Monday, October 30, 2006

Indiana by George Sand

Judging from everyone else's response, I appear to be the only one who did not like Indiana. I started the book convinced that I'd enjoy it immensely--George Sand! At last!--but I quickly grew so annoyed that I never would have finished if it hadn't been for the Slaves.

Sand's prefaces inform me that the novel is about societal oppression of the individual, the injustice of marriage laws, and can be regarded as a way of fighting against the public opinion that slows the modification of these. Well, yes. Indiana is sorely oppressed--she's had no education and she's married off to a much older man whom she detests-- and society turns against her when she attempts to leave her husband for the silver-tongued devil who's stolen her heart. But I evidently require my fictional victim of society to make more of an attempt to better her lot in life than Indiana can manage. Indiana's primary problem is she lives long before she can be prescribed a lengthy course of antidepressants. Her depression is the true oppressor, and it appears to be genetic in origin, since her cousin Ralph's solution to problems usually involves an attempt at suicide.

And since I've brought up the subject of suicide, may I just say how weird I found Ralph and Indiana's great plan to end their lives? They hit upon the notion in Paris, travel by slow boat to Bourbon Island, and it never once crosses either of their minds during all this time that the "angel of Abraham and Tobias" does not condone suicide, that the eternity they plan to spend together is not going to be "in God's bosom." I'm assuming based on the mention of Tobias that they are Catholic; depression is clearly preventing them from thinking the least bit clearly.

And sometimes I wonder just how clearly Sand was thinking. At times Indiana seems lacking in inner consistency. We begin the novel believing M. Delmare, Indiana's husband, to be very abusive and violent; she begs him not to kill Ralph's dog when he complains that the dog needs to be put outside in the kennel: "Had anyone then observed Madame Delmare closely, he might have guessed the painful secret of her whole life in the trivial, commonplace incident." Yet later much time is spent establishing that Indiana could have had total control over her husband if she'd made the least effort to do so. By the time M. Delmare finds and reads Indiana's cache of love letters from Raymon, I'd begun to feel rather sorry for him. He's gruff and possibly verbally abusive, but he's clearly never even had relations with his young wife (why couldn't she have her marriage annulled, by the way? Was this simply not done in France at the time?) and suffers from so many ailments of the old and afflicted, that I was rather inclined not to find his subsequent act of violence against Indiana nearly as horrific as I expect I ought to have done. Dementia patients aren't held accountable for their violent outbursts in the same way a younger person's would be, and when M. Delmare collapses and dies soon after, I felt a bit sorry for him. He'd been acting childish for quite some time.

Indiana is described as such a wet noodle that I was surprised when she's presented as an enthusiastic hunter: how can she gallop and presumably jump a hunter (an unknown one at that) when she's so weak and frail? And if she's such an expert, why ever was she so disturbed that her husband had killed a hunting dog (that she wasn't fond of) when it proved unmanageable? We learn a lot about the characters on the hunt, and M. Delmare's fall provides an opening for Raymon to ingratiate himself into the family, but this is the point when I really wanted to abandon the book--why couldn't Sand have established earlier that Indiana loved to ride, it wouldn't have taken more than a sentence or two to do so. I lost confidence in her here.

And why are we supposed to believe in the narrator, when it is finally revealed to us who the narrator is? Raymon's thoughts and motivations, the same as Noun's, could never be known by such a narrator, nor from the character who told the story to him. Much of the story we've been told is undermined by revealing who the narrator is, yet I don't believe we're meant to regard him as unreliable.

I don't believe I'll be reading any more George Sand, but I feel like such a philistine since everyone else liked this one!

4 comments:

Danielle said...

I know I am not as critical a reader as I should be (at least in a case where we are discussing the book), and I tend to want to like what I am reading (the characters have to be really annoying to put me off). I guess I feel like life is never black and white, and I probably allow characters to have their faults (although I was less sympathetic to M. Delmare and not at all to Raymon). There are inconsistancies, but when I look at myself, I have inconsistancies in my life, too. I'm not sure if any of this makes sense? At this point, now would be the time to go back and reread after I have read more about the book and what people think--and see if I still feel the same way. If it makes any difference, I read that Indiana has gone in and out of print and it has been argued where (and if) it should be taught in the "canon"--so you are definitely not the only one with issues!! I have a feeling that if Ella and Sylvia read it, they would have had some interesting thoughts on it too! I think it is hard having grown up in the society we live in and having seen where women have come from, and to read about what we consider a "wet noodle" of a woman. I wonder how this book was received at the time?

sfp said...

I'd love to know what Sand's contemporaries thought of the book and how they reacted to the character.

I'm intending to read quite a bit of French lit next year and I'm wondering if my opinion of Indiana will change after I've done so. I know it's unfair to read a book out of context with its time and expect the characters to behave like people of our day. And yet I don't know why Sand didn't create a character a little more like herself--her experiences are MUCH more interesting to read about than those stupid love letters Indiana and Raymon kept passing.

Inconsistancies in real life are just par for the course, and I'm much more sympathetic in real life to people who find themselves in abusive relationships or who suffer from depression than I am fictional folk, who I respond to purely on the basis of what I find on the page. I expect fiction to have an inner logic, though, and for characters to be more than puppets manipulated through a plot. I didn't mind at all that Raymon was surprised that Indiana loved to hunt, but I'd like to have been subtly prepared for that. I'd assumed that Indiana hadn't witnessed the death of the spaniel but had heard about the event when her husband returned home--just a phrase or a sentence to let me know she'd been there would have been enough to let me know she did do things other than mope.

Harold Bloom has only one George Sand novel in his western canon: The Haunted Pool. The reviews at Amazon make it sound dreadful. But he didn't categorize Sand in with "sadly inadequate women writers of the nineteenth century" that he sees crusaders trying to push into the canon, so he definitely holds Sand's writing in higher regard than I do at the moment. :)

Dorothy W. said...

Harold Bloom is an ass. Sorry :) But "sadly inadequate women writers of the nineteenth century"???

sfp said...

I have no idea who he's placed in that category. Maybe Gaskell; I don't see her mentioned on "his" canon. I'm not an English major (obviously!) so I don't know who's in these days and who's out. :)

And yes, I agree he's an ass. And a bad influence. My daughter once tried to excuse some vague writing on her part by telling me she was writing just the way Harold Bloom did. I told her they should both try to do better.