On the Heels of Corinne: Venice, Sand's Traveler and a Case for Urban Renewal
McCall, Anne E., The Romanic Review
"Parmi tous les curieux charlatanismes qu'invente chaque jour ce siecle de progres dans lequel nous vivons, il en est un auquel on devrait plus faire attention, c'est le charlatanisme de la correspondance." The textual fraud of which this anonymous journalist accuses Sand in a satirical review of her Lettres d'un Voyageur is, if we are to believe him, somewhat less the titillating question of her autobiographical transvestism in the form of a male traveler than that of titular false advertising. Her ill-named text constitutes a case of generic travesty and epitomizes the trend in European travel narratives towards a privileging of the self and of trivial anecdotes over sights and experiences revealing universal truths ("Correspondances humanitaires"). VertVert's journalist should not have shown such surprise, however, for of the numerous voyagers going to Italy from the fifteenth century on (Selier 6), several had long lamented the weight of a literary tradition that bound them to include so many compulsory elements in their journeys as well as in their writings. Almost one hundred forty years before the publication of the Lettres d'un voyageur, Addison had refused to repeat the list of remains a visitor to Italy should see on the simple basis that they were already so well known (qtd. in Corbin 43), and Bonstetten had more recently indicated the inevitability of redundancy given the static nature of an itinerary founded in classical literary history: "C'est le malheur de ceux qui ecrivent sur l'Italie de se repeter dans leurs recits, ce qu'ils font sans se copier parce que tous se suivent h la piste dans le meme sentier" (43). Goethe, who traveled to the peninsula in the late eighteenth century, concurred, and he justified the cursory nature of his description of Italy's canal city on the grounds that he would otherwise repeat his predecessors: "So much has been said and written about Venice already that I do not want to describe it too minutely. I shall only give my immediate impression" (61). Nevertheless, Sand's 1836 critic ignores the desire that contemporary writers might have of laying claim to any thematic or geographical territory left uncharted within this over-explored realm. Cultural artifacts, he laments,--"les monumens, les moeurs, la langue"--and the sublime beauty of glaciers are no more than the coincidental discoveries of a hurried traveler whose immediate preoccupation remains the choice of a good auberge and whose main goal in leaving France is the fertilization of an extenuated literary imagination: "Quand on a produit six romans en trois mois, cela ne suffit pas encore, l'editeur demande deux volumes dans le plus bref delai, et comme, apres tant de sublimes choses &rites, on n'a pas autour de soi de quoi fournir deux volumes, il faut bien s'en aller les chercher."
Surprisingly, perhaps, Sand confirms the accuracy of her reader's impression in the preface to her 1843 edition of the Lettres d'un voyageur: "c'est aux epoques oh mon cerveau fatigue se trouvait vide de heros et d'aventures, que, semblable a un impresario dont la troupe serait en retard h l'heure du spectacle, je suis venu, tout distrait et tout trouble, en robe de chambre sur la scene, raconter vaguement le prologue de la piece attendue." In spite of the avowed aesthetic privilege of classical texts, their value pales when countered with the truth value of apparently insignificant acts and of their published improvisation in epistolary form, since readers might find there "la plus explicite preface, la plus claire exposition de son oeuvre." (Sand, Oeuvres 646). By retrospectively positioning the full collection of epistles as spontaneous, autobiographical, prospective, and heuristic, Sand confirms her identification with what Isabelle Naginski has interpreted as the liminal figure of the wandering hermit (Naginski, George Sand 186-189) and the letters' value, within the economy of her own published writing, as monumental markers on her own philosophical journey from doubt to belief (Sand 647-49). …