woman appeared from under the many fantastic draperies she had thought fit to envelop herself in, one realises the strength of a character which could pass through so many extravagances and not be destroyed. She struck many false notes, but at last a true one.
The following letter is certainly surprising. Alfred de Musset has left Venice, because George Sand found Pagello a more sympathetic companion, and someone had to go. They apparently all parted on the best of terms, George and her new lover expressing the deepest attachment to poor De Musset, who, even if he had, as she declares, told her some time before that she bored him, could at least complain of somewhat casual treatment. The whole situation is worthy of a comic opera. George writes thus to her ex-lover, who was on his way to Paris:
"I wished, child, I could follow you from afar. On returning to Venice I meant to start for Vicenza with Pagello, in order to find out how you had passed your first sad day. But I felt that I should not have the courage to pass a night in the same town as you without running round in the morning again to kiss you. I was dying to, but I feared to renew for you the sufferings and the emotion of the separation. And then I was so ill on returning home that I feared I should not have the strength myself. At this moment I write from Treviso. I left Venice this morning at six. I am determined to be at Vicenza to-night, and go to the inn where you slept. I should find there a letter from Antonio, whom I told to leave me news of you. I shall not be easy till this evening, and even then, what ease! So long a journey, and you so weak still! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! I shall pray to God night and morning. I hope He will hear me. I shall find your letter to-morrow in Venice; I shall arrive almost at the same time. Do not trouble about me. I am as strong as a horse. But do not tell me to be gay and contented; that cannot be so soon. Pauvre ange, what sort of night will you have had! I hope fatigue will have forced you to sleep. Be wise and prudent and good, as you promised me. Write to me from all the towns you sleep in; or, at least, make Antonio write to me if it bores you. I will
Love write to you either from Geneva or Turin, according to the route you take, and which you will tell me at Milan.
"Adieu, adieu, mon ange. May God protect you, guide you, and bring you back one day, if I am still here. In any case, however, I shall see you during the holidays, and with what happiness! How we shall love each other! Shall we not, shall we not, my little brother, my child? Ah, who will look after you, and whom shall I look after? Who will need me, and of whom shall I wish to take care henceforth? How shall I do without all the good and harm you used to do me? May you forget the pain I caused you, and remember only the happy days. The last, especially, which has left balm in my heart and will relieve its wound. Adieu, mon petit oiseau. Always love your poor old George.
"I give you no message from Pagello, except that he weeps for you almost as much as I; and when I repeated to him all you begged to tell him, he behaved as he did with his blind wife. He rushed away in anger and sobbing."
An Astonishing: Correspondence
This astonishing correspondence continues thus:
"I have been terribly anxious, mon cher ange. I have received no letter from Antonio. I went to Vicenza .... I only learnt that you had gone through the town that morning. Therefore, for all news of you, I had only two lines you wrote me from Padua, and I knew not what to think. Antonio would write to us, but I know that in this country letters get lost or remain six weeks on the road. I was in despair. At last I received your letter from Geneva. Oh, my child, how I thank you! How kind it is, and how much good it did me! Is it really true that you are not ill, that you are strong, that you do not suffer? I always fear that through affection you exaggerate your good health. Oh, may God give and preserve it to you, mon cher petit. This henceforth is as necessary to my life as your friendship. Without one, and without the other, I cannot hope for one glad day. Do not, do not think, Alfred, that I can be happy if I think that I have lost your heart. Whether I have been your mistress or your mother, it matters little; that I have been happy or unhappy with you, all that does not at all alter the present state of my soul. I know I love you, and that is all . . . Oh, my child - my child, how much I need your tenderness and your forgiveness! Do not ask for mine, do not say that you have wronged me? What do I know? I remember nothing more than that we have been unhappy, and that we parted; but I know, I feel, that we shall love each other all our lives with our hearts, our intelligences, that we shall try by a holy affection to cure each other mutually of the pain which each has suffered from each. No, alas! it was not our fault; we followed our destiny, and our characters, sharper, more violent than other people's, prevented us from accepting the life of ordinary lovers. But we are born to know and love each other, be sure of this."
This charming state of things could hardly continue. De Musset writes a letter of recrimination to George, who answers somewhat irritably. He has grown jealous.
"I was sure these reproaches would come on the very morrow of that happiness dreamed of and promised, and that you would account that a crime on my part which you had already accepted as a right. Are we already there, my God! Well, let us advance no further, let me go. I wished it yesterday. I had in my soul resolved on an eternal adieu. Remember your despair, and all that you told me to make me believe that I was necessary to you, that without me you were lost; but you are more lost than before, since, hardly are you satisfied, than you turn your despair and your anger against me. What is to be done, mon Dieu? Ah, how tired I am of life, mon Dieu! What do you want now? What do you want of me? Questions, suspicions, recriminations already - already! And why do you speak to me of Pierre, when I forbade you ever to mention him? What right have you, besides, to question me about Venice? . . . My child, I personally do not wish to recriminate, but it is as well you should remember, you who forget the facts so easily. ... I have never complained, I hid my tears from you, but you said this dreadful thing, which I shall never forget, one evening at the Casino Danieli: 'george, I was mistaken; forgive me, but I do not love you.' If I had not been ill, I should have gone next day; but you had no money. I did not know whether you would consent to accept any from me, and I did not wish to, I could not leave you alone in a strange country, not knowing the language, and without a penny. . . . Pierre came to see me, and looked after me; it never occurred to you to be jealous, and certainly I never thought of loving him. But even if I had loved him from that moment - if I had been his from then - will you tell me how it concerned you, who called me boredom personified, the dreamer, la bete, the nun, and I know not what besides. You had wounded and offended me, and I had also said, 'we no longer love each other, we never loved.'"
There are a few more stormy passages and a meeting of the two "lovers" before the final rupture. Pagello was not a success, and was soon dismissed. It is a not very inspiring love story, but contains elements of humour not suspected by the actors - certainly not by George Sand, who was, before all things, serious. Perhaps De Musset may in later years have appreciated the absurdities of the situation.
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