New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has written a lush historical novel based on the sensuous Parisian life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand—which is perfect for readers of Nancy Horan and Elizabeth Gilbert.
At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.
Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?
Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.
Advance praise for The Dream Lover
“In her masterly new novel, Elizabeth Berg inhabits the adventurous heart of George Sand, making sense of a puzzling legend who dared to live and write against the grain.”—Nancy Horan
“The Dream Lover—what a bold, insightful, and enticing novel. And how vigorously Elizabeth Berg brings us the iconoclastic life of George Sand. Berg writes with such intimacy and compassion that I think she must have some shared ancestral DNA with Sand. I savored every page.”—Frances Mayes
“What a rich, heartbreaking, triumphant novel Elizabeth Berg has written! I recommend reading it with a highlighter in hand to mark the insights about love and life and being a woman that are on every page so you can reread and savor them.”—Ann Hood
“The Dream Lover is a historical novel at once expansively researched yet intimately imagined. George Sand may be the ultimate Berg heroine. ‘A life not lived in truth,’ Berg writes, ‘is a life forfeited.’ In this latest work, Elizabeth Berg has poured her own great gifts and her own great heart into the story of a woman determined to refuse any such forfeiture, no matter the cost.”—Leah Hager Cohen
“The Dream Lover is the dream match of writer to subject, Elizabeth Berg animating George Sand so vividly that you feel the Frenchwoman speaking directly to you. Infamous for her eccentricities and her passions, Sand is shown to be a touching figure, a woman needing to love and be loved.”—Robin Black
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Tapestry of Fortunes, The Last Time I Saw You, Home Safe, The Year of Pleasures, and Dream When You’re Feeling Blue, as well as two collections of short stories and two works of nonfiction. Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for an Abby Award, and The Pull of the Moon was adapted into a play. Berg has been honored by both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library. She is a popular speaker at venues around the country, and her work has been translated into twenty-seven languages. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a reading series designed to serve author, audience, and community. She divides her time between Chicago and San Francisco.
Date of Birth:December 2, 1948
Place of Birth:St. Paul, Minnesota
Education:Attended the University of Minnesota; St. Mary¿s College, A.A.S.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
My father’s name was Maurice Dupin. His great-grandfather was Augustus II, king of Poland; and his grandfather was Maurice de Koenigsmark, later called the Maréchal de Saxe when he was the most exalted field marshal in Napoleon’s army. This maréchal was renowned not only for his cunning and bravery upon the battlefield but for a particular kind of bonhomie he demonstrated in war. For instance, he commonly arranged for women and theater for himself and his men to enjoy after a good day of battle—never, he believed, would they appreciate such things more. All of France knew his name.
And so it was in my father’s blood, his great love of the military, and he joined the army in 1798, when he was twenty years old, never mind his mother twisting her handkerchief. Two years later, he was transferred to Milan, Italy, as an aide-de-camp, and it was there that he met my mother.
She was Antoinette-Sophie-Victoire Delaborde, called Sophie, a courtesan currently living with a general who’d been smitten by her great beauty, her passion, and her gaiety. As was my father. He stole her away from the general, apparently with little ill will, for he was later promoted.
In many letters written to his mother at this time, my father spoke of his love for his fine mistress, and my grandmother worried and fretted, frightened to death that her son might marry someone so far beneath him. She knew that my mother was four years older than Maurice and of a lower class, born to a poor man who sold songbirds on the quays of the Seine, and that in addition to working as a camp follower, she had a young daughter. It was not the match my grandmother had in mind for her beloved son.
There was in this no small measure of hypocrisy. My grandmother may have had illustrious aristocrats in her family, but she came from a long line of illegitimate births, including her father’s. And she herself was illegitimate—her mother, ironically, was a courtesan who had captured the Maréchal de Saxe’s attention.
