Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

I am in agreement with Goethe, who said that every day one ought to ‘hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words’. I would add to this the need to love. Without it, the rest is dust.”

"The need to love. Without it, the
rest is dust"
Nineteenth century writer George Sand lived life on her own terms. Born in 1804 in France, she married young, and badly, as they say. After two children and trying to make it work, she separated from her husband, and moved towards a creation of herself that was constantly evolving. She’d already taken a man’s name to publish her works under; and then had affairs with many. She finally settled into a long-term relationship with the composer Chopin. A disagreement over his attitude towards her daughter, hardened her towards him, and the sick composer died not long after.

These are the facts. Elizabeth Berg has fashioned the bare bones of Sand’s remarkable life into a highly readable novel that throws a very human light on the woman behind the fame and the reputation.  Written in the first person, Berg creates a credible Sand persona. 

The narrative alternates between  Nohant, the family home where Sand was brought up in the French countryside under her grandmother’s tutelage, and the years of her adulthood, ranging from Paris, back to Nohant, where Sand lived out her ill-fated marriage and then subsequent years. 
Elizabeth Berg re-imagines the life of
nineteenth century writer George Sand

It also touches on what Berg suggests was Sand’s great love – for the actress Marie Dorval. In truth this lesbian affair was only rumoured, but Berg imagines the brief affair and the life-long consequences it would have on Sand, with a longing that suffuses the text. Love, and its many nuances framed much of Sand’s life. Referring to Dorval, she writes: “‘Love has given me a new virginity,’ she said from the stage that night, and the line seemed directed at me.” And, “Being loved let me breathe, let me work, let me live.”

And that a nineteenth century not only lived life on her own terms, made an independent and successful living as a writer, and took her love wherever she felt she needed it, is remarkable. 

As Sand moves into middle age, the novel loses detail, and fades further as Sand enters old age. The Dream Lover is a beguiling read; full of interesting detail and the novel brings this fascinating character and her world to gentle life.   

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