Université de Strasbourg

USIAS Fellows seminar: George Sand and the Poetics of Genius

October 26, 2018
From 12:30 until 14:00
Salle Amériques, MISHA, Strasbourg

By Isabelle Hoog Naginski, Tufts University, Boston, US; Fellow 2018

While scholars have studied the effects of 19th-century French medical research on sexing genius as male in the realm of literature, contemporary scholars seem to have continued that tradition by choosing to grant the status of genius to the great French male novelists of the day, such as Hugo, Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert. The name that is missing from that list is that of the woman writer, George Sand, who was considered by some critics to be the greatest novelist of all, irrespective of gender.

George Sand, pseudonym of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876) questioned the social norms that had entrapped women in specific gender roles and lifestyles. Her passionate love life, her refusal to conform to norms for gender roles (including a habit of dressing as a man) and her sharp intellectual critique stirred up controversy and admiration. She achieved a writing career that produced not only ground-breaking literature but also financial stability and independence. 

George Sand Lettres d'un voyageur

The subject of Sand’s poetics of genius has not attracted much critical attention. The Lettres d’un voyageur can be considered as a first questioning about what Sand's poetic art will be and about the possibility of a feminine genius. While Sand reflected on the concept of genius in her early works and described her own uncertain search for a vocation as a writer, she also described herself as having a “bilious temperament.” This is in keeping with the Aristotelian vision of the man of genius.

Everything changed in Sand’s poetics of genius in 1837, when she created a new type of artist, who did not operate under the powerful force of Saturn. Replacing the gloomy poet, Sand created an artist who felt no angst in the exercise of his art because, as he saw it, “all light flows from a divine source.” The artist thus considered himself to be the transmitter of inspiration, not its exclusive producer. Sand’s shift of perspective can be apprehended as privileging the Platonic view of genius.

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