I am sort of obsessed with French author George Sand. This started off when a good friend sat me down to watch Impromptu (1991), which, weirdly enough, I hadn’t watched until 20-some-odd years after it had come out. That lead me to making a George Sand costume for Dickens Fair as kind of a one-off idea, but then it ended up being such a hit, I basically cosplayed George for the entire run of Dickens 2015, and then played her part-time the next year.
For those who may not be familiar with Madame Sand, here’s a very brief overview of her fascinating life. She was born Amantine Lucile Dupin, but was known as “Aurore” by friends and family. An early advantageous marriage to Casimir Dudevant, illegitimate son of the Baron Dudevant, pretty much set Aurore up for a conventional, comfortable life as an upper-class woman in 1820s France.
However, in the early 1830s, Aurore decided the marriage was no longer to her taste and effectively ditched Casimir, taking her two young children and heading off to Paris where she fell in with the literary and artistic crowd pretty swiftly. Wanting to publish her writing, she sought the help of one of her earliest known lovers, author Jules Sandeau, who suggested that she take a man’s name in order to escape the stigma of female authorship. They settled on “George Sand,” which was sort of a spin on Sandeau’s name. Together, they wrote and published Indiana (1832), which is well worth a read if you’ve got some bandwidth for it. Indiana became a hit among the Parisian salon-going crowd, and Aurore decided to up the notoriety factor by appearing at readings dressed in men’s clothes and going by her nom de plume.
There is a whole subset of literary history that delves into why Aurore became George, but there was never any confusion about which gender she identified with. Though she had liaisons with both men and women, George definitely identified as female. She just wore men’s clothes and adopted a man’s name. And despite more than a few raised eyebrows, she appears to have been accepted, at least in artistic circles where a woman wearing trousers was probably fairly low on the list of shocking public behavior. In her biography, George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large, author Belinda Jack mentions that the girls of the village near where George grew up at Nohant routinely wore boy’s clothing, so perhaps for George, this wasn’t weird behavior. And there was definitely an exhibitionist streak to George — she apparently enjoyed creating a spectacle, whether by her multiple affairs, her very public divorce from Casimir where she sued for, and won, custody of her children, or just strolling around Paris in a frock coat and top hat, smoking a cigar.
As for her love life, it’s exhaustively chronicled through her own writing and the writings of the various authors she was involved with. Baudelaire even took the time to write a venomous description of her character:
She is stupid, heavy and garrulous. Her ideas on morals have the same depth of judgment and delicacy of feeling as those of janitresses and kept women … The fact that there are men who could become enamoured of this slut is indeed a proof of the abasement of the men of this generation.
Apparently there were many men (and a few women) who were drawn to the brash, “garrulous” George Sand. Her longest relationship was with Polish pianist and composer, Frédéric Chopin, and most of the films about her focus on their relationship, which spanned a decade and ended with a highly contentious public breakup that some feel contributed to Chopin’s early death in 1849. The stress of being George Sand’s lover couldn’t have been good for Chopin’s already delicate health.
Anyway, all this is to say that I’ve been watching all of the George Sand films I can get my hands on. The ones I list below are just the ones I have been able to track down.
A Song to Remember (1945) – Merle Oberon
The costumes are by Walter Plunkett, which is just about the only thing I really liked about this film. Merle Oberon’s George is a mega-bitch, playing the antagonist devil woman who, for reasons unknown, seeks to squeeze the life out of Chopin. The plot is a blatant attempt to shoehorn Chopin’s patriotic Polish pride with WWII themes that surely resonated with audiences when it was released in 1945. Seventy-whatever-years later, it’s just weirdly ham-fisted. It must have made an impression on my former piano teacher, however, because she was the biggest Chopin fangirl I had ever met and constantly referred back to this film as the start of her obsession. Me? I’m more of a Mozart girl.
Notorious Woman (1975) – Rosemary Harris
I can’t find a copy of this anywhere, other than a shitty 12-minute YouTube clip. If anyone knows where to find a copy, email me. I’m dying to watch this one!
Impromptu (1991) – Judy Davis
I’ve written about Impromptu previously, but of all the versions of George’s life that I’ve watched thus far, it’s still my favorite (you never forget your first, after all). The plot has very little bearing on history, but the costumes are fabulous, and Judy Davis’ George is hard to beat. She’s neither angel nor devil, but she’s fierce AF. It’s the very definition of a “musical romp.” And Hugh Grant as Chopin is surprisingly a good casting choice, particularly for this era when he was basically typecast as the treacly British boy-next-door.
Children of the Century (1999) – Juliette Binoche
This French film is a departure from the typical George Sand biopic in that it doesn’t focus on her relationship with Chopin, but her relationship with fellow author, Alfred de Musset. And Musset, btw, happens to be played by My BoyfriendTM Benoît Megamel. So, automatic points for being highly aesthetically pleasing. I’m planning a more extensive review of this one in the near future.
