George Sand and Cristina Di Belgiojoso's Literary Dialogue

Article excerpt

Did the relationship between two nineteenth-century writers, George Sand and Italian Princess Cristina di Belgiojoso, (1) inspire a literary dialogue? (2) Sand's extensive corpus is, of course, well known, while Belgiojoso's writings--most of which are in French--have begun to attract greater critical attention over the past fifteen years. (3) This article hopes to continue the scholarly analysis of Belgiojoso's writings in an effort to situate them better in relation to Sand's works. It also strives to identify the influence these two authors had on one another. These women, who shared literary friends, feminist beliefs, progressive politics, and common interests, seem to communicate with one another via their texts--either through their character portrayals or the thematization of injustice toward women. Both Sand and Belgiojoso denounce female oppression and challenge existing marriage laws in their writings. Their heroines are often strong-willed, intelligent, and unafraid in their defiance of social conventions. Although the correspondence between Sand and Belgiojoso no longer exists, textual comparisons imply a profound bond between the two authors.

Although they may not have met until the mid-1830s, (4) Sand would have heard about the princess, who arrived in Paris at the beginning of the decade, much earlier from such mutual acquaintances as Heine, Didier, and Musset (Poli 156). Later, their social circles overlapped, including such figures as Balzac, Liszt, and Charles d'Aragon (Belgiojoso's brother-in-law). Both authors frequented salons--Belgiojoso initiated her own in 1835 at her home on the rue d' Anjou; Sand graced Marie d' Agoult's at the Hotel de France in 1836. Felizia Seyd, who calls the latter the Sand-d' Agoult salon, notes that of the women who attended the salon, "the most brilliant and original was the Princess Belgiojoso" (132). In addition, both writers were admired and criticized by artistic women of the day. For example, Sand and Belgiojoso were considered for the presidency of the 1843 Academy of Women in France. (5) When Sand resisted the nomination, an honor eagerly sought by Delphine de Girardin, Belgiojoso was proposed as a compromise. Although the princess did not accept the offer, Girardin's anger may have contributed to some of the biting satires of Belgiojoso published later in the century. These include the portrait of "la marquise romantique" in La Croix de Berny. (6)

Both Sand and Belgiojoso were also involved in progressive politics, and their common desires for greater social justice would have undoubtedly brought them together. Both women expressed their longing for social and political reform not only in their writings but in their actions--working with political leaders, launching journals, and influencing public opinion. Arsene Houssaye affirms Sand's influence over Belgiojoso, stating that "George Sand qui, en France, n'avait emancipe qu'elle-meme, sonnait a la princesse la rage d'emanciper l'Italie" (II, 16). While Houssaye's claim about Sand is certainly limited--her liberating influence reached far beyond herself--he correctly represents the princess, who took the cause of Italian unification to heart. At the time of Belgiojoso's arrival in Paris, Italy was divided into several city-states and under Austrian domination in the North. Her salon welcomed not only artists and intellectuals but also politicians and Italian expatriates as well. (7)

The two women were also drawn to each other's native lands: Sand enjoyed travel in Italy and incorporated her foreign experiences into fictional works and travel texts, notably the Lettres d'un voyageur. Belgiojoso's exile in France, necessitated because of her subversive political views, lasted for several years. Her exilic experiences also included many years in the Middle East--a region Sand had dreamed of visiting. The princess's Souvenirs dans l'exil documents her voyage from Europe to the Middle East and La Vie intime et la vie nomade en Orient portrays her travels through Turkey and as far as Jerusalem. …