The Mirror of Romanticism: Images of Music, Religion and Art Criticism in George Sand's Eleventh 'Lettre D'un Voyageur' to Giacomo Meyerbeer
Dale, Catherine, The Romanic Review
George Sand's Lettres d'un voyageur consist of twelve articles in letter form written between March 1834 and November 1836 and published, with the exception of Letter Twelve which appeared in the Revue de Paris on 29 May 1836, at intervals between 15 May 1834 and 15 November 1836 in the Revue des Deux Mondes.(1) They were subsequently edited by the author in 1837 and published collectively in two volumes. Although the letters are addressed variously to personal friends and public figures alike, they transcend the genre of simple correspondence in seeking to appeal more widely to `un inconnu en tiers',(2) the reader at large. Neither do the letters conform to the popular travelogue genre implied by the title of the collection, for although Sand assumes the mantle of the typically Romantic solitary wanderer, the journeys upon which she embarks are rarely ones of a physical nature. Rather they are psychological journeys which lead Sand into the innermost consciousness of a fully Romantic sensibility and enable her to explore both her own thoughts and those of her contemporaries also. The narrating voice of the letters is clearly that of nineteenth-century man, and Sand commented some twenty years later in Histoire de ma vie: `Je voulais faire le propre roman de ma "ie et n'en etre pas le personnage reel, mais le personnage pensant et analysant'.(3) To this end she adopts the male persona of `un vieux oncle podagre' (Preface, p.38), yet beneath `le masque du vieillard'(4) it is the characteristic voice of the young novelist that resounds unmistakably through each of the letters, and in articulating the issues that lay particularly close to her Own heart she has expressed the concerns of her entire generation: `Mon ame, j'en suds certain', she asserts in her Preface, `a servi de miroir a la plupart de ceux qui y ont jete les yeux' (Preface, p.39).
Sand's letters constitute not only a journey of the mind through a wide range of contemporary issues, however, but also a journey in words through a narrative text in which the author is frequently led by association down numerous diverse paths, and indeed in Letter Two she begs the readers' indulgence for her digressions (p.75). Thus, although Letter Eleven, addressed to the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, is ostensibly about music in general and Meyerbeer's opera Les Huguenots in particular, it serves rather as a pretext for the articulation of the many things Sand felt she had to say both to herself and to others: `Je sentais beaucoup de choses a dire, et je voulais les dire a moi et aux autres'.(5) Directing her letter from the Calvinist town of Geneva, Sand achieved a means not only of unifying the Protestant theme of the opera with her consideration of contemporary religious attitudes, but also of suggesting the specific genre of a travel letter in which the author recounts to Meyerbeer `une journee de mon voyage, journee commencee dans une eglise ou je ne pensai qu'a vous, et finie dans un theatre ou je ne parlai que de vous' (p.294). Within this symmetrical framework Sand provides a commentary on the artistic, religious, and social questions of her day, beginning with an attack on the pronounced atheism of her generation and on the Catholic Church itself.
Sand's polemics against the institution of the Church strongly reflected her own religious circumstances at the time of writing of the eleventh letter. Born into a family consisting alternately of a Lutheran great-grandmother, a paternal grandmother who `displayed a sort of Voltairian deism',(6) and a Catholic mother, Sand entered the Couvent des Anglaises in Paris in January 1818 in a spirit of confirmed scepticism. Her `conversion' to the Catholic faith came at the age of fifteen when she claimed to have received a mystical message, and from that moment on, she expressed a firm desire to enter the noviciate. Discouraged by her confessor, however, Sand became disillusioned with organized religion, and yet at no point did her religious thought deviate from the fundamental tenets of Christianity. …