My father went on to distinguish himself in battle, as his grandfather had, but then he was captured by the enemy and held for two months as a prisoner of war. In May 1801, after his release, he returned home to my grandmother at Nohant. His normally buoyant personality had changed; he had about him an air of melancholy. One would expect such a change after a man is subjected to the ills of imprisonment—vile treatment, near starvation, and only straw upon the ground for a bed. Add to this the mental distress of my father coming to understand that he was perhaps not destined always to be lucky, as he had often told his mother—he was as vulnerable as anyone else. But what beleaguered my father most in those days was the thought that he would have to choose between two women, both of whom he loved.
My grandmother had been my father’s only parent since, when he was nine years old, his father died, leaving the little family enough of a fortune that my grandmother had a comfortable yearly income. In 1793, when the eleven months of the Reign of Terror began and the ruling Jacobins were ordering mass executions by guillotine in order to compel obedience to the state, she had fled her apartment in Paris and bought a peaceful country estate 150 miles south of the city. It was in the Berry region, a gently hilly, largely agricultural area of central France, and the estate lay just outside the little village of Nohant-Vic, population 272. Nohant was situated between the larger towns of Châteauroux and La Châtre.
The house itself, done in the style of Louis XVI, was commodious without being ostentatious. It had once been the site of a fourteenth-century feudal castle, and the bell tower still stood, its dusty, tile-lined belfry serving as a gathering place for doves. On the estate’s acreage were the smaller houses of peasants, tenant farmers who worked the land. With its fields, expansive gardens, acres of forests, and the Indre River running through it, it was a beautiful place in which to grow up.
In the absence of his own father, my father displayed toward his mother the protective attitude that is understandable in such situations. Their correspondence to each other revealed a mutual affection and appreciation as well as a deep level of trust; and oftentimes the language my father used in expressing his longing to see his mother bordered more than a little on the romantic.
But Sophie! Literally from the time my father first saw her, he was obsessed with her. He had had plenty of opportunities to delight in the charms of highborn, beautiful, and cultured women. Sophie offered something different, something more. He—and many others, I might add—found her irresistible. The more time he spent with her, the more his love intensified.
After he’d been released from prison, my father had gone to see Sophie in Paris. At that time, she was again living with a general, but she begged my father to take her with him when he went back to Nohant. Because he was at that point a penniless soldier (he did not then or ever like to rely upon his mother for his support), she even offered to lend him money to fund the trip. My father’s response was that my mother should think carefully and without his influence about whether she truly wanted to be with him, leaving behind a man who kept her in a manner most comfortable. My father’s charm would not buy bread.
It took almost no time for my mother to make her decision: she elected to throw in her lot with my father, the man she truly loved. And so the two of them set out for Nohant.
My father had a plan: rather than introducing the two women right away, he would set Sophie up three miles away in La Châtre, at an inn called the Tête Noire. When the time was right, he would make the introduction.
After he spent a few days at Nohant, my father began disappearing for long stretches of time, telling his mother he was visiting relatives. But she suspected he was seeing a woman and finally confronted her son.
My father admitted that it was Sophie he was seeing, that he was keeping her at the inn. He said, “She has sacrificed everything in order to be with me. I am full of gratitude toward her, full of joy that she has chosen to be by my side.”
My grandmother’s feelings were hardly the same. Bosom heaving, lace cockade trembling at the top of her head, she told her son that she refused to meet Sophie. She berated him for the scandal such a woman’s presence would cause and requested that he immediately send Sophie back to Paris, without him.
“For so many long days and nights I turned away food, I could not sleep, for worry about you,” she told him. “I rejoiced that when you came home on leave you would be with me until you had to return to the service. Now even when you are with me, you are not; your thoughts are always with her. Please, I beg you, send her away; give yourself time to think carefully about your future!”
My father’s response was uncharacteristically strident. “You ask me to turn her away as though she were a vulgar mistress, when I tell you over and over again that in fact I adore her! Was it not you who made me an acolyte of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who said that we are all born good and capable of self-improvement? Have you not all your life taught me to appreciate the noble attributes of people regardless of their class?”
