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The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters

Translated by A.L. McKenzie (1921)

Introduction by Stuart Sherman





PREFATORY NOTE

This translation of the correspondence between George Sand and
Gustave Flaubert was undertaken in consequence of a suggestion by
Professor Stuart P. Sherman. The translator desires to acknowledge
valuable criticism given by Professor Sherman, Ruth M. Sherman, and
Professor Kenneth McKenzie, all of whom have generously assisted in
revising the manuscript.

A. L. McKenzie



INTRODUCTION

The correspondence of George Sand and Gustave Flaubert, if
approached merely as a chapter in the biographies of these heroes of
nineteenth century letters, is sufficiently rewarding. In a
relationship extending over twelve years, including the trying
period of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, these
extraordinary personalities disclose the aspects of their diverse
natures which are best worth the remembrance of posterity. However
her passionate and erratic youth may have captivated our
grandfathers, George Sand in the mellow autumn of her life is for us
at her most attractive phase. The storms and anguish and hazardous
adventures that attended the defiant unfolding of her spirit are
over. In her final retreat at Nohant, surrounded by her affectionate
children and grandchildren, diligently writing, botanizing, bathing
in her little river, visited by her friends and undistracted by the
fiery lovers of the old time, she shows an unguessed wealth of
maternal virtue, swift, comprehending sympathy, fortitude, sunny
resignation, and a goodness of heart that has ripened into wisdom.
For Flaubert, too, though he was seventeen years her junior, the
flamboyance of youth was long since past; in 1862, when the
correspondence begins, he was firmly settled, a shy, proud, grumpy
toiling hermit of forty, in his family seat at Croisset, beginning
his seven years' labor at L'Education Sentimentale, master of his
art, hardening in his convictions, and conscious of increasing
estrangement from the spirit of his age. He, with his craving for
sympathy, and she, with her inexhaustible supply of it, meet; he
pours out his bitterness, she her consolation; and so with equal
candor of self-revelation they beautifully draw out and strengthen
each the other's characteristics, and help one another grow old.

But there is more in these letters than a satisfaction for the
biographical appetite, which, indeed, finds ITS account rather in
the earlier chapters of the correspondents' history. What impresses
us here is the banquet spread for the reflective and critical
faculties in this intercourse of natural antagonists. As M. Faguet
observes in a striking paragraph of his study of Flaubert:

"It is a curious thing, which does honor to them both, that Flaubert
and George Sand should have become loving friends towards the end of
their lives. At the beginning, Flaubert might have been looked upon
by George Sand as a furious enemy. Emma [Madame Bovary] is George
Sand's heroine with all the poetry turned into ridicule. Flaubert
seems to say in every page of his work: 'Do you want to know what is
the real Valentine, the real Indiana, the real Lelia? Here she is,
it is Emma Roualt.' 'And do you want to know what becomes of a woman
whose education has consisted in George Sand's books? Here she is,
Emma Roualt.' So that the terrible mocker of the bourgeois has
written a book which is directly inspired by the spirit of the 1840
bourgeois. Their recriminations against romanticism 'which
rehabilitates and poetises the courtesan,' against George Sand, the
Muse of Adultery, are to be found in acts and facts in Madame
Bovary."

Now, the largest interest of this correspondence depends precisely
upon the continuance, beneath an affectionate personal relationship,
of a fundamental antagonism of interests and beliefs, resolutely
maintained on both sides. George Sand, with her lifelong passion for
propaganda and reformation, labors earnestly to bring Flaubert to
her point of view, to remould him nearer to her heart's desire. He,
with a playful deference to the sex and years of his friend,
addresses her in his letters as "Dear Master." Yet in the essentials
of the conflict, though she never gives over her effort, he never
budges a jot; he has taken his ground, and in his last unfinished
work, Bouvard and Pecuchet, he dies stubbornly fortifying his
position. To the last she speaks from a temperament lyrical,
sanguine, imaginative, optimistic and sympathetic; he from a
temperament dramatic, melancholy, observing, cynical, and satirical.
She insists upon natural goodness; he, upon innate depravity. She
urges her faith in social regeneration; he vents his splenetic
contempt for the mob. Through all the successive shocks of
disillusioning experience, she expects the renovation of humanity by
some religious, some semi-mystical, amelioration of its heart; he
grimly concedes the greater part of humanity to the devil, and can
see no escape for the remnant save in science and aristocratic
organization. For her, finally, the literary art is an instrument of
social salvation - it is her means of touching the world with her
ideals, her love, her aspiration; for him the literary art is the
avenue of escape from the meaningless chaos of existence - it is his
subtly critical condemnation of the world.

