Jul 012018
 

Today is the birthday (1804) of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, best known by her nom de plume George Sand, French novelist and memoirist. Sand wrote: “My name is not Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Marquise of Dudevant, as several of my biographers have asserted, but Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, and my husband, M. François Dudevant, claims no title: the highest rank he ever reached was that of infantry second lieutenant.”

Sand, who was always known simply as “Aurore”, was born in Paris, but raised for much of her childhood by her grandmother, Marie-Aurore de Saxe, Madame Dupin de Francueil, at her grandmother’s estate, Nohant, in the French province of Berry. Sand later used the setting in many of her novels. Her father, Maurice Dupin, was the grandson of the Marshal General of France, Maurice, Comte de Saxe, an illegitimate son of Augustus II the Strong, king of Poland and a Saxon elector, and a cousin to the sixth degree to kings Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X of France. She was also related much more distantly to king Louis Philippe of France through common ancestors from German and Danish ruling families.

In 1822, at the age of 18, Sand married Casimir Dudevant (1795–1871), illegitimate son of baron Jean-François Dudevant. She and Dudevant had two children: Maurice (1823–1889) and Solange (1828–1899). In early 1831, she left her husband and entered upon a period of “romantic rebellion.” In 1835, she was legally separated from Dudevant and took her children with her.

Sand conducted affairs of varying duration with Jules Sandeau (1831), Prosper Mérimée, Alfred de Musset (summer 1833 – March 1835), Louis-Chrysostome Michel, Pierre-François Bocage, Charles Didier, Félicien Mallefille, Louis Blanc, and Frédéric Chopin (1837–1847). Later in life, she corresponded with Gustave Flaubert, and despite their differences in temperament and aesthetic preference, they eventually became close friends. She engaged in an intimate friendship with actress Marie Dorval, which led to widespread but unconfirmed rumors of a lesbian affair. Letters written by Sand to Dorval made such references as “wanting you either in your dressing room or in your bed”.

In Majorca one can still visit the Carthusian monastery of Valldemossa, where she spent the winter of 1838–1839 with Chopin and her children. She described this trip to Majorca in Un hiver à Majorque (A Winter in Majorca), first published in 1841. Chopin was already ill with incipient tuberculosis (or, as has recently been suggested, cystic fibrosis) at the beginning of their relationship, and spending a winter in Majorca — where Sand and Chopin did not realize that winter was a time of rain and cold and where they could not get proper lodgings—exacerbated his symptoms. They separated two years before his death for a variety of reasons. In her novel Lucrezia Floriani, Sand used Chopin as a model for a sickly Eastern European prince named Karol. He is cared for by a middle-aged actress past her prime, Lucrezia, who suffers a great deal because of her affection for Karol. Though Sand claimed not to have made a mockery out of Chopin, the book’s publication and widespread readership may have exacerbated their antipathy to each other. The tipping point in their relationship involved her daughter Solange. Chopin continued to be cordial to Solange after she and her husband, Auguste Clésinger, had a vicious falling out with Sand over money. Sand took Chopin’s support of Solange as outright treachery and confirmation that Chopin had always “loved” Solange. Sand’s son Maurice also disliked Chopin. Maurice wanted to establish himself as the “man of the estate” and did not wish to have Chopin as a rival. Chopin was never asked back to Nohant. In 1848, Chopin returned to Paris from a tour of the United Kingdom, and died at the Place Vendôme the following year. Chopin was penniless at that time. His friends had to pay for his stay there, as well as his funeral at the Madeleine. The funeral was attended by over 3,000 people, including Eugène Delacroix, Franz Liszt, Victor Hugo and other famous people. George Sand was notable by her absence.

