George Sand: Her Life & Writings HTML version

The `Bonne Dame' Of Nohant The Theatre
Alexandre Dumas Fils--Life At Nohant
Novelists are given to speaking of the theatre somewhat disdainfully. They say that there
is too much convention, that an author is too much the slave of material conditions, and is
obliged to consider the taste of the crowd, whilst a book appeals to the lover of literature,
who can read it by his own fireside, and to the society woman, who loses herself in its
pages. As soon, though, as one of their novels has had more success than its predecessors,
they do not hesitate to cut it up into slices, according to the requirements of the
publishing house, so that it may go beyond the little circle of lovers of literature and
society women and reach the crowd-- the largest crowd possible.
George Sand never pretended to have this immense disdain for the theatre which is
professed by ultra-refined writers. She had always loved the theatre, and she bore it no
grudge, although her pieces had been hissed. In those days plays that did not find favour
were hissed. At present they are not hissed, either because there are no more poor plays,
or because the public has seen so many bad ones that it has become philosophical, and
does not take the trouble to show its displeasure. George Sand's first piece, Cosima, was a
noted failure. About the year 1850, she turned to the theatre once more, hoping to find a
new form of expression for her energy and talent. Francois le Champi was a great
success. In January, 1851, she wrote as follows, after the performance of Claudie: "A
tearful success and a financial one. The house is full every day; not a ticket given away,
and not even a seat for Maurice. The piece is played admirably; Bocage is magnificent.
The public weeps and blows its nose, as though it were in church. I am told that never in
the memory of man has there been such a first night. I was not present myself."
There may be a slight exaggeration in the words "never in the memory of man," but the
success was really great. Claudie is still given, and I remember seeing Paul Mounet
interpret the part of Remy admirably at the Odeon Theatre. As to the Mariage de
Victorine, it figures every year on the programme of the Conservatoire competitions. It is
the typical piece for would-be ingenues.
Francois le Champi, Claudie and the Mariage de Victorine may be considered as the
series representing George Sand's dramatic writings. These pieces were all her own, and,
in her own opinion, that was their principal merit. The dramatic author is frequently
obliged to accept the collaboration of persons who know nothing of literature.
"Your characters say this," observes the manager; it is all very well, but, believe me, it
will be better for him to say just the opposite. The piece will run at least sixty nights
longer." There was a manager at the Gymnase Theatre in those days named Montigny.
He was a very clever manager, and knew exactly what the characters ought to say for
making the piece run. George Sand complained of his mania for changing every play, and
she added: "Every piece that I did not change, such, for instance, as Champi, Claudie,