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George Sand in the Netherlands (1)

In contrast to what happened in most other European countries, the Dutch seemed not to have appreciated the novels of George Sand (2), the most famous French female novelist of the 19th century. This has been the prevailing opinion up to the 1980s, in line with the evidently bad reputation of French romanticism in the Netherlands as voiced in the periodical press (Van den Berg 1995). So it seemed fully understandable that (the very most of) her work had not been immediately commented nor translated into Dutch. Although the difference with the numbers of Sand translations in Germany (for instance) was quite shocking, the tendency was (myself not excluded) to document the Dutch absence and make it understandable by quoting articles from the literary press, in which the journalist stated that "he would have preferred Mister Sand’s Lélia [1833] having remained near the Seine in Paris" (1835), or two years later that "one would not hear this critic saying that he should not have wished George Sand [..] to be put in prison". There was at least some approval of the author of this "soul-destructing sensuality" being conscious of her crimes, while she understood she had to hide behind a male pseudonym.

There seemed to have been only one exception: the immediate translation into Dutch of Sand’s 1863 novel Mademoiselle La Quintinie (little translated into other languages). This case, however, could be also used as a confirmation of the lack of real literary interest, by referring to its content: a catholic priest being ridiculed and attacked. Given the Dutch situation where Protestants and Catholics were fighting each other, a Dutch protestant Association saw the usefulness of having precisely this book translated and distributed among Catholics in the south of the country. A polemic between catholic and protestant periodicals followed, and in fact Sand became accepted , as was again demonstrated by the important number of necrologies in the Dutch press (including the daily press) when she died in 1876. However, their authors make frequent allusions to her international success as "counter-balancing" the "scandalous novels" of her early period and her "unfeminine" behaviour (including divorce and male clothing).

Both the violent tone of the polemics following the Mademoiselle La Quintinie translation, and the recognition of the worldwide influence of Sand's oeuvre finally induced the question: was George Sand, yes or no, part of the 19th-century "cultural repertoire" of the Netherlands (Even-Zohar 1997)?

The recent history of Dutch language (Netherlands and Flanders) 19th-century literature apparently decided for the negative. Van den Berg and Couttenier do certainly not exclude women: they mention seven Belgian and 21 Dutch authors (percentage still to be calculated...). But any influence of or opinions about George Sand are described only for Belgian authors. Interestingly, one of the statements is that the Flemish critics officially rejected what, in fact, they were following.

This is precisely what also happened in the Netherlands - and has already been demonstrated in a series of articles, of which this contribution is only a brief abstract. Indeed since the history of reading, of the press, of translations has started to produce its outputs, it is impossible not to see the impact of George Sand for the Dutch reading public, which certainly was less important than her influence in Germany, England and Russia (for instance (3)), and also less considerable than the presence of Dickens or Scott (for instance) in Holland.

So, in my view George Sand was part of the Dutch "cultural repertoire". I draw this conclusion from the evidence furnished by:
1.her presence in lending libraries;
2.those translations that did exist;
3.her being mentioned in the periodical press;
4.traces of (individual) reading of her books.
In the following, hyperlinks provide access to the source material, contained in the database WomenWriters - although the actual research has been done only in part with the help of electronic tools. Nevertheless this article is also being presented as an illustration of this way of accumulating evidence into a tool that allows drawing (provisional) conclusions, to be discussed. The article is an abridged version of "'Schrijvers, vertalers, uitgevers' [...]" (in press), which itself puts together different earlier articles published both in French and Dutch.

1.Sand's presence in lending libraries

I take as a first example the case of the (commercial) lending library of the brothers Van der Hoek in Leiden. The series of their catalogues, starting 1859, is interesting. When they took over the library in 1859, it contained ten novels by George Sand (in French). From 1859 on, each year the brothers issued new catalogues, which allow us to follow their subsequent acquisitions. Between 1861 and 1877 they bought 32 books by Sand, again mostly novels. In fact they bought nearly all of the (26) novels she published during this period, in most cases immediately after their publication. They bought them in French, and when Dutch translations in volume appeared, they also acquired them. Most interesting is the sudden presence of the scandalous Lélia, about which it would be interesting to be informed….

The statement (Luger 1995) that George Sand was little read, in Leiden and elsewhere, was evidently based on (a) partial consultation (only 1859) of the Van der Hoek catalogue, and (b) the existing negative image of the author. I suggest seeing, on the contrary, a real interest, in a library which probably can be considered as representative. This needs to be checked in more detail, but for the moment we found out that other libraries did propose books – non-translated – by Sand: a women’s library in Amsterdam addressing an elite, but also one (at least) of those libraries that had been founded by so-called Associations for Public Utility, whose objective was to try raising the intellectual levels of less privileged classes. Those people whom literary critics pretended to "protect" by exhorting translators to refrain from translating George Sand, apparently – in part – were able to read French. The attacks on Sand might well be explained – at least, again, in part – by the fact that people did read her.