The origins of these unreconciled antipathies lie deep beneath the
personal relationship of George Sand and Gustave Flaubert; lie deep
beneath their successors, who with more or less of amenity in their
manners are still debating the same questions today. The main
currents of the nineteenth century, with fluent and refluent tides,
clash beneath the controversy; and as soon as one hears its "long
withdrawing roar," and thinks it is dying away, and is become a part
of ancient history, it begins again, and will be heard, no doubt, by
the last man as a solemn accompaniment to his final contention with
his last adversary.

George Sand was, on the whole, a natural and filial daughter of the
French Revolution. The royal blood which she received from her
father's line mingled in her veins with that of the Parisian
milliner, her mother, and predestined her for a leveller by
preparing in her an instinctive ground of revolt against all those
inherited prejudices which divided the families of her parents. As a
young girl wildly romping with the peasant children at Nohant she
discovered a joy in untrammeled rural life which was only to
increase with years. At the proper age for beginning to fashion a
conventional young lady, the hoyden was put in a convent, where she
underwent some exalting religious experiences; and in 1822 she was
assigned to her place in the "established social order" by her
marriage at seventeen to M. Dudevant. After a few years of rather
humdrum domestic life in the country, she became aware that this
gentleman, her husband, was behaving as we used to be taught that
all French husbands ultimately behave; he was, in fact, turning from
her to her maids. The young couple had never been strongly united -
the impetuous dreamy girl and her coarse hunting mate; and they had
grown wide apart. She should, of course, have adjusted herself
quietly to the altered situation and have kept up appearances. But
this young wife had gradually become an "intellectual"; she had been
reading philosophy and poetry; she was saturated with the writings
of Rousseau, of Chateaubriand, of Byron. None of the spiritual
masters of her generation counselled acquiescence in servitude or
silence in misery. Every eloquent tongue of the time-spirit urged
self-expression and revolt. And she, obedient to the deepest
impulses of her blood and her time, revolted.

At the period when Madame Dudevant withdrew her neck from the
conjugal yoke and plunged into her literary career in Paris, the
doctrine that men are created for freedom, equality and fraternity
was already somewhat hackneyed. She, with an impetus from her own
private fortunes, was to give the doctrine a recrudescence of
interest by resolutely applying it to the status of women. We cannot
follow her in detail from the point where she abandons the domestic
sewing-basket to reappear smoking black cigars in the Latin Quarter.
We find her, at about 1831, entering into competition with the
brilliant literary generation of Balzac, Hugo, Alfred de Musset,
Merimee, Stendhal, and Sainte-Beuve. To signalize her equality with
her brothers in talent, she adopts male attire: "I had a sentry-box
coat made, of rough grey cloth, with trousers and waist-coat to
match. With a grey hat and a huge cravat of woolen material, I
looked exactly like a first-year student." In the freedom of this
rather unalluring garb she entered into relations Platonic,
fraternal, or tempestuously passionate with perhaps the most
distinguished series of friends and lovers that ever fluttered about
one flame. There was Aurelien de Seze; Jules Sandeau, her first
collaborator, who "reconciled her to life" and gave her a nom de
guerre; the inscrutable Merimee, who made no one happy; Musset - an
encounter from which both tiger-moths escaped with singed wings; the
odd transitional figure of Pagello; Michel Euraed; Liszt; Chopin,
whom she loved and nursed for eight years; her master Lamennais; her
master Pierre Leroux; her father-confessor Sainte-Beuve; and Gustave
Flaubert, the querulous friend of her last decade.