A liaison with the writer Jules Sandeau began her literary career. They published a few stories in collaboration, signing them “Jules Sand”. Her first published novel, Rose et Blanche (1831), was written in collaboration with Sandeau. She subsequently adopted, for her first independent novel, Indiana (1832), the pen name that made her famous – George Sand. Drawing from her childhood experiences of the countryside, she wrote the pastoral novels La Mare au Diable (1846), François le Champi (1847–1848), La Petite Fadette (1849), and Les Beaux Messieurs Bois-Doré (1857). Her other novels include Lélia (1833), Mauprat (1837), Le Compagnon du Tour de France (1840), Consuelo (1842–1843), and Le Meunier d’Angibault (1845). Theater pieces and autobiographical pieces include Histoire de ma vie (1855), Elle et Lui (1859, about her affair with Musset), Journal Intime (posthumously published in 1926), and Correspondence. Sand often performed her theatrical works in her small private theatre at the Nohant estate.

In addition, Sand wrote literary criticism and political texts. She sided with the poor and working class, and championed women’s rights. When the 1848 Revolution began, she was an ardent republican. Sand started her own newspaper, which was published in a workers’ co-operative. However, by 1871, during the Paris Commune, she had become more conservative, she wrote: “The horrible adventure continues. They ransom, they threaten, they arrest, they judge. They have taken over all the city halls, all the public establishments, they’re pillaging the munitions and the food supplies.”

Sand’s reputation came under stern criticism when she began wearing men’s clothing in public, which she justified by saying that men’s clothes were far sturdier and less expensive than the typical dress of a noblewoman at the time. This is still true. Sand also found men’s clothing comfortable and enabled her to circulate more freely in Paris than most of her female contemporaries, and gave her increased access to venues from which women were often barred, even women of her social standing. Sand’s smoking tobacco in public was also considered scandalous. No one approved the free indulgence of women in such a habit, especially in public (though Franz Liszt’s mistress, Marie d’Agoult, did this as well, smoking large cigars). These and other behaviors were exceptional for a woman of the early and mid-19th century, when social codes—especially in the upper classes—were of the utmost importance. As a consequence of many unorthodox aspects of her lifestyle, Sand had to relinquish some of the privileges afforded her by her class status.

George Sand died at Nohant, near Châteauroux, in France’s Indre département on 8th June 1876, at the age of 71 and was buried in the private graveyard behind the chapel at Nohant-Vic. In 2003, plans that her remains be moved to the Panthéon in Paris resulted in controversy.

Here are a few salient quotes from Sand:

I have an object, a task, let me say the word, a passion. The profession of writing is a violent and almost indestructible one.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed how much more power words have than ideas, particularly in France.

Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.

The truth is too simple: one must always get there by a complicated route.

We cannot tear a single page from our life, but we can throw the whole book into the fire.

Art for the sake of art itself is an idle sentence. Art for the sake of truth, for the sake of what is beautiful and good — that is the creed I seek.

All of us who have time and money to spare, travel — that is to say, we flee; since surely it is not so much a question of travelling as of getting away? Which of us has not some sorrow to dull, or some yoke to cast off?

In my post on Flaubert http://www.bookofdaystales.com/gustave-flaubert/ I noted that Sand and Flaubert were constant companions for dinner, and wrote at great length about their rather similar problems with digestion. Sand’s recipe for galette which I posted there will work for today as well. Sand was not only a noted cook and gourmet, but she also kept a collection of family recipes which her granddaughter collected into a cookbook: À la table de George Sand. Here is her recipe for veal cutlets. Given that she often swore off meat because it did not agree with her, this recipe is unusual, not only because it is a meat dish, but also because it is meat wrapped in meat. I have given the recipe in Sand’s original French (marginally edited). If you are French challenged, any online translation app will work. It’s easy French.