2.Translations that did exist

Nevertheless some Dutch translations existed, which it is interesting to compare, as for quantities, to translations into other languages. Our database contains (provisional) figures (October 2009):

  • Germany: 154
  • UK, US, Eire: 99
  • Denmark: 33
  • Netherlands: 22
  • all countries/languages: 488.

On the whole, translating activities have been most intense during the first decades of Sand’s publishing. Translations in German have been the most numerous (but are also best documented; cf. Wiedemann 2003). Clearly the Dutch translations start being published very late. They may have been "suggested" by the success in other countries. The number has in fact been exaggerated here. I included all translations: also those of theatre plays (generally not available in book form) and those published in the periodical press (often not included in inventories). Concerning translations in book form, there are only four of them, or even three: Mademoiselle La Quintinie, La Confession d’une jeune fille and (together in one volume) François le Champi and La Mare au diable. Apart from this small number, there is the fact that for five novels Dutch translations have been only announced, not realized.

Interestingly, all four translations in volume have been provided by a woman (resp. Ms. Brinkgreve, Johanna Badon-Ghijben, Suze Andriessen), while for a fifth novel, Le Compagnon du Tour de France (1841), an adaptation has been published by another woman, Helene Mercier (1887). These female activities constitute an interesting contrast to the mostly male exhortations to avoid translating Sand’s work.

3.Sand mentioned in the periodical press

As stated earlier, the Dutch periodical press did not much discuss George Sand, and mostly not in a positive way – at least before 1863. It was in the important literary/cultural journal entitled De Gids (The Guide, created in 1837 and taking example on the French Revue des Deux Mondes), that its founder, E.J. Potgieter, wished "George Sand [..] to be put in prison". Consequently there are virtually no articles discussing her publications apart from an extremely positive article about the same anti-catholic novel Mademoiselle La Quintinie by the influent critic (follower of Sainte-Beuve, but also good friend of Potgieter) Conrad Busken Huet.

But there is also Sand’s being simply mentioned in articles concerning other authors or subjects. These mentions are of course difficult to discover - in particular for paper copies of the journals. While waiting for the results of large-scale digitizing of journals and newspapers, we (4) have been able to search the digital version of De Gids for "George Sand", and to find 89 of those mentions (between 1837-1911). They are gradually becoming more frequent: 2 for the decade 1840-49; 8 for 1860-69; 23 for 1880-89.

Difficult to decide (for the moment) if these numbers taken together make a large or a small quantity. Anyhow, they seem to illustrate that George Sand, her work, her personality and her ideas "have become obvious, self-evident, for the target group" (Even-Zohar), i.e. the Dutch Gids-reading public.

The mentions show, for instance, Sand’s being compared firstly to other female writers – in the beginning to those who were considered better women, because more feminine. Comparisons to Catherine Sedgwick (1839) and Mrs Ellis (1846) suggest that these two would provide examples to be followed by women readers. Later on Sand starts to be compared to and associated with other exceptional women and outstanding authors: Rahel Varnhagen and Bettina von Arnim (1850), Fredrika Bremer and Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint (1851), George Eliot (1863), Fanny Lewald (1865), Bosboom-Toussaint (1876). From 1863 she is also compared to important European male authors: Hugo, Lamartine (1863), Goethe (1871), Dickens, Van Lennep and others (1873), Cervantes, Scott, Tourgeniev etc. (1875).

More than the articles about Sand or about French romanticism, where journalists try to prevent their readers from opening books by Sand, these mentions tend to have a positive stance, and to suggest her name and works are quite well known. This being mentioned will be further checked when other periodicals will be digitized. In particular it will be shown that in the Dutch women’s press (which started in 1870), her presence is clearly self-evident, female journalists referring extensively to her when presenting German women’s history for example.

4.Traces of reading of Sand's works

The most touching evidence about Sand’s impact on the Dutch readership is to be found in those papers where individuals put down their reading experience. The number of Dutch readers (most of them women), for whom such evidence has been found, is small, and immediately raises the question of their representativity.

One of the most prominent Sand-readers is the Dutch Queen Sophie (1818-1877), a German princess, unhappily married to King William III. Her unhappiness in marriage may indeed have contributed to her reading George Sand’s novels. She possessed twenty of them, and besides read also Sand in the Revue des Deux Mondes, as we see in her copy-books and in her correspondence. The copies of the books themselves clearly show – marked by the royal pencil – what touched her in particular: expressions of unhappiness, as for instance in Le Compagnon du Tour de France. Concerning this life of hers, she also took example on Sand’s autobiography entitled Histoire de ma vie, in that she herself wrote the history of her life (in French). This is how it begins: "Ceci est l'histoire de ma vie".

