Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"The Dream Lover," by Elizabeth Berg

George Sand, the French woman novelist, was a fascinating, passionate, flamboyant writer and character. She provides a contrast to George Eliot, her near contemporary (both were born early in the nineteenth century), who used the same male name, in her case in order to win more acceptance of her writing, and who was also independent and strong, but not at all flamboyant (although she flouted society's conventions in living with her longtime lover). They shared, however, an unstoppable desire to express themselves in writing, at a time when it was not easy for women to do so. George Eliot was the greater writer, but Sand was also a strong writer with a large following. I have to admit I know more about Sand’s life than I do about her work, and have read very little of the actual work (as opposed to my extensive reading of and deep admiration of Eliot’s fiction). Parenthetically, here is an odd related personal memory: When I was in high school, we (very amateurishly) performed a musical titled “Enchanted Isle,” about Sand’s stay on the Spanish island of Majorca with Frederic Chopin, her lover at the time. This memory has stayed with me, and I think of it whenever I hear something about George Sand or Frederic Chopin, although I now realize the musical was a highly romanticized version of their love affair and time together. All of this is prelude to saying that I have just read Elizabeth Berg’s novel, “The Dream Lover” (Random House, 2015), a fictionalized biography of George Sand. It is written in the first person as if Sand herself were writing, and written in what seems to be the style of the time period in which Sand lived and wrote. It is somewhat dramatic, even melodramatic at times, and certainly captures the reader’s interest. Berg has chosen to alternate between Sand’s childhood and young adulthood, on the one hand, and her later years once she has left her husband and started her writing life, on the other hand. The author shows Sand as a very complex woman. She has had a difficult childhood, and is affected for the rest of her life by that childhood. She is determined and disciplined about her writing, frequently staying up all night to write. She believes that women should be able to do everything that men can. She is also not afraid to break society’s rules, and, for example, has many lovers over the years. She is constantly looking for love, and is often in passionate relationships that deteriorate or end, leaving her in despair. She is a loving mother, but struggles with her daughter, and repeats some of the same mistakes her own mother made with her. She is a very appealing, although flawed, character, especially for feminists, artists, readers, Francophiles, and all combinations of these. I am, as readers of this blog can imagine, a fan of books – fiction or nonfiction – about great women writers, so although I think this one is a good but not great novel, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Dream Lover.”

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