Becoming George Sand

by Rosalind Brackenbury

A novel that follows a professor, caught in a passionate affair, who comes to a moment of crisis in her life and looks to the letters and diaries of George Sand for guidance, seeing that the nineteenth century offered women more freedom in some ways than they have now.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547370545
  • ISBN-10: 0547370547
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 03/17/2011
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book

    Maria Jameson is having an affair—a passionate, lifechanging affair. She asks: Is it possible to love two men at once? Must this new romance mean an end to love with her husband?

    For answers, she reaches across the centuries to George Sand, the maverick French novelist who took many lovers. Immersing herself in the life of this revolutionary woman, Maria struggles with the choices women make and wonders if women in the nineteenth century might have been more free, in some ways, than their twenty-first-century counterparts.

    Here, Rosalind Brackenbury creates a beautiful portrait of the ways in which women are connected across history. Two narratives delicately intertwine—following George through her affair with Frederic Chopin, following Maria through her affair with an Irish professor—and bring us a novel that explores the personal and the historical, the demands of self and the mysteries of the heart. Sharply insightful, Becoming George Sand asks how we make our lives feel vibrant while still acknowledging the gifts of our pasts, and challenges our understanding of love in all its forms—sparkling and new, mature, rekindled, and renewed.

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  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    1

    Secret

    Maria crosses the street, where the cars are parked
    under their bonnets of snow, and only the swerving tracks
    of tires have left their ribbed marks. She’s a little early, but
    in a couple of minutes the one o’clock gun from the castle
    will sound across the city, and wherever he is, still in his lab
    feeding his mice before shutting them up for the day, or
    hanging up his lab coat, reaching for his thick tweed overcoat,
    he’ll hear it and think, she’ll be there, she’ll be waiting.
     Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. A Friday in
    December. Friday afternoon. She’s been longing for it all
    week. She peers in through the glass door, and pushes
    against it so that a bell rings her arrival like in an oldfashioned
    grocery shop, and she comes in with clumps of
    wet snow on her boots to melt on the doormat, and a sense
    of having reached the next, important stage of the day. She
    breathes out, a long sigh that nobody should hear.
     At first glance it looks as if there ’s nobody in the shop,
    but she feels rather than hears a slight flurry out of sight and
    then sees the bookseller at the back, bent over and sorting
    books. There are boxes stacked, and the woman is unpacking
    them to put out on the shelves. She comes out, straightening
    herself, pushing back a strand of her hair. She has
    the slightly anxious look of a shy person who’s afraid that
    what she says and does may not be appropriate. She also
    shows for an instant that she knows Maria, but she hides this
    knowledge, personal, even embarrassing, behind her professional
    manners. Maria is wearing the long dark blue coat
    she usually wears, still flecked with snow. Snow melts on
    her hair and her gloved hands— she’s kept her gloves on, so
    that her skimming of pages where she stands, at a shelf of
    books that have been laid face up for easy examination, looks
    more like passing the time than any real curiosity. She looks
    up from the book she isn’t reading, a collection of Maupassant
    stories, and smiles.
     “Hi.” She knows that the woman knows she’s waiting.
     “Good morning.”
     “Sorry if I startled you.”
     “Oh, no, that’s fine. Just, I didn’t really think anyone
    would come in today. Who would have thought it, more
    snow.”
     “Mmm, it was forecast, though.”
     Maria keeps her conversation to a polite but distracted murmur
    to indicate that she has come in here to find something
    she has not yet quite thought of. Bookshops are places where
    you can take your mind offwaiting. Her hands hold the book
    as if it were a passport, one gloved finger dividing pages.
    She says vaguely, “I wonder if you have any George
    Sand?”
     The bookshop is a small independent one tucked away
    in an alley at the back of Buccleuch Place, not the larger,
    brighter, newly chained university bookshop where students
    mostly go to order the books they are going to be
    made to read. It specializes in French literature and books
    in translation. You can get yesterday’s Le Monde here, and
    even Libération. Maria sometimes wonders how it can keep
    going, but then there are all the guidebooks too, and books
    about how to buy houses in France, how to cook like a
    French person, how to stay thin, and Peter Mayle.
     “Oh, yes.” The woman seems relieved to be asked about
    an actual book. “There ’s a course, isn’t there, the French
    Romantics. I have some of the novels in stock, and the letters
    to Musset. That’s all for now. But you know the big
    new letters to Flaubert will be out soon? It’s being translated,
    I believe. Are you teaching Sand?”
     “No, but I’m reading her. I’m thinking of writing about
    her. I’d like to order the Flaubert letters, but I want them in
    the original.”
     “Right, well, I can do that.” The woman goes offto
    look on the computer behind her desk, runs her eye up and
    down the screen, her hand competent on the mouse. She
    has grey- brown hair, most of it scraped back, and a profile
    that belongs on a Greek coin, Maria thinks, very pure and
    classical. She knows from the woman’s glance at her that
    she knows. There’s an odd tension between them, as if
    both are wondering together, will he come?
     Maria stands there, snow turning to damp stains on her
    coat and in her dark hair. The bookseller is placing her
    order.
     “Excuse me, your name? I know you, of course, you’ve
    been in here before, but.”
     “Maria Jameson. Like the whisky.”
     Then the door swings open with the clang of the bell
    again and he comes in, cold air rushing in with him. On the
    street, a dark day, white gulls swooping white between the
    granite buildings, falling and rising in the gusts of snow. His
    coat flies open, he ’s blazing, in spite of the cold, and the red
    scarf at his neck flies out like a flag. His glance goes straight
    to Maria— who still stands with the unread book in her
    hands, any book will do, as a passport, an alibi, she ’s put
    down the Maupassant, picked up something on Derrida—
    and then quickly scans the bookshelves, the carpets, the
    woman bending as if to hide herself behind the computer.
    Then he looks at Maria again. The challenge of him: I’m
    here. She drops the book back into a pile, as he puts out a
    hand to touch her arm, meaning, let’s go. She ’s moving
    towards him as if pulled by magnets, in spite of books and
    furniture, as if no mere object can stand in her way.
     The bookseller says mildly, “There, that’s done, you
    should have it in a week at the latest. Can you leave me a
    phone number? Or I can send you an e- mail?”
     Maria scribbles her address, e- mail and phone number, no
    longer thinking about Flaubert’s letters to George Sand and
    hers to him; those will have to wait. The bookseller retreats
    to her stack of cardboard boxes, to count books. She almost
    scuttles. Maria pays no more attention to her except to say a
    cursory, “Goodbye, thanks so much,” because he is here,
    tall and eager and thin, with snow on his curly dark hair and
    his cold bare hands. She ’s flowing towards him, they have
    this brief time in the middle of the day, and it’s all they
    have, the clock has begun to tick already. The woman in the
    bookshop is neither here nor there; she was an intermediary,
    a necessary stage on the way; later Maria will come back
    here alone and check on the other books she needs to order,
    but now she is going ahead of him out of the shop, into the
    street, into the blowing snow, between the iron- grey of
    walls and in the flurry of flakes flying sideways blown by
    the wind, forging her necessary way. The streets and sidewalks
    are icy beneath the latest fall of snow. But they stride
    together as if the day were warm, the air benign, the ground
    sure beneath their feet; they walk close, she looking up at
    him, laughing, he bending close to say something into her
    ear. They pass before the glass windows of the bookshop’s
    front and are gone.
    ——
    She opens the front door with her own key and they both go
    in, she leading the way. She picks up damp mail from the
    inside mat, places it on the hall table; even now she has the
    impulse to tidy things, even with him coming in close behind
    her like a tall sh...