Chopin: Desire for Love (2002) – Danuta Stenka
I finally sat down and watched this Polish biopic and I have to say, even though I have some issues with the way Chopin and George’s relationship was portrayed, I thought Danuta Stenka was hands-down the best George Sand I’ve yet seen (and Piotr Adamczyk is definitely one of the truest-to-life depictions of Chopin on the screen. The Polish take their Chopin VERY SERIOUSLY). Stenka’s portrayal actually gave me a lot of food for thought regarding her behavior towards the end of her affair with Chopin … Which I promise I will delve deeper into once I get around to writing a more in-depth review of the film.
Are there any other films about George Sand that you think I should review? Share them in the comments!
Haven’t seen any of those, but your frock coat is gorgeous ( plus I recognise that brocade from somewhere)
Thank you! The damask pattern (in different color ways) actually shows up a bunch in period films. I should post about all the times I’ve seen it used in a costume, now that I think about it.
I lucked out and got about 7 meters of it in 2005, when I was studying in London. My friend Bess took me to a shop in Colchester that sold drapery and uphulstry off-cuts and remnants and there was a pile of this stuff just sitting there for something like £20/m. Maybe less. I didn’t ask questions, I just handed over my credit card and bought every bit I could see. It’s a silk/cotton blend.
Which is to say, I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the wild. Only on screen in costume Flicks!
If you want more Sand/Chopin drama, I can steer you toward “La note Bleue” with Marie France Pisier as Georges.
Beware, it’s an Andrzej Zulawski film, so the actors are screaming, Georges daughter (Sophie Marceau) is a bit of a nympho… And did I say everybody is screaming all the time?
Aspirin advised, but it’s Georges all right.
LOL! Thanks for the rec. I was a little put off by the level of DRAMATM in “Chopin: Desire for Love”, along with the HEAVILY IMPLIED romantic relationship/affair between Chopin and George’s daughter, Solange. But then again, everything that is known about George’s life tends to support the fact that she was a walking drama magnet.
I really want you to review Lisztomania (1975), bec. A. It’s a Ken Russell film, so automatically insane, B. Roger Daltrey of the Who plays Franz Liszt, & C. there’s a George Sand cameo. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073298/
I DARE YOU!!!
I’ll do it if YOU do it with me! PODCAST.
I fear it would be too drunk out together, hahahhahhaahah!!!!
Dude. There’s no way in hell I could survive it sober, if the stuff I’ve read about it is in any way accurate.
Maybe we can get someone else to fall on that grenade for us?
Litzomania is the only film I have ever walked out on in my entire life. (We were in high school so we were too young to drink…it would have definitely helped.) We had been dropped off at the movie theatre by one of our moms and spent the time until she was scheduled to pick us up in the ladies restroom. Even Roger Daltrey’s good looks (one of us had a mad crush on him, as I recall) couldn’t make that movie watchable! Do not attempt a viewing without copious amounts of drink and an escape route.
Impromptu has been a litmus test movie for me. Jullian Sands as Liszt is priceless
I’ve only seen Impromptu as Judy Davis is one of my favourite actresses. She’s right up there with Meryl, Helena, Francesca, Susan Hampshire, Emma Thompson, Dames Judi, Helen Maggie.
I really enjoyed Impromptu for several reasons, one, if I correctly remember, there’s no big deal with George in men’s attire. It’s like ‘that’s the writer George Sand. Her attire IS NOT what makes her eccentric.’
Argh, wish I could disable my expletive deleted Auto-correct. It’s Mirren not Maggie
I can remember watching “Notorious Woman” on PBS years ago. That was my first exposure to George Sand. I adore her style and the way she lived her life.
A few years ago I purchased the journal she wrote specifically to be published after her death, “Impressions and Reminiscences”, 1876. She writes about a variety of topics that had meaning for her, such as Self, environmental issues, societal issues, love, spiritual belief, etc.
I have a list of people I would like to have met for a cup of coffee or a drink. She is high on the list.
A recent fiction centered on her life by Elizabeth Berg, “The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand”, is a really good read.
Thanks for this article! I loved Impromptu when I saw it a long time ago and it is one of my all-time favorite movies. I didn’t know there were other movies with George Sand in it. I’ll have to look into those. BTW, you were fantastic as George Sand at Dickens Fair.
3 things : 1 Loved it very much George is one of my favorite historical women and authors Lélia is wonderful
2 you missed some like Lélia (1968) a two part biography of her with her novel’s name and George Sand (1981) an Italian 4 part miniseries about her as well
3 If you find Notorious Woman please tell me!!! I would love to see that I love Rosemary Harris Acting and she even received an Emmy for this plus it looks like it has gorgeous costumes and she looks pretty like her daughter Jennifer Elhe in these would love to watch it
PLEASE email me with the movies! (i already have impromptu)
liszt is my husband but chopin is my lover and i relate to george MORE THAN I SHOULD
my page on fb is LadyGabes if youre interested in my shitty art