My grandmother only stared at him, helpless to explain the difference between what is in a mother’s head and what is in her heart.
They went round and round, each wounded, each hoping the other would come to understand their version of the irrefutable truth. The dinner table, once gay with stories and laughter, was now all but silent, the clinking of silverware and the murmur of the servants the only sounds.
It was Jean-François Deschartres who finally resolved the issue in a bold move, one that came with dire consequences.
Deschartres was my father’s tutor. He was a secularized cleric, having studied for the priesthood without being ordained, and he was under my grandmother’s employ. He was inordinately devoted to both my father and her.
He was an odd man, very thin and tall, pale of skin and eye. He kept his tonsured hairstyle, and he favored wearing knee breeches and stockings and yellow gaiters. In cold weather, he always wore the same ancient brown coat. He had a stutter that was more pronounced when he was nervous, and he was occasionally excitable in the way of an old woman. He had, too, an air of perpetual distractibility, as though he held the Almighty in one hand and you in the other and could never quite decide to whom he should give his complete attention.
But Deschartres was also highly intelligent, an expert in teaching a great variety of subjects. He had no understanding of love or passion, however. He looked upon such emotions as something that must be tolerated in his fellow human beings, a kind of tic of personality he felt fortunate not to be burdened by.
Hearing the arguments between my father and my grandmother must have distressed Deschartres greatly; he had never before seen them behave toward each other in this way. And so early one morning, while the rest of the household was asleep, he went to see Sophie. He intended to persuade her, for the good of all, to leave immediately.
He picked a bouquet of flowers before he left, and on the ride over, he practiced in his mind what he would say to her. When he got to the inn, he quickly climbed the stairs to her room and knocked at the door.
He knocked again, loudly now, and heard a low voice, sweet in tone, say, “Maurice?”
“It is I, François Deschartres, Maurice’s tutor.” He felt a sudden rush of blood to his head, an outbreak of perspiration. He wiped his upper lip and leaned forward to speak authoritatively into the crack of the door. “I have come with an important message for you.” He put his ear to the crack to listen for her response and heard Sophie walk quickly across the floor. There were sounds of rapid dressing, and then she flung open the door.
Upon seeing her, Deschartres was at first speechless: she had been sleeping, and there was a soft pink flush to the cheeks of her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were wide and dark and very beautiful, direct in their gaze. She was barefoot, and her black hair was not done up but loose around her face, cascading over her shoulders. Her bosom was ample, her waist narrow, and she had about her an air of sultry grace.
He asked if he might come in.
“Bien sûr,” she said, most pleasantly, and stepped aside to let him pass. She was very small in stature, and it must have given even dry-souled Deschartres pause to think about delivering such a stern directive to one so tiny.
He offered her the bouquet, and she took it without looking at it. “Has something happened?”
“Only this,” Deschartres said. “Your presence here has made for a great rift in the relationship between Maurice and his mother, whom, as you must know, he loves more than any person on earth. Every day they argue bitterly, and I can tell you most assuredly that this is not their way; they have always been unusually close. I have come to ask you to go back to Paris. Maurice says you love him; what better way can you prove it than to spare him the terrible pain you are now causing him? Give him distance, give him time, do not subject him any longer to such terrible strain, especially when he has so recently been freed from prison. Surely, without any need for elaboration, you can see that you are not meant for each other. He is in need of peace and care and quiet. Now, if you will kindly collect your things, I shall arrange—”
“Out of my sight, you fool!” Sophie cried, flinging the bouquet to the floor. “Go back to kissing the withered feet of your benefactress! Do not spoil Maurice’s and my happiness with such a ridiculous demand. Do you imagine that I do not know what Maurice needs now? You may rest assured it is not his mother!”
And then, small as she was, she forced Deschartres from the room, slamming and locking the door after him.
