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George Sand

George Sand In June 1848, Victor Hugo remarked that the revolution had turned the world upside-down, drawing into the political arena two of the most famous writers of the time: "a woman called Lamartine and a man called George Sand." Hugo's irreverent jibe about Sand's refusal to conform to the gender conventions of her time can stand as emblematic of her ambiguous position in 1848. On the one hand, she played a decisive role in Ledru-Rollin's government; yet she never had an official position or title, and her labors remained unremunerated. After the revolution failed, she was criticized from the right for her radical position, and from the left for her "cowardly" retreat to Nohant.

The events of February caught her off guard. She immediately rushed to Paris, arriving on March 1 and promptly obtained a "laissez-passer" allowing her free access to all the members of the provisional government. Her son's garret, 8 rue de Condé, where she lived, quickly became a central meeting place. Except for one trip to Nohant (March 7 to 21), she spent the entire time in Paris, until May 18, when, following days of unrest, a failed coup, and massive arrests, all hope of a democratic assembly was lost.

"I am by nature poetic and lot legislative, war-like if necessary, but never parliamentary," she had written in the late 1830s. Ten years later, this remark adequately describes her stance during the revolution. Deeply engaged ideologically, she nevertheless remained aloof from direct participation in the street uprisings. On March 4, she witnessed the solemn funeral procession organized in honor of February's victims from the windows of the ministry of foreign affairs. On April 20 she was present at the festival of federation. Three days later, the day of the general elections, she dined with Lamartine. One other dinner is documented, this one with Tocqueville and Mérimée on May 4. Tocqueville, whose own sympathies were well to the right of Sand's, recorded his recollection of this soirée, and his admiration of George Sand's acute understanding of the situation.

Sand's primary contribution was in the area of written propaganda for the revolution and the provisional government. She published at least six brochures: two Lettres au peuple (March 7 and 19; later published in the Cause du peuple); Un Mot à la classe moyenne (4 pages); Aux Riches (March 12; later republished in the Bulletin de la République). In two works, L'Histoire de France écrite sous la dictée de Blaise Bonnin (March 15, 12 pages) and Paroles de Blaise Bonnin aux bons citoyens (in 5 installments), Sand created the fictional peasant character Bonnin, and through this populist persona, expressed the lofty goals of the revolution and its place in the historical development of France. She also was responsible for much of the Bulletin de la République between March 13 and May 6. Although none of the articles is signed, scholars generally accept as the certain author of nos. 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 13, 16 (which caused a scandal), and the probable author of nos. 12, 15, 19, 22. She also published and wrote much of the short-lived Cause du peuple (April 9, 16, 23) which included a series of four articles on socialism, and Le Roi attend, the "Prologue" performed at the opening of the Théâtre de la République on April 6. Finally, from May 2 to June 11, she contributed at least 13 articles to Théophile Thoré's La Vraie République, including notably "La religion de la France." Many of these writings were reprinted in the following collections of Sand's articles: Questions politiques et sociales, Souvenirs de 1848, Impressions et souvenirs, Souvenirs et idées.

On April 6 a group of feminists proposed George Sand for the national assembly (text published in La Voix des femmes); several days later she responded in an open letter in La Réforme and La Vraie République. She vigorously disassociated herself from the group which nominated her and categorically refused to stand for election. In mid-April she wrote a much longer letter to the members of the central committee clarifying her position on the question of women's role in political life. Women must and will participate in politics in the distant future, she argued, but in order for them to do so, society must first be radically transformed. As long as they are "under the tutelage and under the dependency of a man by marriage," women cannot be free-thinking agents in political matters. Civil and educational equality must precede political equality. Until then, women will display the "ruses of the slave," characteristic of all oppressed people. At the same time, Sand also insisted on the importance of women's roles in the private sphere: "your house burned, your domestic is imperil and you will have to expose your self to the outrages (railleries) and public affronts." (Correspondance, VIII, 407). These two letters have been the occasion for much castigation on the part of modern-day feminists. Her aversion to public life and an innate distrust of politics may have influenced for position: " Politics, properly named, I detest. It is the school of dryness, of ingraditude, of suspicions and of falsity." (June 12 1848, Corr.,VIII, 507).

After the events of June, Sand appealed to Louis Napoleon for clemency and amnesty for many of the people implicated in the revolution. She was granted at least two audiences, and through her intervention some were saved from execution, others given commuted sentences. Thirteen political detainees of the Indre region were spared exile of prison. She literally pled the cause of hundreds of people, including Bakunin whom she defended in a letter to Karl Marx (July 20, 1848). But she herself was crushed by disappointment, and retreated to literature for solace (see the two prefaces to La Petite Fadette) and to writing her memoirs, Histoire de ma vie, in which she alluded to the revolution only in Aesopian terms.

Although she was criticized and caricatured, two contemporary historians, Jules Michelet and Hippolyte Taine, praised her vision and courage. The latter wrote in the Journal des débats (July 2, 1876): "George Sand. was antimated by a faith, 1848 made her hope for several weeks that a new life commenced." Her letter to Mazzini of June 15 offered a fair summary of her social views. She reaffirmed her belief in an ideal republic, based on community and equality, promoted by an enlightened proletariat, that would give expression to the new Christianity. Speaking against violence and fear, she confidently posed the existence of "a collective and abstract being," le peuple, which stood above petty political squabblings. She repeatedly said the only party she belonged to was this "parti du peuple."
Isabelle Naginski


Dolléans, Edouard. Féminisme et mouvement ouvrier. George Sand (Editions ouvrières, 1951).

Mallet, Francine. George Sand. (Grasset, 1976).

Pommier, Jean. Les Ecrivains devant la révolution de 1848. (PUF,1948).

Sand, George. Correspondance ed. Georges Lubin, VIII (Garnier, 1971).

Vermeylen, Pierre. Les Idées politiques et sociales de George Sand. (Editions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 1984).

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