As we have compressed the long and complex story of her personal
relationships, so we must compress the intimately related history of
her works and her ideas. When under the inspiration of Rousseau, the
emancipated George Sand began to write, her purposes were but
vaguely defined. She conceived of life as primarily an opportunity
for unlimited self-expansion, and of literature as an opportunity
for unrestricted self-expression. "Nevertheless," she declares, "my
instincts have formed, without my privity, the theory I am about to
set down, - a theory which I have generally followed unconsciously.
... According to this theory, the novel is as much a work of poetry
as of analysis. It demands true situations, and characters not only
true but real, grouped about a type intended to epitomize the
sentiment or the main conceptions of the book. This type generally
represents the passion of love, since almost all novels are love-
stories. According to this theory (and it is here that it begins)
the writer must idealize this love, and consequently this type, - and
must not fear to attribute to it all the powers to which he inwardly
aspires, or all the sorrows whose pangs he has observed or felt.
This type must in no wise, however, become degraded by the
vicissitude of events; it must either die or triumph."

In 1831, when her pen began its fluent course through the lyrical
works of her first period - Indiana, Valentine, Lelia, Jacques, and
the rest - we conceive George Sand's culture, temper, and point of
view to have been fairly comparable with those of the young Shelley
when, fifteen years earlier, he with Mary Godwin joined Byron and
Jane Clairmont in Switzerland - young revoltes, all of them,
nourished on eighteenth century revolutionary philosophy and Gothic
novels. Both these eighteenth century currents meet in the work of
the new romantic group in England and in France. The innermost
origin of the early long poems of Shelley and the early works of
George Sand is in personal passion, in the commotion of a romantic
spirit beating its wings against the cage of custom and circumstance
and institutions. The external form of the plot, whatever is
fantastic and wilful in its setting and its adventures, is due to
the school of Ann Radcliffe. But the quality in Shelley and in
George Sand which bewitched even the austere Matthew Arnold in his
green and salad days is the poetising of that liberative eighteenth
century philosophy into "beautiful idealisms" of a love emancipated
from human limitations, a love exalted to the height of its gamut by
the influences of nature, triumphantly seeking its own or shattered
in magnificent despair. In her novels of the first period, George
Sand takes her Byronic revenge upon M. Dudevant. In Indiana and its
immediate successors, consciously or unconsciously, she declares to
the world what a beautiful soul M. Dudevant condemned to sewing on
buttons; in Jacques she paints the man who might fitly have matched
her spirit; and by the entire series, which now impresses us as
fantastic in sentiment no less than in plot, she won her early
reputation as the apologist for free love, the adversary of
marriage.

In her middle period - say from 1838 to 1848 - of which The Miller of
Aginbault, Consuelo, and The Countess of Rudolstadt are
representative works, there is a marked subsidence of her personal
emotion, and, in compensation, a rising tide of humanitarian
enthusiasm. Gradually satiated with erotic passion, gradually
convinced that it is rather a mischief-maker than a reconstructive
force in a decrepit society, she is groping, indeed, between her
successive liaisons for an elusive felicity, for a larger mission
than inspiring Musset's Alexandrines or Chopin's nocturnes. It is
somewhat amusing, and at the same time indicative of her vague but
deep-seated moral yearnings, to find her writing rebukingly to
Sainte-Beuve, as early as 1834, apropos of his epicurean Volupte:
"Let the rest do as they like; but you, dear friend, you must
produce a book which will change and better mankind, do you see? You
can, and therefore should. Oh, if poor I could do it! I should lift
my head again and my heart would no longer be broken; but in vain I
seek a religion: Shall it be God, shall it be love, friendship, the
public welfare? Alas, it seems to me that my soul is framed to
receive all these impressions, without one effacing another ... Who
shall paint justice as it should, as it may, be in our modern
society?"

To Sainte-Beuve, himself an unscathed intellectual Odysseus, she
declares herself greatly indebted intellectually; but on the whole
his influence seems to have been tranquillizing. The material for
the radical program, economic, political, and religious, which, like
a spiritual ancestor of H. G. Wells, she eagerly sought to
popularize by the novels of her middle years, was supplied mainly by
Saint-Simon, Lamennais, and Leroux. Her new "religion of humanity,"
a kind of theosophical socialism, is too fantastically garbed to
charm the sober spirits of our age. And yet from the ruins of that
time and from the emotional extravagance of books grown tedious,
which she has left behind her, George Sand emerges for us with one
radiant perception which must be included in whatever religion
animates a democratic society: "Everyone must be happy, so that the
happiness of a few may not be criminal and cursed by God."