An outraged Deschartres knocked again and again, to no avail. Finally, he said, “Have it your way, then, ignorant girl! You leave me with no choice but to call upon the authorities. Then we shall see how long you stay here spinning your web! You are a common prostitute, rightfully worthless in the eyes of respectable people, and you do not belong here!”
“I’ll leave this pedestrian place all right,” Sophie shouted. “And I’ll take Maurice with me, you’ll see! You have no idea how much he loves me. Every day, he begs me to marry him! I’ll take him with me and we will never return!”
Excerpted from "The Dream Lover"
Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Berg.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
Elizabeth Berg on George Sand
To anyone who observes my life superficially, I must seem either a fool or a hypocrite. But whoever looks below the surface must see me as I really am—-very impressionable, carried away by my love of beauty, hungry for truth, faulty in judgment, often absurd, and always sincere.
—George Sand, in a letter to a friend
Even without knowing much about her, many people are fascinated by George Sand. I am one of them, and I was amazed that no one had written a novel about her. I called my friend Nancy Horan (Loving Frank) and told her she just had to write a novel about George Sand: her life was so sexy, so interesting! Nancy said, “Nah, you do it.” So I did.
George Sand, whose real name was Aurore Dupin Dudevant, was a nineteenth--century French novelist whose work elucidated the deepest thoughts and feelings and frustrations of the female psyche and, later in her career, illuminated class struggle. In 1831, when she was twenty--six, she left her philandering husband to attempt a literary life in Paris. At twenty--eight, she published her first novel, Indiana, and it made her the first woman to become a bestselling novelist in France. It also made her famous internationally. She was prolific: she wrote more than eighty novels, thirty--five plays, and a great deal of nonfiction. Her work has been widely praised by everyone from Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Yet she is mostly remembered today for wearing men’s clothing (first, so she could get cheap seats at the theater), smoking cigars, and having scandalous love affairs, most notably with composer Frédéric Chopin, with whom she lived for eight years and whose work she helped shape and inspire. She was friends with Franz Liszt, Gustave Flaubert, and Eugene Delacroix, who painted her. But I believe that the greatest love of Sand’s life was a woman, a French actress named Marie Dorval, who, at the time George Sand met her, was the toast of Paris. (She was also was a nineteenth--century wild woman, taking lovers of either sex with impunity and with her husband’s knowledge.)
I was first attracted to George Sand because of some tantalizing information that I came across about her in The Writer’s Almanac’s daily newsletter, which offers a poem and snippets of information about things literary. When I began researching Sand by reading her long autobiography, a number of biographies, some of her novels, her letters, and her journal, I saw that she was a woman of great contradiction: her father was an aristocrat and her mother was a courtesan. George Sand was a rebel who was put into a convent to learn the social graces and ended up wanting to become a nun. She adored children and prized the ideal of family but became estranged from her own daughter and husband. She had a great appreciation for life but also frequently contemplated suicide. She loved the peace of her country estate, Nohant, but was equally drawn to the hustle and bustle of Paris. She spoke out against the enslavement of women yet enslaved herself to men. Described by poet Alfred de Musset as the most feminine woman he had ever known, she often called herself a man. Her entire life was full of drama, both by circumstance and by her own hand.
I came to admire George Sand for the beauty, crystalline logic, and easy flow of her prose, for her acute insight into the human psyche, and for her evocation of the loveliness of nature. I admired as well her mysticism and her politics. But mostly I admired her for her essential goodness of heart, her humanity, her vulnerability. She was a political activist who was heavily involved in the 1848 Revolution; an extraordinary intellectual who sat in salons and had long discussions with poets, writers, politicians, and philosophers; and a staunch advocate for women’s rights. But as she would be the first to admit—-and often did—-her raison d’être was love, and in it she was a fool, just like the rest of us. With this novel, I wanted to pre-sent an intimate portrait of a highly sensual, brilliant, complicated woman whose ideas are as relevant today as they were more than 150 years ago.
