Tuesday, November 27, 2012

George Sand's Indiana

Detail from the oval Charpentier portrait of 1835

The celebrity of George Sand (1804-76) has travelled across both Channel and Pond. But her books haven't, really.  She wrote sixty-nine novels, but Penguin Classics have never published a single one of them .The only book of hers that appeared in that list (briefly, in 1988), was Lettres d'un Voyageur, impressions of  Paris and of time in Italy with Musset.

But I'm showing my age here. Once again it's Librivox I have to thank for introducing me to Indiana (1832), with Mary Herndon Bell doing an excellent reading job. But in younger circles Sand's work (especially this first novel Indiana) is certainly being studied and read, as the numerous reviews on GoodReads testify.

Why wouldn't it be?  Sand was a pioneer feminist and novels like Indiana are way ahead of the Anglophone world in the radicalism of their analysis of marriage and society. Anne Brontë's Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published sixteen years later, started to come close - and was considered outrageous - though of course it has very little of Indiana's awareness of sexual psychology and behaviour.* Think of the scene, in Chapter 7, where Raymon takes his "dishevelled Creole" (Indiana's maid, Noun) to have intoxicated sex in Indiana's maidenly bed; his erotic enjoyment of the double betrayal, followed the next morning by briefly troubled reflection on his own detestable image.


I can't find much info about this portrait on the internet (though it's widely copied) - anyway, it shows Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin) when still a girl, maybe 18-ish. 


"Ile Bourbon" is the older name for the island subsequently known as Réunion, where Indiana and Noun were born. As such they are both described as Creole - the term does not in this case imply anything about ethnicity. Later in the novel we visit the colony. Sand's realization of Ile Bourbon is very skilful, but she had never been there, and she took her information from a friend's travel book.


George Sand dressed as a man

The best things in the book, probably, concern Raymon and the claustrophobic feeling of Indiana being trapped by his relentless pursuit. As we read, we are impressed again and again by Raymon's actions being natural and unthinking, from his own point of view;  yet ingeniously manipulative, i.e. to us who see Indiana's peace of mind being constantly eroded.

One of the things that makes Sand's analysis so devastating is the credible way in which she persuades us that neither the unprincipled Raymon nor the brutal Col. Delmare are really evil people but, on the contrary, rather ordinary. So the repulsion we experience is not an indictment of imaginary individuals, but of a real society's structures and values.

[Brecht made the same point about his Life of Galileo, urging producers not to present his churchmen as villains. That would only obscure his analysis of how authority behaves. Make them seem like bankers, he suggested.]

Many readers consider that the narrator is portrayed as definitely (not just grammatically) male, and that he expresses patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes that Sand doesn't intend us to accept. I think that this interpretation misses the narrator's irony. You will see that I am taking Sand and the narrator as being essentially the same person. (Perhaps this is because I have been listening to the book read aloud by a woman.)

This interpretation lands me in an apparent difficulty. The Conclusion, which takes the form of a letter to a certain J. Nébaud, is explicitly written by a young gentleman, and recounts his meeting with Ralph and Indiana in the wilds of Ile Bourbon. This young gentleman is presented as sympathetic but conventional and (in his wordy descriptions) a little ridiculous. At one point he seems to show cognizance of, if not take responsibility for, the previous chapter: "Sir Ralph... me raconta son histoire jusqu’à l’endroit où nous l’avons laissée dans le précédent chapitre." - By implication, then, you might assume that he is the narrator of the whole novel. Against this is the Conclusion's headnote, which clearly marks it off as a separate piece of writing.

But it is hard to recognize the novel's narrator in this young fellow. If he now knows nothing of Sir Ralph beyond what he is told by the islanders, how does that square with the earlier narrator's omniscience e.g. about Raymon and his political career, or the discussions between him and Ralph? Besides, isn't it primarily this earlier narrator who voices the book's most unexpected psychological insights? Some examples:

1. How Indiana moves automatically from an ultra-authoritarian father to an ultra-authoritarian husband, the way she repeats her pattern. This is traced in beautiful detail in the passage where it's pointed out that Indiana's sense of slavery is the very thing that Delmare can't stand, though he constantly creates the conditions of slavery. That another woman would "manage" Delmare easily enough.

2. After the affair between Raymon and Noun, whenever a servant speaks of Noun, Indiana notices that soon afterwards he finds himself driven to mention Raymon (though in another connection). The untold secret exerts an unconscious pressure that must be vented. 

3. The inner compulsion that Raymon feels - when he has ceased to love Indiana and has freed himself from her -  to exercise his power by writing a letter that subtly misrepresents their parting and emphasizes the intensity of a love that he doesn't feel. (Indiana "sees through all this".  But it does her no good,  what reason says is irrelevant, the letter does its work anyway.)