One of George Sand's French critics, M. Caro, a member of the
Academy, who deals somewhat austerely with her religiose enthusiasms
and with her Utopian projects for social reformation, remarks
gravely and not without tenderness:

"The one thing needful to this soul, so strong, so rich in
enthusiasm, is a humble moral quality that she disdains, and when
she has occasion to speak of it, even slanders, - namely resignation.
This is not, as she seems to think, the sluggish virtue of base
souls, who, in their superstitious servitude to force, hasten to
crouch beneath every yoke. That is a false and degrading
resignation; genuine resignation grows out of the conception of the
universal order, weighed against which individual sufferings,
without ceasing to be a ground of merit, cease to constitute a right
of revolt. ... Resignation, in the true, the philosophical, the
Christian sense, is a manly acceptance of moral law and also of the
laws essential to the social order; it is a free adherence to order,
a sacrifice approved by reason of a part of one's private good and
of one's personal freedom, not to might nor to the tyranny of a
human caprice, but to the exigencies of the common weal, which
subsists only by the concord of individual liberty with obedient
passions."

Well, resigned in the sense of defeated, George Sand never became;
nor did she, perhaps, ever wholly acquiesce in that scheme of things
which M. Caro impressively designates as "the universal order." Yet
with age, the abandonment of many distractions, the retreat to
Nohant, the consolations of nature, and her occupation with tales of
pastoral life, beginning with La Mare au Diable, there develops
within her, there diffuses itself around her, there appears in her
work a charm like that which falls upon green fields from the level
rays of the evening sun after a day of storms. It is not the charm,
precisely, of resignation; it is the charm of serenity - the serenity
of an old revolutionist who no longer expects victory in the morning
yet is secure in her confidence of a final triumph, and still more
secure in the goodness of her cause. "A hundred times in life," she
declares, "the good that one does seems to serve no immediate
purpose; yet it maintains in one way and another the tradition of
well wishing and well doing, without which all would perish." At the
outset of her career we compared her with Shelley. In her last
phase, she reminds us rather of the authors of Far from the Madding
Crowd and The Mill on the Floss, and of Wordsworth, once, too, a
torch of revolution, turning to his Michaels and his leech-gatherers
and his Peter Bells. Her exquisite pictures of pastoral life are
idealizations of it; her representations of the peasant are not
corroborated by Zola's; to the last she approaches the shield of
human nature from the golden side. But for herself at least she has
found a real secret of happiness in country life, tranquil work, and
a right direction given to her own heart and conscience.

It is at about this point in her spiritual development that she
turns towards Gustave Flaubert - perhaps a little suspiciously at
first, yet resolved from the first, according to her natural
instinct and her now fixed principles, to stimulate by believing in
his admirable qualities. Writing from Nohant in 1866 to him at
Croisset, she epitomises her distinction as a woman and as an author
in this playful sally: "Sainte-Beuve, who loves you nevertheless,
pretends that you are dreadfully vicious. But perhaps he sees with
eyes a bit dirty, like that learned botanist who pretends that the
germander is of a DIRTY yellow. The observation was so false that I
could not help writing on the margin of his book: 'IT IS YOU, WHOSE
EYES ARE DIRTY.'"

We have spoken of George Sand as a faithful daughter of the French
Revolution; and by way of contrast we may speak of Flaubert as a
disgruntled son of the Second Empire. Between his literary advent
and hers there is an interval of a generation, during which the
proud expansive spirit and the grandiose aspirations imparted to the
nation by the first Napoleon dwindled to a spirit of mediocrity and
bourgeois smugness under a Napoleon who had inherited nothing great
of his predecessor but his name. This change in the time-spirit may
help to explain the most significant difference between Flaubert and
George Sand. He inherited the tastes and imagination of the great
romantic generation; but he inherited none of its social and
political enthusiasm. He was disciplined by the romantic writers;
yet his reaction to the literary culture of his youth is not ethical
but aesthetic; he finds his inspiration less in Rousseau than in
Chateaubriand. He is bred to an admiration of eloquence, the poetic
phrase, the splendid picture, life in the grand style; with
increasing disgust he finds himself entering a society which, he
feels, neither understands nor values any of these things, and which
threatens their destruction. Consequently, we find him actuated as a
writer by two complementary passions - the love of splendor and the
hatred of mediocrity - two passions, of which the second sometimes
alternates with the first, sometimes inseparably fuses with it, and
ultimately almost extinguishes it.