A Conversation Between
Elizabeth Berg and Nancy Horan
Nancy Horan is the bestselling author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky.
NANCY HORAN: I know you were strongly drawn to George Sand’s story but you resisted writing a novel about her at first. What made you jump in and go for it?
ELIZABETH BERG: Well, the real answer, as you may recall, is that you wouldn’t! One day I read a little about George Sand on The Writer’s Almanac, and I got very excited about learning more. I especially wanted to know the “good stuff,” which is to say, deeply personal things about her character as well as her thoughts and feelings, even if those things were largely conjecture. I thought you would be the perfect person to write a novel about her; I so admired the way you provided intimate access into the character of Mamah Cheney in Loving Frank. So I called you to beg you to write about George Sand. I believe when you answered the phone I said, “Nancy! You have to write about George Sand! She’s so interesting!” You had just finished Under the Wide and Starry Sky, and you weren’t ready to begin another huge undertaking. And, of course, I assume you are like most writers and want to pick your own subjects, not have them thrust upon you. At any rate, you said, “You write it!” I told you I couldn’t possibly. But then the idea wouldn’t go away, and so I plunged in, buoyed up by the last words you said to me: “Oh, of course you can write it. It will be fabulous!”
NH: I think creating a voice for a real historical figure, particularly for someone who lived nearly two hundred years ago, is rather tricky. How did you arrive at the voice you used for George Sand? Did you pull expressions from her letters to integrate into the dialogue? Did you stick to language as it was used at the time, or did you feel free to use more contemporary expressions?
EB: You know, it is a tricky thing, and I did try hard to stay away from contemporary expressions, which, when you’re reading historical fiction, can take you right out of the story. In the end, I think the way the language thing worked for me was the way my other books have worked best: the less predetermined—-the less conscious—-things are, the better.
When I was nine years old, my family lived in Texas for a while. It took me about thirty--five seconds to develop a Southern accent, to incorporate “y’all” quite naturally into my speech. I came in one night and told my parents my friend and I had to stop playing because Sherry was “fixing to eat.” My parents exchanged amused glances, and I thought, What? What’s funny?
Anyway, what I mean to say is that things rub off on me. I have a tendency to imitate, to pretend, to dramatize, as I believe many fiction writers do. So when I read (i.e., “listen to”) a lot of a person, as I did when I read George Sand’s thousand--plus--page autobiography, Story of My Life, that person’s ways of thinking and speaking rub off. George Sand entered my subconscious. I began to dream of her; then, I thought, to dream like her. I know that might sound arrogant or at least unlikely. But I believe she captured me, and I was a most willing prisoner.
NH: I find the foreignness of the past attractive territory to explore. Modern lives seem more daunting to portray in a fresh way, since so much is familiar terrain. Do you agree? Can you talk a bit about the different challenges and attractions of portraying modern lives versus historical lives?
EB: I agree that the past is wonderful to explore: evocative—-thrilling, really—-and quite necessary, when you’re writing historical fiction. But I find it much more difficult to write about the past than the present. I move through pages very quickly and easily when I write about modern times. When I’m trying to re--create something from so long ago, the pressure bears down upon me. So much to find out about, and to be responsible for! Clothes, language, the sounds of the streets, what bathrooms were like, how lamb was served, the tone of the newspapers, where one bought soap, the feel of a carriage ride over cobblestones. I spent a long time with my chin in my hands writing this book, wondering if I really should go on with it.
NH: George was considered a scandalous woman for her time. What do you think was particularly unusual about her? Do you think her reputation affected—-helped or hindered—-her career as a writer? How did it feel to write a novel about such a controversial figure?
