The Museum of Romantic Life was Dutch painter Ary Scheffer’s residence from 1830 onwards.

He, who was a renowned painter and a friend of King Louis-Phillipe’s, chose to live in this charming house, which was located in what was then the New-Athens area, an up and coming new republic of the arts and letters. His residence was famous for receiving many artists of the likes of George Sand, Chopin, Liszt and Delacroix, amongst others.

The Museum is small, charming and absolutely representative of a 1830’s and beyond arts-oriented bourgeois house.

Yet, it is obviously George Sand’s regular visits that drew my attention. The Museum has preserved numerous pieces of memorabilia linked to this writer, be they notes, drawings or personal belongings.

George Sand’s drawing room

The French public often remembers George Sand for her pastoral novels, such as “The Devil’s Pool”, published in 1846 or “Little Fadette”, published in 1849, or even still the popular and harmless image of the “Good Lady of Nohant” growing old.

Personally, I remember “Mauprat”, published in 1837, a philosophical fable retracing a young, provincial aristocratic man’s path to learning about life. He first learns through cruelty, then love and education.

I am less receptive to the cliche image of the “Good Lady of Nohant” than to that of the strong feminine figure, who lived outside the bounds of social norms, a modern, and slightly revolutionary woman.

George Sand by Clésinger – 1847

George Sand’s mansion in Nohan – Vincente Santaolaria – 1917

She whose birth name was Aurore Dupin, and whose blood was equally popular and aristocratic, was considered scandalous in conservative society because of her masculin patronyme, her habit of wearing men’s clothes, her rejection of the institution of marriage, her numerous lovers – Prosper Mérimée, Alfred de Musset, Frédéric Chopin, to mention a few – and her firm political beliefs in republicanism and socialism.

Her first three novels, “Indiana”, “Valentine” and “Lélia”, magnified the rebellion of women lock inside marriages or convenience and held back by pathetic husbands and cowardly lovers.

Subsequently, her novels magnified the social rebellion of the workers and the poor, and then the political rebellion against royalty.

As a woman writer, she was the subject of absolutely revolting misogynistic attacks.

Charles Baudelaire said that “she was never an artist. She has the notorious fluid style, so dear to the bourgeois. She is silly, she is heavy, she is chatty: the depth of her moral judgment and the refinement of her feelings is equal to that of concierges and gold diggers“.

Edmond de Goncourt considered, when discussing “The Devil’s Pool” that women have a “genius for falsehood”. Had we proceeded to post-mortem examination of women with an original talent, like Mrs Sand, we would find genitals similar to those of men, clitorises that resemble our penises“.

Despite this, her fame at the time was great enough to overshadow the most illustrious contemporary writers, starting with the great Victor Hugo, and her talent was celebrated by many contemporary writers, Hugo included.

Indeed, he wrote her a eulogy, in which he said: “I mourn a deceased, I salute an immortal. George Sand has a unique place in our times. Others are the great men; she is the great woman. During this century, which was meant to mark the end the French Revolution and the beginning the Human Revolution, and equality of the sexes being a part of the equality of men, we needed a strong woman“.

April 16, 2020