  • Reviews
    "Read Becoming George Sand for the beauty of the prose, for the intertwined and compelling stories of two brave and piercingly alive women. Read it most of all, though, for its honesty, the way it reveals and illuminates certain truths and longings that are often believed to be secreted inside only one individual, but are in fact universal. This is not so much a story about having a love affair as it is a study of the nature of love itself. I was absolutely knocked out by it."
    —Elizabeth Berg, author of the forthcoming Once Upon a Time, There Was You, as well as Open House, What We Keep, The Year of Pleasures, Talk Before Sleep, and many others

    "I enjoyed Becoming George Sand very much. It is thoughtful, lyrical and adventurous, and I liked the contrasts between glowing Majorca and cold Edinburgh, between past and present, all beautifully orchestrated. George Sand comes across to us as a real woman as well as an important writer, and an inspiring example of generosity and energy."
    —Margaret Drabble


    "This is a beautiful, wise novel. The intertwining of past and present, of France and Scotland, of genius and analysis is done with an ease that disguises the consummate skill of the writing. A lovely book." 
    —Edmund White, author of The Flaneur and City Boy

    "An elegant novel which offers sensitive and witty reflections upon an astonishingly wide range of topics, Becoming George Sand is a great read and its characters—the struggling writer Maria Jameson and the indefatigable George Sand—are enchanting company." 
    —Valerie Martin, author of Property


    "A wonderful book—filled with wisdom, poetry, and imagery so brilliant I wish I could steal it. Maria is a character to love, whose loves are vivid, embracing, and revelatory. This is a treasure!" 
    —Annie Dillard

    "Written with brilliant assurance and a rich, stirring voice, Becoming George Sand is a masterful tale that travels the world in pursuit of its extraordinary characters and takes readers on a journey filled with wisdom and an unforgettable sense of joy and inspiration." 
    —Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Crescent and The Language of Baklava

    "Brackenbury’s fine new novel makes the worlds of present-day Edinburgh and nineteenth-century France both wonderfully real and full of moving emotional drama." 
    —Alison Lurie, author of Foreign Affairs 

     

    "Here is a delicious and devastating account of the lives and loves of two women, one contemporary and Scottish, the other the legendary George Sand; both writers. The parallel lives are tellingly written, and this matters: the story also reveals the persuasive, elusive shadows that writing and reading insinuate into the texture of a life." 
    —Harry Mathews, author of My Life in CIA and former editor at the Paris Review
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