The Quintessential Mother

            Georges Sand was a historical figure who transcended the rigid confines of nineteenth-century French society. Her controversial behavior sculpted a new image of womanhood and helped to establish some of the earliest feminist ideas.  Georges Sand, born Amandine Aurore Dupin, adopted her pseudonym in an effort to gain respect in the literary community based not on her sex, but rather upon the quality of her writing.  This radical woman divorced her husband in an era when females were expected to cleave to a strict code of moral conduct.  Sand instilled these passionate convictions in her children; moreover, her role as mother to a son and daughter was an integral facet of her identity.  Sand particularly altered the traditional representation of motherhood in society.  She garnered professional success as a writer and proved that women were capable of maintaining their careers and their households.  This brilliant novelist’s two children, Maurice and Solange, changed the foundation of her life. Sand’s autobiography, Histoire de ma Vie, relates the powerful impact motherhood had on her function as a female writer in society.  Georges Sand remains a true testament to the versatile nature of mothers. 

            Nineteenth-century French society was infused with rigid Victorian values.  Strict limitations governed the lives of women with regard to education, marriage, and motherhood (Blount 2).  The prevailing practice was to equip young girls with the skills needed to perform wifely domestic chores and to educate their children in rudimentary subjects.  Sand, however, was fortunate enough to receive a higher level of education on par with the training usually afforded to male students.  At the age of seven, she began to attend formal tutoring sessions with a scholar named Deschartres.  Her time spent with Deschartres learning Latin, arithmetic, geography, history, and literature only solidified her strong aversion to the teaching methods of her era.  Sand professed, “Can we not then set up a system in which the intelligence of ordinary children is not sacrificed to the needs of a select few?” (Walton 33-34).   Her view of imbalanced, sexist educational institutions was further shaped by her experience in the English convent of St. Augustine.  Sand commented on this branch of her education:

These studies, for whose sake my grandmama had given up the pleasure of seeing me, amounted, more or less, to nothing.  In practice, they consisted of finishing-school lessons, and since I had become a troublemaker, I no longer bothered with them.  Of course, my errant idleness bored me sometimes; but how to rid oneself of such lazy habits once they have taken root! (Sand 144)


Despite the fact that she received an elite education, Sand was not stimulated or challenged by her studies.  Later in life she observed, “Women are given a deplorable education.  Men have introduced abuses in every quarter, monopolizing the advantages of the most important institutions.” (Jack 47).  Women were usually exposed to diluted information.  Men tried to regulate the education of women in order to restrict their political and social rights.  Consequently, most bourgeois women were allowed to develop only basic reading and writing skills.  Men, conversely, were endowed with the freedom to seek out enriched forms of enlightenment without restrictions. 

            The conservative matrimonial traditions imbedded in French society also provoked Georges Sand’s sense of defiance. Her father’s decision to deviate from the accepted social standards had a strong impact on her opinions.  As a testament to his indifference towards the rigid class structure, he married a woman of a lower caste:    

Sand presented her father not as an authority figure or an upholder of gender divisions of labor but as an ideal being who liberated Sand from the domestic destiny of females, allowing her to adopt his independence of mind and action. (Walton 43-44). 


Sand did not initially emulate this atypical model of matrimony; however, her later ideas about marriage became a direct parallel to the bold actions of her father.  As a young woman, she longed for a man to provide continuity and domestic stability.  A man named Casimir Dudevant appealed to these specific desires and they married in September, 1822.  Sand asserted early on that although Dudevant “never spoke to me of love and he admitted to being little disposed to sudden passion or enthusiasm,” their union could thrive on reason and logic alone.   Despite Sand’s youthful optimism, she soon tired of this passionless arrangement.  She felt enslaved by the “preordained social condition of marriage” (Sand 197).  Following the birth of her first child, Maurice, in 1824, Sand became severely depressed and began to conspire ways to regain her sorely-missed freedom.  In 1830, Sand and Dudevant came to an agreement of mutual emancipation that enabled both parties to commit adultery freely.  In the wake of this transition, she moved to Paris in hopes of sparking a literary career.  Sand took several lovers, including writer Jules Sandeau and lawyer Michel de Bourges.  Modern critic Whitney Walton draws clear parallels between Sand’s revolutionary behavior and her ideas about society:

Love and marriage were intensely political for Sand because she held both up as shining ideals that social mores and men’s laws corrupted degraded, and denied.  Hence, her writings about these topics were far more than an affirmation of or justification for personal rebellion; rather, they were calls for social and political transformations that would allow women and men to love freely, devotedly, and as equals. (67-69)


