George Sand is one of those “classic” writers whose work I have never gotten around to reading. Shame on me, I know. But even though I haven’t read Sand, I’ve long been aware of her literary reputation and her rather scandalous lifestyle. That said, I considered Elizabeth Berg’s new fictional look at Sand’s life, The Dream Lover, to be an opportunity to learn both the details of that lifestyle, and to get some guidance as to which of Sand’s books I should read first. The Dream Lover delivered on both counts.
Aurore Dupin did something almost unheard of in her day when, in January 1831, she left her husband and two small children behind so that she could begin a new life on her own in Paris. Dupin’s dream was to define her life first and foremost as being a prominent member of French artistic society. Although still unpublished when she left her family estate, she already considered herself to be a writer and knew that Paris was the only place for her. And, to her immense credit, after hedging her bet a bit by changing her name to George Sand, Dupin became the first female bestselling writer France had ever seen.
Dupin (at least as portrayed in The Dream Lover) did not particularly try to hide her true gender despite depending on a male pen name to help her sell books to the French public. And while it is true that she dressed in men’s clothing for most of her public life in Paris, that affectation was as much a lifestyle choice as anything else she did. Dupin was a passionate woman, and passion governed every aspect of her life. She could be cold, as shown by her willingness to live apart from her children for long stretches of time, but she was also a fragile woman whose own insecurities haunted every relationship she ever had. And, boy, did she have relationships…
Elizabeth Berg, in fact, focuses on Dupin’s long string of famous lovers for most of The Dream Lover. Dupin’s literary success placed her in the intimate company of the most prominent artists, writers, and composers of the period – and she took full opportunity of that intimacy to go through a series of affairs with some of the best known and most successful members of the group. Although it is next to impossible to know with complete certainty which were lovers (Berg characterizes Dupin as having been bisexual) and which were merely “close friends,” Dupin’s inner circle included the likes of Frederic Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Franz List, Alfred de Musset, and Marie Doval.
While The Dream Lover perhaps overemphasizes Dupin’s sex life, the novel does an admirable job of recreating the period during which the author lived and thrived (1804-1876). Aurore Dupin was a remarkable woman who lived an extraordinary life. As George Sand, she is still regarded as one of the finest writers ever produced by France, and I am more determined now than ever to read some of her work.
Bottom Line: Keep in mind that The Dream Lover is historical fiction, but if Aurore Dupin was even half the woman she appears to have been here, she was impressive. The book is definitely worth a look for those generally interested in the period, or in George Sand, in particular.