The son of an eminent surgeon of Rouen, Gustave Flaubert may have
acquired from his father something of that scientific precision of
observation and that cutting accuracy of expression, by which he
gained his place at the head of modern French realism and won the
discipleship of the Goncourts, Daudet, Zola, and Maupassant and the
applause of such connoisseurs of technique as Walter Pater and Henry
James. From his mother's Norman ancestry he inherited the physique
of a giant, tainted with epilepsy; a Viking countenance, strong-
featured with leonine moustaches; and a barbaric temper, habitually
somewhat lethargic but irritable, and, when roused, violent and
intolerant of opposition. He had a private education at Rouen, with
wide desultory reading; went to Paris, which he hated, to study law,
which he also hated; frequented the theatres and studios; travelled
in Corsica, the Pyrenees, and the East, which he adored, seeing
Egypt, Palestine, Constantinople, and Greece; and he had one, and
only one, important love-affair, extending from 1846 to 1854 - that
with Mme. Louise Colet, a woman of letters, whose difficult
relations with Flaubert are sympathetically touched upon in Pater's
celebrated essay on "Style." When by the death of his father, in
1845, he succeeded to the family-seat at Croisset, near Rouen, he
settled himself in a studious solitude to the pursuit of letters,
which he followed for thirty-four years with anguish of spirit and
dogged persistence.

Flaubert probably loved glory as much as any man; but he desired to
receive it only on his own terms. He profoundly appeals to writers
endowed with "the artistic conscience" as "the martyr of literary
style." In morals something of a libertine, in matters of art he
exhibited the intolerance of weakness in others and the remorseless
self-examination and self-torment commonly attributed to the
Puritan. His friend Maxime Du Camp, who tried to bring him out and
teach him the arts of popularity, he rebuffed with deliberate
insult. He developed an aversion to any interruption of his work,
and such tension and excitability of nerves that he shunned a day's
outing or a chat with an old companion, lest it distract him for a
month afterward. His mistress he seems to have estranged by an ill-
concealed preference to her of his exacting Muse. To illustrate his
"monkish" consecration to his craft we cannot do better than
reproduce a passage, quoted by Pater, from his letters to Madame
Colet:

"I must scold you for one thing, which shocks, scandalises me, the
small concern, namely, you show for art just now. As regards glory
be it so - there I approve. But for art! - the one thing in life that
is good and real - can you compare with it an earthly love? - prefer
the adoration of a relative beauty to the cultus of the true beauty?
Well! I tell you the truth. That is the one thing good in me: the
one thing I have, to me estimable. For yourself, you blend with the
beautiful a heap of alien things, the useful, the agreeable, what
not?

"The only way not to be unhappy is to shut yourself up in art, and
count everything else as nothing. Pride takes the place of all
beside when it is established on a large basis. Work! God wills it.
That, it seems to me, is clear.

"I am reading over again the Aeneid, certain verses of which I
repeat to myself to satiety. There are phrases there which stay in
one's head, by which I find myself beset, as with those musical airs
which are forever returning, and cause you pain, you love them so
much. I observe that I no longer laugh much, and am no longer
depressed. I am ripe, you talk of my serenity, and envy me. It may
well surprise you. Sick, irritated, the prey a thousand times a day
of cruel pain, I continue my labour like a true working-man, who,
with sleeves turned up, in the sweat of his brow, beats away at his
anvil, never troubling himself whether it rains or blows, for hail
or thunder. I was not like that formerly."

The half-dozen works which Flaubert beat out on his "anvil," with an
average expenditure of half-a-dozen years to each, were composed on
a theory of which the prime distinguishing feature was the great
doctrine of "impersonality." George Sand's fluent improvisations
ordinarily originated, as we have noted, in an impulse of her
lyrical idealism; she began with an aspiration of her heart, to
execute which she invented characters and plot so that she is always



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