A less aristocratic Sand-reader was a woman named Keetje Hooijer-Bruijns (1817-1886), who also took example on Histoire de ma vie: as a 63-years-old widow of a protestant minister she wrote down (for her children) the "history of her life", taking again George Sand as her example, quoting her frequently and engaging in a dialogue with her. Interestingly this woman is the mother of one of the literary critics of De Gids, J.H. Hooijer, who in this same year (1880), when writing on a novel by Octave Feuillet, added an important development on George Sand.

Another woman, Geertruida Kapteijn-Muijsken (1855-1920), reads Sand’s autobiography at a much younger age, about 25 years old. Her copybook contains 50 pages of quotations from Histoire de ma vie. She would later become a writer, and apparently it is while reading Sand that she discovers her vocation: she copies Sand’s discovering her own writing abilities.

As I said, some discussion is needed in order to decide about how representative these women are. But Sand’s being an example for these three women invites to observe other Dutch women and question them about their relationship toward George Sand. We then find out that Bosboom-Toussaint who was the Dutch woman celebrity of 19th-century literature, admired Sand but also formulated her evident “jalousie de metier” (taking the same distances as in Germany Annette von Droste-Hulshoff); and that the first Dutch woman author who wholeheartedly expressed her admiration of George Sand was the philosopher and novelist Carry van Bruggen, who formulated the links she felt between Germaine de Stael, George Sand and herself in a women’s journal she edited in 1916.

Clearly George Sand was part of the Dutch repertoire in particular of its female side, but she became it on a late moment, well after she had started influencing women in other countries. Using Even-Zohar’s theories we could say that the “’willingness to consume new goods [Sand’s writing]’” had to wait for “the resistance [to] become weaker”. Probably this could not happen while authors such as the blind and touching Petronella Moens (1762-1843) and the school mistress Barbara van Meerten-Schilperoort (1778-1853), completely in line with the doxa as far as women’s place was concerned, were still alive and producing. Once they passed away, a renewal of the repertoire became possible.

A plea

One can consider this presentation as a plea for the use of book history at the service of literary history, for mixing factual evidence with the study of review articles which may well have represented the wishes of the critic or a normative system concerning women’s possible activities in society. Indeed these writings, which are not only testimonies of reading, but also address potential readers with their own message, are not always credible and must not be taken literally. This applies in particular for those cases where gender is playing a role. Visibly it does for George Sand, for whom in the Netherlands in 1880 De Gids still insists on her scandalously being (having been…) at the same time a man and a woman – discussion that in France was held during the 1830s, at the beginning of her writing career.

Suzan van Dijk, October 2009

(1) This paper has originally been presented at the workshop "Gender and Materiality", chaired by Dena Goodman at the Center for Gender Studies, Groningen University, 11 June 2009. The subject is discussed with more detail in: "George Sand in Nederland. Ontwikkelingen in het receptieonderzoek", in De Negentiende eeuw 2010-1, p. 69-91.
(2) In order to have the complete benefit of the hyperlinks and see all the information contained in the database records, a password is needed.
(3) Note that for most countries, apart from Germany (thanks to Wiedemann 2003), Denmark (thanks to Corrie Kruikemeier who entered information from Munch-Petersen) and the Netherlands, information is still incomplete. For Russia Kafanova/Sokolova 2005 found 170 19th-century Sand-translations (information by Hilde Hoogenboom).
(4) In fact: Johanneke Straasheijm, who collaborated to the project between 2004 and 2007, together with Susanne Parren and Els Naaijkens.

Works and articles quoted

  • Kafanova, O.B. and M. V. Sokolova, Zhorzh Sand v Rossii: Bibliografiia russkikh perefovod i kriticheskoi literatury na russkom iazyke (1832-1900). Moskva, IMLI RAN, 2005.
  • Luger, Bernt, “Les écrivains étrangers aux Pays-Bas: le rôle des intermédiaires entre livres et lecteurs”, in Suzan van Dijk (ed.), George Sand lue à l'étranger. Recherches nouvelles 3. (C.R.I.N. 30). Amsterdam/Atlanta, Rodopi, 1995.
  • Munch-Petersen, Erland, Bibliografi over oversaettelser til dansk, 1800-1900 af prosafiktion fra de germanske og romanske sprog. Copenhagen, Royal Library, 1976.
  • Van den Berg, Willem, “Les horreurs du romantisme français”, in Van Dijk 1995, p. 121-128.
  • Van den Berg, Willem and Piet Couttenier, Alles is taal geworden. Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse literatuur 1800-1900. Amsterdam, Bert Bakker, 2009.
  • Wiedemann, Kerstin, Zwischen Irritation und Faszination. George Sand und ihre Deutsche Leserschaft im 19. Jahrhundert. Tübingen, Gunter Narr, 2003.

  • Note that when arriving in the database WomenWriters your status will be "not logged on", meaning that your access to the database is limited. For complete access (and participation in the project), contact Suzan van Dijk.

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