Côtelettes de veau en papillotes

4 côtes de veau
400 g de filets de Poulet
100 g de champignons de Paris
2 œufs
50 g de beurre
100 g de chapelure
50 g de persil haché
Sel, poivre

Préparation

Mettez dans le bol d’un mixeur les filets de poulet coupés en morceaux, les champignons coupés en quatre, le persil, les oeufs, salez et poivrez. Démarrez le robot à vitesse moyenne, de manière à obtenir une farce « coupée au couteau », pas trop fine, mais homogène tout de même. Enduisez des deux côtés les côtes de veau avec cette farce, en tapotant pour qu’elle adhère bien. Panez recto verso avec la chapelure. Mettez une heure au réfrigérateur pour que l’ensemble tienne bien. Dans une poêle, faites délicatement dorer au beurre les côtes des deux côtés. Préchauffez le four à 180 °C. Beurrez du papier cuisson sulfurisé. Enveloppez les côtes en formant des papillotes. Placez-les sur une plaque de cuisson et enfournez-les pendant 20 minutes. Servez dans le papier.

Dec 122017
 

Today is the birthday (1821) of Gustave Flaubert a highly influential French novelist who has been considered the leading exponent of literary realism in France. His name was a source of amusement in my household years ago because of a tale told by my late wife. When my wife (DB) was about 3 years old she had this exchange with her mother (EB) who was a French teacher at the time. They were tidying the living room:

EB: Deb, can you hand me Flaubert?

DB: Flo Bear ?????? (Eyes glistening, and voice ecstatic).

Since she told me that tale, I cannot think of Flaubert without imagining a teddy bear in a chequered gingham dress. I am sure he would not be amused – though, maybe he would, given the French/English play on words.

Flaubert was born in Rouen, the second son of Anne Justine Caroline (née Fleuriot; 1793–1872) and Achille-Cléophas Flaubert (1784–1846), director and senior surgeon of the major hospital in Rouen. He began writing at an early age, as early as 8 according to some sources. He was educated at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen, and did not leave until 1840, when he went to Paris to study law. In Paris, he was an indifferent student and found the city distasteful. He made a few acquaintances, including Victor Hugo. Toward the end of 1840, he traveled in the Pyrenees and Corsica. In 1846, after an attack of epilepsy, he left Paris and abandoned the study of law.

From 1846 to 1854, Flaubert had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet, and his letters to her have survived. It is frequently claimed that this was his only real love affair, and afterwards his relationships with women were either Platonic, or for sex only (usually with prostitutes, that he made no secret of). After leaving Paris, he returned to Croisset, near the Seine, close to Rouen, and lived there for the rest of his life. He did however make occasional visits to Paris and England, where he apparently had a mistress. With his lifelong friend Maxime Du Camp, he traveled in Brittany in 1846. In 1849–50 he went on a long journey to the Middle East, visiting Greece and Egypt. In Beirut he contracted syphilis. He spent five weeks in Istanbul in 1850. He visited Carthage in 1858 to conduct research for his novel Salammbô. Flaubert never married and never had children. His reason for not having children is revealed in a letter he sent to Coulet, dated December 11, 1852. In it he revealed that he was opposed to childbirth, saying he would “transmit to no one the aggravations and the disgrace of existence.”

Flaubert was a tireless worker and often complained in his letters to friends about the strenuous nature of his work. He was close to his niece, Caroline Commanville, and had a close friendship and correspondence with George Sand. He occasionally visited Parisian acquaintances, including Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Ivan Turgenev, and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.

Prussian soldiers occupied Flaubert’s house during the War of 1870, and his mother died in 1872. After her death, he fell into financial difficulty. His health declined, and he died at Croisset of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1880 at the age of 58. He was buried in the family vault in the cemetery of Rouen.

Flaubert famously avoided the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression, and scrupulously eschewed the cliché. In a letter to George Sand he said that he spends his time “trying to write harmonious sentences, avoiding assonances.” Flaubert believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding “le mot juste” (“the right word”), which he considered as the key means to achieve quality in literary art. He worked in sullen solitude—sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page—never satisfied with what he had written

In Flaubert’s correspondence he intimates this, explaining correct prose did not flow out of him and that his style was achieved through hard work and constant revision. Flaubert’s output over a lifetime was minuscule in comparison with his contemporaries, such as Balzac or Zola. Walter Pater famously called Flaubert the “martyr of style.”