EB: Henry James described coming up with the idea for a novel as creating a big “to do” around a character. When you write about someone real who was so controversial, the “to do” comes built in. But I am always interested in the backstory—-when someone is described as being scandalous, or out of order, or different, or demanding, especially when that someone is a woman—-and I am full of questions. What made her that way? What kind of vulnerability is behind great strength? What kind of sadness lives inside a person believed to be joyful? Or, conversely, what gaiety is there in someone viewed as being very serious? One of the things I learned in writing this novel is that the esteemed Russian writer Ivan Turgenev loved being silly. He was quite the party animal, as opposed to another of Sand’s close friends, Gustave Flaubert, who was like Eeyore the donkey in his depressive outlook.
I think what was unusual about Sand was the way her male and female qualities existed side by side, the way she was fluid about assuming the character of a man or a woman, sometimes simultaneously. Also, she was a mass of contradictions: she advocated strongly for women but didn’t like being around them all that much (with one notable exception). She was called bold but in fact was very shy. Her strongest desire was for love, but she had a pattern of having (or making) relationships disintegrate. In her time and even now, she was both reviled and adulated. She created her own god, renouncing the ideas found in organized religion, yet in her youth she wanted to be a nun.
Her reputation may have helped her as a writer, but I think it was mostly her great talent. And in any case, her reputation changed. In her own small hometown of Nohant, she went from being disapproved of—-even reviled—-to being called “The Good Woman of Nohant,” and she was deeply mourned by everyone from peasants to princes after her death.
As to how it felt writing about her, one phrase will do: challenging but exhilarating.
NH: George’s relationships with women, especially the women in her family, were very complicated. What connections do you see between George’s relationship with her mother, Sophie, and George’s subsequent relationship with her own daughter, Solange? With other people? With the actress Marie Dorval? Chopin? What might these relationships say about George herself?
EB: This is a very complicated question with a simple, two--part answer, as I see it. If you do not get the love you so desperately need early in your life, you search for it ever after. And whatever your experience of love was in those young and vulnerable years, you tend to reenact it in future relationships. Sand’s mother was by turns loving and cruel, or at least indifferent; so Sand was with her own daughter. In Sand’s relationships with men, she tended to go quickly from being passionate to being maternal, because she felt that if men needed her, they would not leave her. For Marie, she served as a man who loved with the intensity and devotion and sensitivity of a woman. I think it takes an enormous amount of insight and hard work to make yourself step out of or away from dangerous patterns that you adopt unconsciously early in life, but it can be done. That George Sand was happy and at peace with herself in her later years (after so many years of experiencing deep depressions and suicidal ideation) attests to that.
NH: Was it daunting to write about another writer? Did you reach any new understandings about the art of writing by studying Sand’s works and her comments on the subject? Do you see yourself any differently, as a writer, now that you’ve written this book?
EB: It wasn’t daunting to write about another writer, but it was daunting to write about someone so fiercely intelligent, and whose prose was so startlingly lucid and precise. I didn’t reach any new understandings about the writing process; rather, I had my own methods validated. Sand did not plot, she was wildly prolific, and she wrote from the heart. I can, as they say, relate to that.
NH: You re--create so wonderfully life in Paris in the 1820s and ’30s, and in the French countryside near Sand’s family’s estate at Nohant. What did you find about these places, this era, that inspired you? Was it liberating to write about an era different from your own?
EB: It was great fun to imagine how the sights and sounds of the city of nineteenth--century Paris would collide with the pastoral life Sand lived at Nohant. My challenge was to present the charms and allure of both lives. Sand loved and needed the intellectual and artistic and political life she had in Paris, but she needed equally the gifts of nature that she found in Nohant.
I was inspired by all the revolutionary goings--on in Paris at that time, and the way that roles of women were challenged, the way that socialism kept trying to assert itself, the way that artists—-writers, musicians, painters, poets—-gathered together in salons for entertainment that was the opposite of virtual reality. Would that we had such salons today! I wanted to be there in those salons, and one of the joys in writing this book is that I was.
