Impostor Searchlight: Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (AKA George Sand)
Our namesake is precious to us because we feel that it encompasses a lot of the contemporary struggles of being an artist—i.e., niggling questions like, Does What I’m Doing Matter? or the big ol’, Who Am I, Really? or the always-a-classic, What Am I Doing? And so many more! :)
It’s a bittersweet comfort to remember that these feelings are actually universal and timeless: for as long as literature, art, and theatre has been fueling existential crises, they more often than not wrestle with these very questions. The artists themselves usually present fairly obvious examples of Impostors, too. Why not tip a hat to them, eh?
This month, we’re paying our respects to this original boss lady Impostor: Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, a French writer who operated under the pen name “George Sand.”
Born in 1804, George Sand proved to be a pretty prolific, jack-of-all-trades artist: she was at once a novelist, a memoirist, a journalist, a playwright, a painter, and a critic. Even her letters are hailed as works of art in and of themselves. Sand lived in that sexy time where women were pretty much treated like furniture, so she got a lot of criticism basically stating that the sheer amount of work she produced was “unnatural” or “unfeminine, which is pretty funny in hindsight, because most people would give a kidney to master that kind of output. This was just one of many reasons Sand became somewhat of a cultural enigma, the power of which overshadowed her true artistry, in many folks’ opinions. (But, hey, she made a lasting impression—there’s some artistry in that, too. Read on.)
As mentioned, the 19th century was hot for equating women it garbage, so it definitely helped Sand’s case that she came from some cushion—money was an undeniable asset artistry in those days, but that’s a topic best left to a different essay. Sand’s father was the grandson of the Marshal General of France, Maurice, Comte de Saxe (the illegitimate son of Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and a Saxon elector) and a cousin (to the sixth degree, big whoop) to Kings Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X of France. Her mama was a commoner, though.
Sand had a pretty “liberal” upbringing, living mostly with her grandmother on some lush estate in one of those French provinces that make you want to wolf down cheese all day on a hillside (probably. Maybe there aren’t that many hills, I don’t know, but I picture hills.) The combination of Sand’s parents’ classes made for an early, well-rounded exposure to humanity in all its hypocritical and disappointing glory, something that surely colored her later work.
When Sand was 18, she married some cad who was some other high-and-mighty’s illegitimate son (I feel like there’s room for a “daddy issues” joke here, but honestly, I think every man had at least 16 illegitimate children back then, so it’s not like her odds weren’t high of marrying one, you know?) and had two kids. Then, in 1831, she left her husband for the next four or five years for the sake of… “romantic rebellion.” Yes, delicious, punky romantic rebellion. Then, she legally separated from the bastard (I use that word because that’s, technically speaking, what he was, not because I know anything about his character, which I don’t, sorry, this is rather one-sided research, but I’m sure he wasn’t all that,) taking the kids with her.
By this point, you’re probably forming your own conclusions about why Sand is honorary Impostor of the Month. Obviously, this was a woman with some integrity in a time where it was discouraged in females. And, of course, the pen name itself speaks volumes: integrity or none, Sand clearly knew the advantages of having a man’s name attached to one’s work. And regardless of her social standing and popularity, which were high, she still clung to the name. Beyond those necessary advantages, perhaps the male connotation afforded some other sense of legitimacy (ha) that her own did not.
If you know anything about Sand, you know that she was also in the habit of dressing as a man *gasps and faints abound*. She credited this quirk, similarly to her name, to the advantages it afforded her: in polite society, the reaction made for interesting subject matter, and in other avenues, such as in foreign environments or mens’ clubs, Sand was met with different attitudes than the ones she would receive as a proper gentlewoman. Also, corsets and layers of fabric were restricting as hell; Sand loved the freedom of a nice pair of PANTS.
Nevertheless, one can’t help but wonder at the complexities of this, dare we say, risky choice. What facets of Sand’s identity did she feel came alive under the guise of simple male attire? A swath of her epic letters indicate that she was romantically involved with a woman—an older actress—during the aforementioned “romantic rebellion” stage of her life. (Yet, it is her ties to famous men—namely, lovers like Chopin and buddies like Flaubert—who get the most at-the-ready mentions when you Google her name. Another somewhat annoying factor, but whateverrrrrr.) Could her propensity for preferring to play the role of a male represent a deeper conflict of sexual identity, or more so an experiential attempt to explore the limitations of her own sex? Or perhaps Sand just really enjoyed throwing off expectations; she also smoked tobacco and hookah constantly, much to the chagrin of that there polite society. She had to have gotten some kick out of ruffling their feathers. Or maybe she just really liked tobacco. *shrug*
Two things I came across that stuck out to me like a pair of britches in a room full of petticoats, not for any thunder striking reason other than that they rang true somehow, were these observations, one made by Virginia Woolf and one by Sand herself.
Virginia Woolf referenced Sand in A Room of One’s Own, along with George Eliot and Currer Bell, stating that they were “all victims of inner strife as their writings prove, sought ineffectively to veil themselves by using the name of a man.”
Sand, at the end of her life, seemed to have determined that the self is perpetually in a flux: “It seems to me that we change from day to day and that after some years we are a new being.”
Both items put me in mind of the many ways people pretend—not with the intent to deceive, but with the intent to further understand themselves as something dynamic. As an artist, this tricky dichotomy can be all-consuming. As a woman, the struggle is second nature—making art only complicates and illuminates it.
Whatever the true reasoning behind Sand’s constant shapeshifting, it’s only fair to herald her as an OG Impostor. Read about her, because she’s extremely fascinating as a person, but also as an artist, and this is basically just a surface write-up on her. I, for one, am going to start with her letters (RIP Letter Writing/BRING BACK LETTER-WRITING.)
In the meantime, keep checking in with The Impostors. We have exciting things on the horizon…………….