Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Sand, George (1804–1876)
Author:
Moore, Andy J.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Author of more than fifty novels, George Sand (Amandine Lucile Aurore Dudevant) was perhaps the most famous woman writer in nineteenth-century France, certainly the most prolific. Her first novel, Indiana (1832), prepared the stage for much of her later work in its unconventional portrait of an unhappy wife who tries to free herself from the prison of marriage and a society that emphasized male dominance. Her subsequent novels shocked her nineteenth-century readers with frank studies of women's sexual feelings and the promotion of women's rights. Her iconoclastic themes in her novels were only enhanced by her unconventional behavior: leaving her husband and living with other men, occasionally dressing in men's clothing, smoking cigars. Her literary reputation was worldwide in the 1840s, and this seems to have been the time when Whitman first read her Consuelo (1842). Whitman had a profound interest in French romantic novelists, and as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, he especially reviewed the current French writers such as Sand.

In 1842, at age twenty-three, Whitman came across Consuelo in his mother's library, and he read and reread this novel in various translations. He thought it "truly a masterpiece . . . the noblest in many respects, on its own field, in all literature" (Traubel 423). According to the critics, this work was seminal for Whitman, perhaps the work that inspired his democratic view of men and women, and his vision of the poet as spokesman for all mankind. Whitman thought Consuelo superior to all of Shakespeare's women. In this Sand novel and its sequel, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (1844), Whitman was to find soul nourishment for much of the political, religious, and artistic vision that he would employ in Leaves of Grass just a decade later. Whitman might have been led to employ specific seminal images such as the carpenter poet and the pure contralto from Sand. It was particularly in Sand that Whitman's liberated perspective toward sex, the body, spirituality, and equality for women took shape. Whitman possibly took from her novels not only some ideas that inspired Leaves of Grass but also his dress, his role, and his pose as the poet of democracy.

Sand's international influence upon other novelists, musicians, and poets is staggering: Honoré de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev, William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, Frédéric Chopin, Thomas Carlyle, Karl Marx, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, and preeminently, Walt Whitman. Whitman was a fervent reader of George Sand all of his adult life, and she remained a vibrant force in his democratic inspiration and outlook.

Bibliography

Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman: The Creation of a Personality. Trans. Richard P. Adams and Roger Asselineau. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1960.

Erkkila, Betsy. Walt Whitman Among the French: Poet and Myth. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.

Roy, G.R. "Walt Whitman, George Sand and Certain French Socialists." Revue de Littérature Comparée 29 (1955): 550–561.

Shephard, Esther. Walt Whitman's Pose. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 3. 1914. New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 1961.

Zweig, Paul. Walt Whitman: The Making of the Poet. New York: Basic Books, 1984.


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