Romanticism, for me, is the most fascinating literary and artistic movement associated with France. It can be difficult (and indeed, pedantic) to sort out exactly what one means when we call something romantic or Romantic (in French, romantique). Luckily, romanticism avoids absolutes and values above all individual imagination, creativity, and sentiment, so we won’t spend too much time on that kind of enlightenment (GET it?? Sorry. That was awful).
From the word roman (“novel”, a form of literature only recently invented), Romanticism is as closely associated with rejection of form and invention as it is with intense emotion. But while much of Romanticism can be highly individualistic, some French Romantic heroines of mine were deeply concerned with the social and political inequality and violence of their time, as well as the incapability of rationalized ideals to address (indeed, to have the tendency the tendency to propagate) the increasingly horrific conditions in France at this time.
Which brings us to George Sand. Love her or hate her (and many did), her writing (prolific in her time) of “petty” little pastoral novels to “put children to bed at night” illustrates an intense devotion to the wellbeing of her fellow citizens. At the same time both discounted and feared not only because of her style but status as a woman, Sand engaged herself into French politics through her writing both creatively and in support of political prisoners and victims of a violent regime that was spinning out of control, instead of delivering on its promises to improve citizen’s lives.
Sand, however numerous her novels and important her social and politic influence in her time, is not exactly widely read today. Her pastorals are just as easily dismissed next to the likes of other male French Romantic writers (who shall remain unnamed) who, as talented as they were, perhaps took themselves too seriously to capture the lightness and ease required to transmit enough beauty to pull fellow citizens out of the muck of violent rationalism, even if only for a short time. There are, to my knowledge, no busts adorning library walls, no streets or Mètro stops named after her, and school children are far more likely to be familiar with other Romantic writers and poets than her works. In many ways, she is disappearing.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, to see one of her handwritten manuscripts upon visiting the Musée de la Vie Romantique (a must-see!), a tiny little museum located on the grounds of a Paris home she frequented, along with many personal items, portraits of her and her family, and several of her own paintings of the countryside she loved so much. As I looked at the words in her own hand of her final novel, unfinished due to her illness and death at 71, I was moved to consider the women who have met the same fate, missing out on immortalization because the work of women, no matter the scale or significance, is not yet considered equal to that of men. Because her love affairs are more widely known and publicized than her novels or literary criticism. How romantic.