Sand affirmed that the major rift in her marriage was not caused by a mere lack of excitement, but rather by financial inequalities that restricted her freedom: “In our wholly fastidious society, to have no cash at all means frightful want or absolute powerlessness.  To be without responsibilities is its own sort of serfdom—something approaching the shame of a suspension of civil rights” (Sand 197).   Sand finally refused to act as a passive member of her marriage.  She achieved her own financial security that, in turn, provided her with a confidence in her abilities as an independent human being.  Most women in this era were inextricably tied to their husbands or fathers. Sand broke free from these patriarchal confines.  On October 30, 1835, Sand filed her official request for separation from Casimir Dudevant (Jack 245).   In severing her marital union, she regained control of her property, body, and mind.  The separation enabled Sand to assert her own parental views over her children instead of resigning herself to the will of her ex- husband.  This transition caused the organization of Sand’s family hierarchy to deviate from the norm.  The representative household of the nineteenth century was ruled by a paternal figure.  Sand, however, became the head of her family and was able to place the needs of her children above those of any man:

A timid or generous wife must choose between respecting her husband or protecting her children.  One of these duties will stand in opposition to the other.  Will they then praise her—if maternal love does not win out—for having sacrificed her children’s future to the demands of public morality, family sanctity? (Sand 225)


 A typical wife of this time period worked tirelessly to please her husband, often times at the expense of her children’s happiness.  Sand, however, extricated her son and daughter from a warring household and manipulated a negative situation into a positive new beginning.

                                                                                      George Sand (Sketch in Tophat) drawn by Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix.

In Sand’s life, attaining her independence was not only an act of self-liberation, but also a means of improving the domestic atmosphere for her children.  She was perfectly aware of
        how her loveless marriage negatively affected Maurice and Solange:   

In contrast to those theorists who assumed that family unity and the morality of children were inseparable and assured by parental authority, Sand revealed how the moral welfare of children might have to be achieved at the expense of family unity, and hence of paternal authority. (Walton 176)

Divorce and single-mother households were not socially accepted because of the importance placed upon paternal influence within families.  Sand, however, bravely chose to raise her

children independently.  In an age when the primary role of women was that of a domestic servant and breeder, she was steadfastly committed to earning a living as a writer.  She supported

herself and her two children with income earned during her successful literary career.  Her function as breadwinner was not the only radical aspect of Sand’s mother and child relationship. 

Sand breastfed both of her children, an extremely rare practice for a woman of her social status, “under the influence of Rousseau’s prescriptions for maternity” (Jack 112).  She combined

her scholarly knowledge of philosophy with her maternal desire to develop an intimacy with her children; moreover, she believed that class structure was a completely irrelevant topic in the

arena of motherhood.  Like many enlightened parents, Sand also chose to learn from her own mother’s mistakes.  Georges’ mother, Sophie-Victoire Delaborde, was a self-indulgent woman

who lacked the stability that children require:

This absence of stability in her mother made her in some ways irresponsible, and prevented Aurore from feeling properly and unconditionally loved.  It was a failing that Sand could explain, but never forgave, and also the origin of the deep, gnawing ache which Sand later used as a metaphor for human existence. (Sand, 22)


With these shortcomings, Sophie-Victoire also possessed an innate sense of creativity.  From her mother, George learned how to nurture her own imaginative instincts and to apply these characteristics to her parenting style.  Georges Sand’s avant-garde habits were mirrored in the behavior of her children.  Author Belinda Jack cites that, “despite her complexities, Sand was an excellent mother, and adored by her children” (269). 

Georges Sand’s ability to evolve in a world where women were subjugated and ruled by men translated into an immense power.  In transcending the oppressive gender constructs of nineteenth-century French society, she gained the respect of male and female artistic geniuses; moreover, she impressed upon her children the importance of learning.  The house she shared with her children in Paris was frequented by a myriad of influential creative figures.  Chopin, Duteil, Fleury, Papet, Planet, and Rollinat were regular guests in her home (Jack 283).  This innovative circle of artistic leaders provided a completely unconventional and inspiring environment for Maurice and Solange.  Sand taught her children how to reject traditional influences and to think for themselves.

            Georges Sand is a timeless figure who represents social revolution as definitively today as she did in the nineteenth century.  Her iron resolve and brilliant mind enabled her to effect lasting change.  Sand not only revolutionized the literary world, but also the roles of women in a world dominated by men.  Her daring decision to divorce her husband enabled her to fulfill both maternal and paternal parenting responsibilities; moreover, she forced people of all classes and backgrounds to formulate original ideas about motherhood.  She applied this vigorous philosophy to her own life and to the lives of her children.  In all those close to her, Sand cultivated a genuine love of independence.  Both Maurice and Solange traveled the world and obtained knowledge with voracious appetites.  Her proactive nature prevented her children from accepting a fate pervaded by stagnant mediocrity and instilled in them the ability to succeed. 

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