Germaine de Staël, George Sand, and the Victorian Woman Artist

By Linda M. Lewis | Go to book overview

2

Geraldine Jewsbury Art and Work as Vocation

IN GEORGE SAND'S Consuelo, the magnificent young singer is saint and angel, goddess and empress, but she is also a consummate professional. Often she is seen in study, rehearsal, and practice or heard lecturing Anzoleto or Joseph Haydn on the necessity of discipline in their musical craft. At the end of the novel, when the newly widowed Consuelo is given the family jewels, she declines them, both from her distaste for ostentation and her unwillingness to accept a life of ease that she could afford were she to accept and sell the jewels. She tells the aunt who proffers the gift that she has simple tastes and a love of labor. Indeed, one of Sand's many issues in Consuelo is the distinction between the artist who squanders the divine afflatus by sloth and profligacy and the one who nourishes it by sacrifice and discipline. The genius comes unbidden, but she on whom it falls must prove worthy of the gift. For art is not only Consuelo's gift, it is also her vocation, her calling. Consuelo's art becomes her raison d'être, consoles her for life's losses, and provides her with challenge and exhilaration, meaning and identity. In brief, it is her profession—both in the archaic sense of that which she “professes” as faith or religion and in the more mundane sense of the means by which she earns her livelihood.

The necessity of earning one's way in the world was important to Consuelo's creator even before she became George Sand. In her autobiography Sand says that, although as Madame Dudevant she was ostensibly an heiress, the family estate at Nohant was under the control of her husband and she needed money for her incompetent half brother and his frail wife, as well as to remove herself and her children from the “baneful influence” of pleading with Casimir Dudevant for an allowance. Furthermore, she was bored with inactivity and “absolutely powerless” in her dependence upon the man whose name she wore but for whom she felt neither love nor loyalty. The solution: find a pleasurable activity for which

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