Here’s some pithy quotes:

Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.

Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.

At the bottom of her heart, however, she [Madame Bovary] was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know what this chance would be, what wind would bring it her, towards what shore it would drive her, if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, laden with anguish or full of bliss to the portholes. But each morning, as she awoke, she hoped it would come that day; she listened to every sound, sprang up with a start, wondered that it did not come; then at sunset, always more saddened, she longed for the morrow.”

Are the days of winter sunshine just as sad for you, too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins.

One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.

Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.

Doubt … is an illness that comes from knowledge and leads to madness.

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.

It’s hard to communicate anything exactly and that’s why perfect relationships between people are difficult to find.

The last quote leads directly to my recipe du jour. Flaubert was very good friends with George Sand who held frequent dinner parties in the 1860s and 70s with guests like Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix and Chopin. But Flaubert was her favorite dinner guest for a number or reasons, and they wrote quite often to one another about food. Sand had a number of digestive problems as did Flaubert, which they corresponded about . She wrote, “In giving up trying to eat REAL MEAT, I have found again a strong stomach . . . I drink cider with enthusiasm, no more champagne! … I live on sour wine and galette.” Guy de Maupassant observed of Flaubert, “Almost never did he eat meat; only eggs, vegetables, a piece of cheese, fruit and a cup of cold chocolate, finding that too much nourishment made him heavy and unfit for work.” Sand wrote to Flaubert often about her meals, and they frequently planned meals together. Once she wrote, “I lunch on two eggs made into an omelet or shirred, and a cup of coffee.”  Flaubert wrote, “I don’t like to eat alone. I have to associate the idea of someone with the things that please me. But this someone is rare. What is certain is that I experience a particular sentiment for you and I cannot define it.”

Christiane Sand, descendant of George Sand, collaborated with Pascal Pringarbe and Muriel Lacroix to produce À la table de George Sand, which they believe reflect recipes for dishes she prepared for family and guests even though we have no direct knowledge of her actual recipes, and not much to go on concerning what she actually cooked. She does say that she loved galettes, and this is the recipe (in translation and slightly emended) from the book. Fromage blanc is a creamy soft cheese made with whole or skimmed milk and cream. It is similar to some kinds of quark. It has the consistency of cream cheese, but contains much less fat. Pure fromage blanc is virtually fat free. Boiling the potatoes for only 10 minutes, hoping they will be soft enough to mash is ridiculous. Allow 20 minutes, and test after that time.

Potato Galette

Ingredients

2 cups flour
1 egg (plus extra for egg wash)
4 oz butter, cut into small cubes
1½ lb potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
½ cup fromage blanc
½ cup grated gruyère
salt and pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme or sage, chopped

Instructions

  1. On a clean surface, make the flour into a mound with a well in the center. Crack 1 egg into the well, along with a pinch of salt and 1 cup of cold water. Knead the dough until smooth, and let sit for 2 hours.
  2. Put a large covered pot of water on medium-high heat. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Mash with a potato masher, then run through a fine sieve or potato ricer. Put in a large bowl with fromage blanc and gruyère, mixing well to combine. Season generously with thyme, salt and pepper.
  3. While the potatoes cook, roll the dough to ¼-inch thick. Cover half the dough with ¼ of the butter cubes, then fold in half and roll out to the same thickness. Repeat with the remaining butter, then chill in the freezer 30 minutes. [I presume “repeat” means that you do this a total of 4 times].
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the dough into two 10-inch circles. Spread the potato mixture on one circle, leaving a ½-inch border, then cover with the second circle, crimping the edges closed.
  5. Lightly beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and brush over the top of the galette. Bake 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the potato is cooked.