Saturday, July 5, 2008
Musée de la Vie Romantique
"She is stupid, heavy and garrulous. Her ideas on morals have the same depth of judgment and delicacy of feeling as those of janitresses and kept women....The fact that there are men who could become enamored of this slut is indeed a proof of the abasement of the men of this generation." – Charles Baudelaire
Obviously, M. Baudelaire was not a fan of Baroness Aurora Dudevant, a French novelist and early feminist. She was engaged in an intimate friendship with actress Marie Dorval, which led to widespread but unconfirmed rumors of a lesbian affair. It didn’t help that she wore men’s clothing and smoked cigars in public, both scandalous activities in the early 19th-century. Born in 1804 in Paris, she became known far beyond the boundaries of France for her plays, novels, literary criticism and political texts, her most widely used quote being, “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” Her social practices, writings and beliefs prompted much commentary: “What a brave man she was, and what a good woman.” – Ivan Turgenev
She died at the age of 72 and was buried on the grounds of her family home in Nohant. But instead of slowly fading into the pages of history, her memory and reputation continued to grow. In 2004, controversial plans were initiated to move her remains to the Panthéon in Paris, where she would share enshrinement with Voltaire, Zola and Victor Hugo.
If you are scratching your head because you are unaware of the output of this notable woman, a clue would be a reminder that she had a ten-year affair with Polish pianist/composer Frédéric Chopin, as illustrated in the composite painting at the beginning of this post. We are referring, of course, to the woman who was known by the pseudonym George Sand.
Estranged from her mother, Sand was raised by her grandmother in Nohant, not far from Paris. When her grandmother died, Sand was on her own at seventeen. Within a year she married Baron Dudevant, a man many years her senior. They had two children, but Sand and Dudevant became separated in 1836, after 15 years of marriage (Sand was 32 years old at the time). Thereafter she poured herself into her work, writing eight hours a day for most of her life. Her writings influenced Walt Whitman, Flaubert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many authors referred to her works in their own creations: Dostoevsky, Tom Stoppard, and Marcel Proust chief among them.
Two films were based upon her life with Chopin: A Song to Remember (1945), with Cornel Wilde as Chopin and Merle Oberon as George Sand, and Impromptu (1991), starring Judy Davis as George Sand and Hugh Grant as Chopin. The latter (widely available on DVD), in particular, provides insight to the world of 19th-century French aristocracy and the patronage they provided for musicians, painters and writers.
Following are photographs of Chopin (1849) and Sand (from her later years, 1864).
Down a driveway leading to a flowery cobbled courtyard is a small museum in Montmartre, housed in a mansion that was the gathering place of the great artists in Paris in the first half of the 19th century, including Chopin, Liszt, Lamartine, Turgenev, Rossini, Delacroix and, of course, George Sand. The neighborhood was called “New Athens” during the 1830s, in deference to the influential literary salons of the area. Since 1987, this Musée de la Vie Romantique, at 16, rue Chaptal, has displayed the memorabilia of George Sand, including portraits, furniture, objets d’art and scores of letters and documents. Her home environment in Nohant is reproduced in two rooms, the yellow and blue salons, after engravings from the time.
Musée de la Vie Romantique
Open 10:00a to 6:00p except Mondays and holidays. Free admission to the permanent collection. Tea room on premises open from 11:30a., with seating available in the courtyard.