I don't know enough about French literature to know how original these kind of observations of behaviour were at the time Sand wrote them down; observations that seem to depend on an awareness of the life of the unconscious and its consistent but often counter-intuitive logic compared to the life of reason. In British literature there is not much of this until, I don't know, Woolf? i.e. when Freud's ideas began to percolate through, almost a hundred years later.

Indiana must be one of the first books to prompt the startling thought that all love is abuse. This isn't what Sand really believed (her most famous quote is about how the only worthwhile thing is to love and be loved) but as you read Indiana the thought comes into focus anyway. (For me it continues to resonate disquietingly through the first couple of books of Anna Karenina. The image of Vronsky shimmies and, for a few seconds, transforms into Humbert Humbert.)

Some commentators have argued that the ending is not happy and that Ralph is as oppressive as Raymon or Col. Delmare. You can understand this. I think Sand meant Indiana's occlusion in the final pages to testify to her power in private life, a power beyond the mundane (inevitably society-coloured) material of narrative. Nevertheless, it's easy to feel in a troubled way that she is merely eclipsed. But whatever the merits of this view, it misrepresents the book, because Ralph is never a wholly credible character in the way that Raymon is, and he is not presented as a case that typifies a corrupt society; in fact he is a sociopath. No, the devastating insights are all around Raymon. In the book's final third, when Ralph starts to become more central to the action, we've said goodbye to all those devastating insights, it's more a matter of emblem, a picture of two troubled souls who can meet each other in love but only by escaping the pressures of civilisation.

I am generalizing a little too much. Sand has one remarkable insight about Ralph, too: she sees how his benevolence and self-abnegation are intimately linked to his egotism: in fact, these elements of his personality all developed at the same time - as the elements of a personality usually do.

What of Indiana herself? The logic of the story tends to emphasize the extent to which she is a passive and innocent victim worn down by those two malign grindstones, her husband and her lover. That makes her sound pitiable but potentially dull. If that was Sand's plan, then she wrote better than she planned. As in (1) above, Indiana is neither altogether passive nor altogether innocent because she has a well-developed victim psychology. And we should not patronize her. She miraculously escapes having sex with Raymon - this was perhaps a sacrifice to convention, avoiding a "ruin" that would be regarded as intolerable in a heroine who is to find happiness - but if the plan began as a sacrifice to convention then Sand makes a virtue of it. She splits her woman victim in two, i.e. into the unfortunate, sensual Noun and the unfortunate, but redeemed, Indiana. One upshot of this is that Indiana emerges as a personality who is psychologically frighteningly intense but is sensually tepid. Her "Creole" innocence can switch into a magnificent literalism that appals Raymon - he takes refuge in feeling bored by her. Indiana finds numerous and quite surprising ways to tolerate, justify, even celebrate, Noun's tragic demise. Though Indiana's character is not the centre of the book's interest, it quite thoroughly transgresses convention.

George Sand, aged 6

* The Brontës' adoption of male pseudonyms was apparently suggested by George Sand's example. It seems likely that Sand's early novels were among the books mentioned by Charlotte as being sent over from Gomersal in 1840. She called them "clever wicked sophistical and immoral" but Charlotte learnt natural French conversation from them and she was certainly influenced by them; perhaps Anne was too.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 23, 2012


L and now K have recently headed off to work in foreign places, both leaving glittering trails of modern music behind them. I'm cautiously dipping in, too much exposure might blow my mind. 

From L's collection I found an unrelenting 1-hr mix from DJ Twigz,  apparently from October 2009. Twigz is from Orange County, SW California. It's a dance mix, mostly at very high tempo until the last five minutes: in its endurance-test aspect it reminds me quite a lot of the symphonies of Allan Pettersson, something that might come as a surprise to both artists.  Especially Petterssonian are the tiny repeated motifs, typically chromatic in nature, that Twigz favours here. The mix is also captivating and fun, maybe best suited to parties, suites, shops and clubs where your body listens all the time but your attention can tune in and out.

Meanwhile from K's stack of listening wonder I liked the look of the Fulgeance CD To All of You (2011). I think Fulgeance comes from Caen in Normandy. It's electronica that is both primitivist and sophisticated, the music tends to transform in unpredictable (but ever-beautiful) ways. The tracks are named after places Fulgeance has performed - a sort of inclusive, romantic wave of the hand to an international network of small scenes. Hiver Normand, Glasgow Lunacy, Sweet Sofia,  etc. Once again a resonance from the classical world came to mind, this time Joaquín Rodrigo's "Por los campos de España", like this a charmingly concise musical travelogue.

Turns out that neither artist is particularly big-time, and one thing they both have in common is that they're on SoundCloud. I promptly joined up myself, so now you can check out all three of us.

