Brown on Bara and Kerlouégan, eds. (2020)

Bara, Olivier and François Kerlouégan, editors. George Sand comique. Université Grenoble Alpes Éditions, 2020, pp. 383, ISBN: 978-2-37747-182-9

This volume presents a fresh look at the well-studied writer that is George Sand. In their introduction, the editors explore the nuances and difficulties of approaching the theme of comedy in Sand’s works: “étudier aujourd’hui le comique dans l’œuvre de Sand ne va donc pas soi. ‘George Sand comique’: l’expression formerait-elle un oxymore ? L’hypothèse d’un comique Sandien se heurte en effet à plusieurs obstacles ou ‘résistances’” (11). The editors hypothesize that Sand is not associated with comedy because of her status as a woman writer. They assess the importance of Sand’s humor through the lens of gender, because women were locked out of comical literature in the nineteenth century: “A son époque, deux registres demeurent ‘interdits’ aux femmes: le sérieux et le rire” (11). Analyzing the “pertinence du comique” (13) in Sand’s œuvre, then, is to reflect on Sand anew, reading her works as providing “une distance salutaire avec les excès de son enthousiasme politique” as well as “un prisme qui nuance la représentation de l’histoire” (16). Organized into four sections—“Formes et registres comiques,” “La compagnie des rieurs,” “George Sand buffa,” and “Éthique et politique du rire”— the volume’s twenty-two articles expertly address a diversity of critical and literary themes relating to the question of humor throughout George Sand’s works. 

In the Première Partie, “Formes et registres comiques,” the contributors study the different constructions through which Sand represents humor, most notably “la fantaisie, le burlesque et le grotesque” (23). This section’s six articles discuss the sources of her comedy as well as what Mariette Delamaire and Catherine Masson, in their respective essays, analyze as Sand’s mise en scene de soi. Hélène Thil’s study examines unexpected sources of inspiration, such as “le comique bouffon des marionnettes” (84) and characterizes the burlesque dimension present in some of Sand’s works. As this section’s introductory pages note, humor is a form of self-representation for Sand: “Le comique ouvre ainsi l’espace du jeu, de la liberté et d’une possible reconstruction de soi” (28). 

The Deuxième Partie, “La compagnie des rieurs,” looks to “ressaisir l’échange comique, la relation aux destinataires du rire” (23). Investigating Sand through her relationships with others, the five articles in this section deal primarily with her correspondence and Histoire de ma vie and make connections to other forms of comedy. For instance, François Vanoosthuyse links the American screwball comedy from the 1930s to the works of Sand, and Guillaume Milet explores Sand’s humorous tone and range of comedy in her correspondence with her editor François Buloz.

“George Sand buffa,” the Troisième Partie, is characterized by the editors as “le moment d’évaluer ce que le comique sandien doit plus particulièrement à la comédie, dans la manière dont il relit et renouvelle la commedia italienne et capte l’innocent bouffonnerie” (24). The five articles here focus on Sand’s theatrical inspirations and productions. Valentina Ponzetto poses a question in her article that summarizes the range of articles in this section: “Raisonneuse ou comique?” (207). One could argue, after reading this section that Sand masters her voice, whether she is being humorous and light or logical and deliberate; she is in fact all of the above.

Finally, in the Quatrième Partie, “Éthique et politique du rire”, the authors analyze Sand’s rire as being politically and critically motivated, “capable d’aider à penser et à refonder les réalités sociales” (24). The introduction to this section notes that “que ce soit par sa charge satirique ou par sa mise au service d’une visée pédagogique, le comique, dans l’œuvre de Sand, se révèle être l’outil d’une profonde interrogation morale et sociale” (269). The five articles in “Éthique et politique du rire” detail the instructive and pedagogical powers that comedy and laughter can have on an audience. For instance, looking at La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, Claire Barel-Moisan, assesses the transformation of laughter from indignation to terror, giving humor a menacing quality. Also, Claudine Grossir characterizes Sand’s use of satire as both logical and strategical, creating a bond between the reader and the text. These articles address the entire potential range of laughter. 

The epilogue by Catherine Nesci brings the subject of Sand’s comedy into our contemporary period with the question of “fan fiction” and the representation of women writers. Sand’s images, she notes, are neither those of the stereotypical bas-bleu nor respectful portraits of women writers: Sand is between the extremes. Readers today can learn as much from the source of the humor—intellectual women in this case—as from those who laugh.

This volume effectively explores the nuances of the comique by examining the wide diversity of the Sandienne oeuvre. It is especially interesting for scholars studying George Sand as well as Sand enthusiasts, but also, with the particular attention to detail provided by the editors in the indexes, it can provide support for all nineteenth-century scholars. The structure of this volume leads the reader through varied literary analyses that are philosophical and social, opening the topic of the book to all readers. This volume speaks to an increasing desire to understand individuals multi-dimensionally. Addressing Sand’s use of humor and considering her as a comique allows us to rediscover her works through yet another lens, seeing her as more well-rounded than otherwise previously depicted. 

Noëlle Brown
Kennesaw State University