The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg (♦♦♦)
A Novel of George Sand
Aurore Dudevant, neé Dupin (a.k.a. George Sand) was born in July, 1804, to Maurice Dupin, an aristocratic military man, and Sophie, a passionate belle with a checkered past and low social status. Maurice's mother never accepted the union between her son and Sophie, though in later years both women learned to coexist to the point of sharing the same living space.
Aurore grew up under her paternal grandmother's care, until she married Casimir Dudevant, then her best friend, when she was eighteen years old (1822). By 1831 she had been tempted once to have an extramarital affair that never consummated, and had had a one night stand from which her daughter was conceived. By then it was evident she could not tolerate her husband any longer, while he hated her, so Aurore decided to leave him and become an author in Paris, at that point rather out of necessity, to supplement her annual allowance.
Though Aurore inherited her family's fortune, her husband administered the estate because women could not. In 1835, she sought out legal separation from her husband and recovered Nohant, the property she inherited. She was also awarded custody of her two kids: Maurice (eldest) and Solange, five years his junior.
George Sand was lover of poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frédéric Chopin. Among her friends were the likes of painter Delacroix, novelist Honoré de Balzac, musician and composer Franz Liszt, and novelist Gustave Flaubert.
George Sand died in her estate of Nohant in 1876.
The story is told in two parallel accounts: one starting with Aurore's birth to the point when she left her husband in 1831, and the other, which starts in 1831, marked as a relative "present tense" that continues for the ensuing years. While the past may hold a key to understanding Aurore, it is the "relative present" that is interesting enough to keep the reader from giving up on reading The Dream Lover, for Aurore becomes her truer self (not necessarily happier) after she leaves her husband and takes on many lovers. It is during those years that she starts dressing as a man, changes her pen name to George Sand and becomes a celebrated author with a much talked about public persona.
I don't think Elizabeth Berg planned in advance what kind of flow would better suit this novel. From time to time there are brief glimpses of sumptuous prose, but soon after Berg recovers from those poetic spells and resorts to a sentimentality under which her protagonist suffers immensely. The prologue shows beautiful promise, but then Berg opens the novel resorting to language so common that even lovemaking seems trivial. It is a pity that a life so scandalous has been reduced to inconsequential for lack of passion for the subject.
Favorite quotes: (From an uncorrected advance copy)
“The light is amber, the air still; the daylilies have folded in on themselves. Soon the hooded blue dusk will fall, followed by the darkness of night and the skywriting of the stars, indecipherable to us mortals, despite our attempts to force narrative upon them.”
“But when I looked up, I was soothed by the beauty around me. In late afternoon, the light turned the lagoon into liquid copper. Every day, I could hear the songs of the gondoliers and the cries of the fishermen and the good-natured arguing by housewives over the price of melons. There were beautiful gowns and exotic masks worn at balls, lavender clouds at sunset. I could take walks in narrow alleys or lie back in a gondola for an evening ride that passed beneath the Bridge of Sighs. From the window behind the desk where I wrote at night, I could see lambent lights reflected in the dark waters, the luminescence seeming to ride the waves; and on foggy nights, veils of mist rose and swirled on journeys of their own.”
DISCLAIMER: I received from the publisher a free Galley of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.