Dj Twigz - Aug 2011 by DJ-TWIGZ
London Falling by fulgeance
Londonderry Air by michaelpeverett


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

november love

I've really enjoyed November this year. This is the winnowing month. It strips back the layers of summer growth,  exposing curious, eloquent details: a Norway maple holding a fragile cup of big yellow leaves; a roadside draped with a fringe of black beads: teazel,  wild carrot, knapweed.
Kicking the drifts of dry leaves along the pavement, like every child does. It seems I haven't yet grown out of it. I'm still fascinated by the kicked leaves shifting along the road and by the steady rhythmic noise, a chuffer train or an express lift or a tarmac-flattener. Makes me wonder what happened before machines existed. Perhaps children did not kick leaves in those days. But if they did, what did it make them think of?

The first half of November had a good number of those lovely sharp days of low yellow sunshine piercing through thin crowns, of skies with blue in them, and of dramatic glimpses of  the other gem-like colours in which November is so surprisingly rich - it is not only about yellow and black.

The second half is, apparently, more in the mood to get on with its work: leaden skies through weeping panes, sodden fields and the excited wind. Flat expanses of tarmac become decorated with swirls of water. Walking at night, sections of the westward horizon that are usually uplit by distant roads and towns are blotted out by marauding inky rainclouds. 

As the flooding spreads across Somerset we say things like:  "He'll climb through a river to get here."

An unwalked-on bit of woodland floor. Mostly Norway maple, hornbeam and beech, with a bit of sycamore, wych-elm and wild cherry.

Field Maple

Field Maple



Norway Maple

Norway Maple


Thursday, November 08, 2012

cluttered desk literary ephemera


To be honest, I don't often do a huge amount of reading at my Desk.

My favourite places for reading, in no particular order, are beds, toilets, bus-stops, trains, cafes, floor-cushions, dining-tables, park benches and beaches. Though I  stop short of Wordsworth's famous marmalade-smeared knife (which he used for cutting the pages of Burke's Works) , my reading-matter of the moment does to tend to become dog-eared and defaced.

I have a desk at home, certainly, but it's used for Facebook, email, on-line banking, Spider Solitaire and that kind of thing. (Sometimes for writing.) I also have a desk at work but this is for being an IT engineer.

Of course, I DO read things at my desks, such as other people's blogs and things that I turn up on Google, and poetry that I find on-line. It can be intense for a page or two, but it's not deep-water reading. For example, I've still got a bookmarked link from last year to Aphra Behn's The Rover Part II. This is a play that, as it happens, I am highly motivated to read. If I'd had it in printed form I'd have read it ages ago. But since all I've got is the on-line text, I've read the opening scenes a couple of times, scanned and rescanned a few other passages, and my impression of the play is all fragmentary and broken. If this is true of a play (plays, after all, only take a couple of hours to read), it applies even more strongly to something like a novel.

If I added up all the literature that I've read on-line, it wouldn't amount to much more than a paltry, haphazard collection of momentarily diverting titbits. Literature minced into blog-posts, as it were.


Elliott Carter died a couple of days ago, aged 103. I found this out by catching "Wind Rose" on Radio 3. There's an amazing amount of great Carter music, it's a world. Good excuse for a link, anyway.

Matribute (2007); I'm not sure who the performer is, maybe it's James Levine himself (for whom the piece was written).

Read more »

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 03, 2012

memories of diggiloo

The great Lasse Holm

Back in July I was lucky enough to catch Diggiloo 2012 in Jämtland. It was the revue's 10th anniversary, and Lasse Holm's farewell season with the troupe.

The front cover of the program. Back row L-R: Jessica Andersson (singer), Charlotte Perrelli (singer), Fridha (singer). Centre row L-R: Thomas Petersson (comic), The Moniker (singer), Magnus Carlsson (singer), Lasse Holm (singer, compere, bandmaster), Markoolio (singer, rapper). Bottom row: Lotta Bromé (singer, comedienne, compere), Mojje (singer), Magnus Johansson (trumpeter). The revue also has a full band and dancers: I could hardly take my eyes off Kristjan Lootus, truly a Master of Dance.

Read more »


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Solidago canadensis

When I loosely call this Solidago canadensis, I don't really mean anything very definite except that it definitely isn't S. gigantea, because the stems are pubescent all the way down. The N. American species of Solidago (Goldenrod) are difficult, and garden material could be any kind of hybrid or varietal stuff. What stands out about this particular one, a gift from Ebs, is how late-flowering it is. These photos were taken on 16th October, when it was finally at its zenith.

Most other S. canadensis (using the name in its loose sense) is at peak in August or early September. It is now a familiar part of the British landscape, especially in the south, both in gardens and out of them, on the edges of fields, railway embankments, road verges etc.


Powered by Blogger