Not only from woman to woman, but from poet to poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt a connection of reverence and utmost admiration with self-titled George Sand. Barrett Browning went to the lengths of seemingly serenading Sand in her two poems “To George Sand: A Desire” and “To George Sand: A Recognition. ” In “To George Sand: A Desire,” Barret Browning addresses Sand as “Thou large-brained woman and large hearted man,” (line 1).
Sand, whose identity as a woman was kept a secret in order to avoid judgment, was able to produce poetry and fool her audience into believing she was a man. A widely-read poet in England, Sand produced several ritings and received different reactions from the citizens of Victorian England. Barrett Browning’s respect for Sand was instilled by Sand’s ability to put gender aside and produce great poetry at the cost of locking away her true identity. The desire to write poetry – regardless of the manner – was greater than the hunger for recognition as not only a person but a woman.
Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant (1804 – 1876), was a female French Romantic writer who adopted the pen name George Sand for herself to go unnoticed as a woman in the world of poetry during the nineteenth century (Greenblatt 1128). While any regard Sand’s story as “that of a woman making her way into a man’s world,” her ultimate goal was actually to escape restrictive gender roles and instead confront the ties restraining her into femininity (Jurgrau 7). From being regarded as audacious to absurd, Sand stirred many minds in the world of poetry.
She was particularly well known for her “unconventional ideas and behavior” (Greenblatt 1128). Sand’s controversial individuality is attested in her tumultuous life story. She lost her father – “the first of her natural protectors she claims she was doomed to lose” – at the tender age of four (Jurgrau 11). Furthermore, Sand witnessed her mother suffer not only the death of her husband, but saw she was “thoroughly vulnerable with respect to class and money” (Jurgrau 12).
Sand acted as a nurse to care for her dying grandmother and later also “nursed Michel de Bourges, her first mentor in revolutionary politics,” slowly developing her maternal instincts (Jurgrau 13). Later in her life Sand experienced womanly identity at its full potential when she gave birth to her first child. However, Sand later had acute post-partum depression and separation anxiety whenever she was away from her son (Jurgrau 13). She also claimed her daughter, whom might have been conceived as a result of an affair, was born prematurely and would later grow to be a child that Sand could not necessarily be proud of (Jurgrau 13).
As a result, Sand regarded her role as a mother a failure, eliciting guilt and emotional pain. In general, “being a woman had painful associations for Sand, and being raised by women had had unhappy results” (Jurgrau 14). Further adding to the controversy of the female sex for Sand, as learned from her mother, she observed aristocratic women as flirtatious and provocative while thinking of working-class women as being ictimized; however, she saw “all women as lacking the respect of society” (Jurgrau 14).
Sand persisted “on her exceptionality from other women for having had an atypical education that left her with more strength of mind, as well as a scorn for vanity and a suspicion of the desire to please all men” (Jurgrau 16). Sand’s desire for education also molded her into the unique woman she was. Sand’s Jesuit advisor encouraged her “not to fear intellectual questioning” which later led her to read the works of several philosophers such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Aristotle, as well as poets and moralists like Shakespeare and Dante Jurgrau 17).
She was further educated through her “many conversations with thinkers in the realms of theology, philosophy, politics, science, and the arts, to whom her position as a successful novelist gave her access” (Jurgrau 17). Thus, not only by the painful events that occurred throughout Sand’s life, but by her beliefs in the state of women in society as well as through her education was Sand’s work and identity influenced. Although Sand was French, her unique reputation as a writer spread to England where she was widely read; many came to be infatuated with her works while others disputed her controversial state.
In fact, “almost every nineteenth-century English intellectual had something pungent to say about Sand,” but she did have “eager enthusiasm of her female advocates, among them Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Geraldine Jewsbury (whom some considered an English Sand), George Eliot, and Carlyle’s wife Jane” (Clubbe 90). However, regardless of whether someone liked or disliked Sand, she was widely talked about. Sand’s Romanticism seemed to shock the Victorians (Clubbe 90). Some women longing for change idolized Sand, while other more traditional Victorians disliked her ability to stir minds into taking the unorthodox under consideration.
She is even said to have had such an essential impact on the Victorians that her influence on nineteenth-century cultural history cannot be disregarded (Clubbe 91). Elizabeth Barrett Browning deeply admired Sand for not only her poetry but for her influence on poetry and poets. As stated by Amy Billone, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning revered the fiction of George Sand, feeling such a kinship with her female French contemporary that she described her to Mary Russell Mitford as ‘the greatest female poet the world ever saw’ (my italics)” (577).
Barrett Browning perceived Sand as an exceptional female role model and she elieved no other woman had achieved such success before her. Barrett Browning commonly complained, “I look everywhere for grandmothers and see none,” insinuating the inferiority of female intellectuality to male intellectuality (Billone 577). However, while she assumed this “anti-feminist position,” she saw Sand as an exception (Billone 577). Barrett Browning’s respect for Sand led her to write her two poems about Sand.
In “To George Sand: A Recognition” she recognized Sand as a “True genius, but true woman” (1). Barrett Browning’s admiration for Sand was considered controversial. Victorian England consisted f a society dominated by men; women were to fulfill their husbands’ needs and, essentially, be submissive. Even an educated woman who possessed unique aptitudes “had almost no opportunity to make use of her skills in a world that was dominated by men” (Poetry Foundation 8).
Even if a woman was to somehow reach success by employing her set of skills and education, marriage was the ultimate goal for women to be content and successful, as assumed by the Victorians (Poetry Foundation 8). Therefore a woman like Sand, a revolutionarily political and literary heroine with an unusual past and ducation, lived an unorthodox life and was controversial. Barrett Browning’s veneration of a woman who did not abide to expected submissive qualities and instead redefined the ability of a female to succeed in literature was uncommon in Victorian society.
Sand’s influence on Barrett Browning led her to achieve unconventional success, surpassing her husband – Robert Browning – in the literary world (Poetry Foundation 1). Sand’s goal to merge femininity and masculinity in terms of reputation and success aided in molding a feminist movement. The determination to attain the respect which Sand believed women acked caught the attention of many people, including the successful female poet Barrett Browning.
Sand, having endured many hardships in the form of emotional and inferiority struggles, was able to transcribe her desire to succeed as a woman and a poet into her poetry, attributing to her reputation in not only her native country but also in England. Her influence in England, where she was either thought of as famous or infamous, largely distorted the Victorian role of women in society. Sand’s ability to defy the means of being “successful” as defined by the Victorians was what captured Barrett Browning’s heart and mind.