August 28, 2010

Becoming George Sand - Rosalind Brackenbury

As a certified (or certifiable?) Chopin fanatic, I knew of George Sand because of her relationship with Chopin. So I was drawn to this book when I saw it at the bookstore, hoping to be able to read about the composer of the most beautiful piano music ever written.

Unfortunately, the reading of it didn't live up to my expectations. Rather than a novel about a feminist writer ahead of her time, her relationship with one of the great Romantic composers, and life in the rich literary and musical society of Paris in the 1800s; I found myself immersed in Chick Lit of the worst kind. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy well written Chick Lit at times (Bridget Jones anyone?), but this wasn't that.

I guess one of my biggest complaints about this book is that I found all of the characters to be entirely unsympathetic.

The main character, Marie, is researching George Sand in order to write a book about her. There are clumsily incorporated flashbacks to George Sand's life, but the main story focuses on Marie. And Marie's biggest problem in life is that she is trying to balance the security of her 20-year old marriage with the excitement of her younger lover. I'm afraid that I just can sympathize with a woman who complains, "In the twenty-first century, it seems to be necessary to lie to one's children as well as one's husband. What she is doing is simply not what married women, mothers, do. Not in this country, not in this town, not in this century, two hundred years after George's birth. When did this change happen? When did history turn over in the night and decree that adultery was a punishable offense again, punishable not by stoning or imprisonment, but by more subtle means? Being accused of cheating, of immaturity - the new sin - of being unfit to bring up one's children?" Call me old-fashioned (and Marie probably would) for thinking that marriage means something, including forsaking all others for your spouse; but when was adultery socially acceptable?

Marie does get her come-uppance - her husband finds out about her lover and leaves her; and her lover also leaves her to be faithful to his wife and children - but even by the end of the book, Marie shows no signs of acknowledging that her views may be maybe just a wee bit wrong.

And the characters in the flashbacks don't come across any better. George Sand seems to be quite stupid, while Chopin is weak and whiney. And as for the rich artistic community of 19th Century Europe? Lots of name dropping but never fleshed out.

My previously held views of the Chopin/George Sand relationship (and keep in mind that I am a Chopin fan) was of Chopin, the frail but brilliant genius who was bullied to death by the domineering George Sand. This book tries to portray Chopin as weak and selfish, who depended on George Sand to manage and plan and look after him. Who knows what the truth was. Probably somewhere in the middle.

Oh well. I am playing the piano at church tomorrow, and if nothing else, reading this book this week has inspired me to slip some Chopin into the service. Maybe one of the preludes (mentioned in this book) for the offertory...


Buried In Print said...

I've picked this up many times as the Sand/Chopin connection is fascinating. The film "Impromptu" (older now) is quite interesting if you're looking for another angle on the pair of them.

Kate said...

Buried in Print - I have heard of the film (my music theory teacher mentioned it when I was learning about Chopin) but I have never seen it. I keep planning to look for it but haven't yet.