As for the scenes of nature, I’m a nature and bird lover myself, so all of that came pretty easily.
NH: What do you hope that your readers will take away from this book, and from George herself? What do you feel is most important about her relevance today?
EB: George Sand’s struggle to become and stay herself, in all her permutations, was of paramount importance, and that idea is still relevant today, whether you’re a man or a woman. How is it that we find our deepest truths? What directions in life serve to move us toward our highest purposes? How do we accommodate and respect changes in ourselves? What do we owe the earth, and each other? How can we focus on appreciating the small gifts we are offered daily, for free, and relieve ourselves of the never--ending quest for more, more, more? How can we honor (and use!) what makes us different from others, rather than be ashamed of it? What is the best way to love and be loved?
All of these questions percolated in me as I wrote about George Sand, and I would be happy to have people who read the book take away the idea that answering such questions is not only our duty but our great pleasure. I would also like readers to consider whether it is true that we owe it to ourselves, and to those we love, to live in truth, even when it’s hard—-perhaps especially when it’s hard. If I could wish for one more thing, it would be that George Sand’s prose would be appreciated again, and that she would be understood as someone who was a bit more than the ruthless cigar--smoking nymphomaniac she is often portrayed as.
Finally, honestly, I will tell you that I hope readers will finish the last sentence of The Dream Lover and think to themselves, Boy! That was a good read!
1. George Sand felt she was abandoned by her mother. Did being left with her grandmother at an early age make her stronger or weaker? In what ways would George’s life have been different if her father had lived?
2. George behaved boldly but was at heart very shy. Did you notice any other paradoxes in her character and life?
3. Two very different environments were important to George’s life and work: the city of Paris and her country home at Nohant. Which do you think was more important to her? What did each offer her?
4. How do you think George’s marriage affected her art? Do you think genetics or life circumstances contribute more strongly to the making of an artist?
5. George fluidly assumed both male and female roles. She often referred to herself as a man, yet Alfred de Musset called her the most feminine woman he had ever known. What was your perception of George?
6. The mother--daughter relationships depicted in The Dream Lover are particularly complex. Do you think Sophie was a “bad” mother? What about George herself?
7. What do you think George needed most from a relationship? How is that different from what she believed she needed?
8. George described herself as “very impressionable, carried away by my love of beauty, hungry for truth, faulty in judgment, often absurd, and always sincere.” Do you agree?
9. In her quest to live truthfully, George left her husband altogether and was away from her children much of the time. How do you feel about that? Was she motivated by necessity or selfishness?
10. George quickly became maternal with her male lovers. She said at one point that it was so they would become dependent on her and not leave her. What do you think of this statement?
11. One of the great sorrows in George’s life was her contentious relationship with her daughter. What might have improved her relationship with Solange?
12. The Dream Lover suggests that Marie Dorval was the great love of George’s life. How do you feel about Marie’s assertion that one seeks not the object of one’s desire, but desire itself? Could George have accepted anything but continuous passion in a relationship?
13. Nature and spirituality were important constants in George’s life. What were the sources of these affinities? How did they play out in her work and in her life? How did they affect her worldview? If she had been allowed to become a nun, do you think she would have stayed one?
14. Some people say that the hardest sorrow to bear is the idea of what might have been. What do you think?
15. Did you learn anything surprising about George’s famous friends, such as Chopin, Flaubert, Balzac, and Liszt?
16. At the end of the novel, George is quoted as saying in a letter to Delacroix that nothing dies, nothing is lost, and nothing ends. What sentiments or experiences do you think fueled that remark? How do you interpret it?
17. Do you think that George and the things she wrote about are still relevant more than 150 years later?
18. The Dream Lover invites us into the world of salons. Do you think that book clubs are the same kind of enriching, stimulating environment? Why do we need book clubs? What do they offer our spirits and psyches that reading alone does not? How can they be expanded to provide an even deeper experience?