Sand, our contemporary

on the occasion of the release of the critical edition of Mauprata total novel published in 1837, it is important to recall the modernity of George Sand, particularly with regard to the education of citizens and the defense of women's rights.

François Kerlougan is a lecturer in French literature from XIXe century the University of Lyon 2 and member of theIHRIM.He works on the novel of the first half of the century. He is interested in representations of the body and the social uses of norms, as well as minors. He has written numerous articles on the Sandian novel. Recently, he published, with Olivier Bara, George Sand comic (UGA2020) and, with Marion Mas, The Code in full: writing and rewriting of the Civil Code in XIXe century (Classiques Garnier, 2020). He has just produced the critical edition of Maupratby George Sand (Paris, Honor Champion, Texts of modern and contemporary literature2023, 660 p.).

The Life of Ideas: What are you talking about Mauprat ?

Franois Kerlougan: This novel, which George Sand published in 1837, tells the story, in the heart of Berry, on the eve of the Revolution, of Bernard de Mauprat. Born into an old feudal family that descended into banditry, raised by violent uncles, the young man is brutal and impulsive. One day, his uncles dare him to rape his young aunt Edme. She begs him to spare her and, in exchange, she promises to marry him. Captivated by her beauty and her courage, Bernard accepts.

But Edme will only marry him, she tells him, if he agrees to educate. She then teaches him to read and think with the works of philosophers. Under his guidance, Bernard de Mauprat became educated, introduced to new ideas and even went so far as to engage, with La Fayette, in the American war of independence. After many adventures, the two young people married and started a family, not without having participated in the Revolution by ceding part of their property to the peasants.

George Sand around 1835 by François Thodore Rochard

The subject of the novel is the transformation of a man, who goes from savagery civilization. A moral journey but also a political one, because Bernard's route embodies the passage from the Ancien Régime to the democratic age. This is an ideal historical metamorphosis, and it is precisely for this reason that Sand chooses the fictional narrative to depict it.

If the couple formed by the tutor and her student occupies the foreground, we must not forget the character of Patience, the hermit taken in democratic ideals who participates in the education of the hero. I propose, in my edition, to see it as a fictional transposition of Pierre Leroux (1797-1871), a utopian socialist thinker, friend and protégé of the author, who shares with Patience his physical appearance, his faith in legality, and even an onomastic proximity, the name of Patience and Le Houx.

The Life of Ideas: What does your critical statement consist of??

FK: edit Mauprat was a big job. In her letters, at the time she wrote the novel, Sand said she was working like a beef. I believe I can, modestly, take this observation into account!

edition Michel Lvy brothers (1869)

I had at first table the text, taking as a reference edition, in accordance with the principle of Complete works published by Champion, the last edition during Sand's lifetime, namely the Michel Lvy brothers edition of 1869. I then compared this edition to the manuscript, kept in the Institute Library. The differences were numerous, from simple word substitutions to more consequential reformulations.

Chapter illustration XXII by Tony Johannot for the J. Hetzel edition (1852)

This work was done for each of the editions during Sand's lifetime. This survey of more than 5,000 variants, laborious as it was, allowed me to enter into the maze and detail of the work. He taught me a lot. Browsing the manuscript, a source of great emotion for me, made me confirm the hypotheses of Claude Sicard and Jean-Pierre Lacassagne, authors of two previous editions of the novel (1969 and 1981), according to which Sand had first started by writing a short story, which she then integrated into her novel. This text editing work, which tends to be a little neglected these days, is at the heart of literary research. The work then continued with the establishment of more than 450 footnotes.

Finally, last step, the presentation, which was the most pleasant part. I particularly focused on the adaptation of Mauprat for the scene by Sand in 1853, which hits Second Empire due to the virtual disappearance of the political dimension, so important in the novel. I also focus on the abundant reception of the novel. I wanted to study the link of Mauprat the image: the illustration of the novel in two editions of the XIXe century and the film by Jean Epstein (1926), where the filmmaker captures the essence of the novel thanks to images of rare power.

The Gazeau Tower

I add that the visit, halfway through my work, to the house of Sand Nohant and the Berry countryside (where we can still see the Gazeau Tower, one of the important places in the novel, since it is there that Patience, at the beginning of the story , read home) allowed me to understand the novel more intimately.

The Life of Ideas: What is the place of Mauprat in Sand's work?

FK: In 1837, Sand already occupied a place in literary life. Mauprat therefore only takes him one more step, but it is an essential step. The novel brings two great innovations, which will become constants in his work.

First, the author invents, with Mauprat, a new novelistic model: the novel will henceforth be a tool for sharing political ideas and social ideals. She understands the resources that romance offers her to think about her times, but also to provide a response to the political and social impasses that it brings with it a response that is as firm as it is nuanced. Mauprat can, on this level, be perceived as the last of Sand's romantic novels, and the first of his committed novels. But this is not necessarily a thesis novel, because fiction and its irregularities always disrupt what could appear as too good a demonstration. Passed through the sieve of the novel, the Sandian thought of history only emerges richer.

Chapter illustration VI by Tony Johannot, for the J. Hetzel edition (1852)

Which also makes Mauprat a decisive milestone in Sand's career is that the writer found, with this novel, a romantic formula. It is in fact the first of his novels to bring together, in an ambitious manner, several romantic traditions and orchestrate them through a strong and original plot. Merge into Mauprat the historical novel, the picaresque novel, the adventure novel, the noir novel, the sentimental novel (the memory of The New Hlose is very present there), but it is also a detective novel before its time, as well as a detective novel, a marvelous tale and a philosophical tale. By mixing these various genres and styles, Sand brings all of literature into his work.

The Life of Ideas: How is Sand our contemporary??

FK: I will give two reasons. First, advocacy in favor of education. This hobby horse will be Sand's all his life, but it is particularly visible in Mauprat. The author believes this is the great lesson of the novel in the evolution of individuals and history, in the capacity of human societies to transform. The novel ends with the affirmation of the need for education for all and the denunciation of social determinism.

Chapter illustration VI by Julien Le Blant for the A. Quantin edition (1886)

For Sand, education has a real political value, because the novelist sees it as a peaceful substitute for revolutions. Education can and must find a solution to everything, she makes her hero say. This plea for education has lost none of its force today.

The second point, and not the least, on which Sand's work still speaks to us today, is what it says about the relationship between the sexes. Mauprat tells the story of a man raised by a woman: this situation is already a revolution in itself, given the cultural patterns of an era where the hierarchy of the sexes is glaring.

Renouncing the virilism in which he was educated, Bernard discovers another way of being a man, a masculinity that is no longer dominant, brutal, toxic, but calming and thoughtful, and which Sand sets as a model for her readers (male and female). This defense of women's rights, very inspiring for today's feminisms, is also perceptible in a contemporary text by Maupratthe unjustly forgotten Marcie Letters (1837):

Women have rights, let us not doubt it, because they suffer injustices. They must claim a better future, wise independence, greater participation in enlightenment, more respect, esteem and interest from men.

Everything is said in these lines, and the strength of Sandian writing gives them extraordinary relevance.