Elizabeth Harlan
George Sand.
Yale University Press, 384 pages, $35

Even in her day, George Sand’s great literary renown was eclipsed by her public personae. These were several and occasionally contradictory. Depending on her audience or the stage in her life, she was alternatively a heavy-smoking cross-dresser with a trail of discarded lovers, a staunch defender of woman’s equality, a scourge of the injustice of nineteenth-century marriage, and even a benevolent provincial châtelaine, never too busy or too proud to listen to the peasants’ hard-luck stories or to teach her servants to read. Among her intimates she was seen as either a selfless, doting mother or the bane of her daughter Solange’s existence. Critics and readers were divided between those who admired her almost superhuman eloquence and those who dismissed her as a graphomanic scribbler.

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