At the beginning of this powerful novel, we meet Aurore Dupin as she is leaving her estranged husband, a loveless marriage, and her family’s estate in the French countryside to start a new life in Paris. There, she gives herself a new name—George Sand—and pursues her dream of becoming a writer, embracing an unconventional and even scandalous lifestyle.
Paris in the nineteenth century comes vividly alive, illuminated by the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of a woman who defied the confines of society. Sand’s many lovers and friends include Frédéric Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval, and Alfred de Musset. As Sand welcomes fame and friendship, she fights to overcome heartbreak and prejudice, failure and loss. Though considered the most gifted genius of her time, she works to reconcile the pain of her childhood, of disturbing relationships with her mother and daughter, and of her intimacies with women and men. Will the life she longs for always be just out of reach—a dream?
Brilliantly written in luminous prose, and with remarkable insights into the heart and mind of a literary force, The Dream Lover tells the unforgettable story of a courageous, irresistible woman.
I was eagerly anticipating this novel of groundbreaking French author George Sand's life. I confess I did not know much about her beforehand, other than that she was a famous writer and that she had a relationship with Frederic Chopin, one of my favorite composers. I've been on a roll lately with good fiction about women in history, and so I couldn't wait to dig in.
The story begins as an older and ailing George reflects on her life, and then takes us back to alternating scenes from her childhood and the years when she strikes out for Paris on her own after leaving her husband. Aurore, as she was known in the beginning, is a sympathetic woman, one who survived a "poor little rich girl" upbringing and an unhappy marriage to find the courage to seize opportunity and make her own dreams come true. She is fortunate in that she finds success very early on, and this paves the way for her to command her own destiny and live her life on her own terms, which included dressing as a man for the freedom and simplicity of the clothing, smoking cigars, sitting at the "men's table" with various stars of the literary and art scene in Paris, running her beloved country estate, dictating how her children were to be raised and educated, and seeking affection from a multitude of lovers.
Elizabeth Berg is a new author for me, and I am wary of reading "literary" novels as I often find them dry and lacking in emotional connection. (I suppose I'm one of those unsophisticated readers George and her writer friends lamented upon.) However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this novel so very readable. I was immediately drawn into the story, and I thought this was sure to be at least a four-star read. But about halfway through, that happy feeling began to fade. There's only so much I can take of a protagonist repeating the same mistakes and never learning from them. Perhaps it would not have been so off-putting if there had been some differentiation, but they all follow the same pattern: She meets someone new, flies high, falls hard, turns into more of a mother than a lover, puts up with mistreatment when things go sour, becomes depressed when the affair ends, contemplates suicide, pulls herself back up into the world of the living, and then does it all over again when someone new comes along. I confess I grew tired of this behavior and started skimming.
The back and forth in time presentation of her life story worked very well for me until the distance separating the two timelines narrowed. At that point, the past and present mirrored each other so much that I sometimes forgot which timeline I was in, and I began confusing her lovers. And I also found the presentation of them to be uneven. She spends so many years seeking a perfect love, wasting years and tears on men unworthy of her, and some of her lovers and affairs are detailed over the course of many pages, yet when she finally meets the man who would give her what she'd always longed for--and for fifteen years, at that--he gets ONE paragraph. I wanted to see her happiness after so many years of misery. I wanted to see her enjoying what she had so long sought. And I found that frustrating after so much of her life--and this book--was devoted to her pursuit of that love.
The main focus of this examination of her life seems to be her love affairs. She is depicted as a woman desperate for true love, and with enough freedom to pursue it. At first I found her lifestyle to be romantic and free-spirited, but as the story neared its conclusion, I found myself wishing other aspects of her life had been given more weight. I would have liked more emphasis on her writing and her political beliefs. George was a supporter of the 1848 revolution, and she even started her own periodical during the time to publish like-minded pieces, but we don't actually get much of an idea of what her beliefs were. And though she published eighty novels over the course of her life, we only see her working on half a dozen of them in this portrayal.
So while I would say that, in the end, I found The Dream Lover to be a rather uneven tale of George Sand's life, and a bit less satisfying than I'd hoped, there is still much to recommend it. I really enjoyed the first half of the book, watching Aurore grow up to become George, finding success as an author and shaping her own future. George was friends with all of the renowned writers and artists of the time period, and reading about their little circle was fascinating. I also very much appreciated the snippets of George's writing interspersed throughout. She was a smart, enlightened, talented woman with a deep capacity for compassion and generosity. In many ways, she was a woman ahead of her time, and one well worth reading about.
My Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
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