Monday, October 30, 2006

Not an Indiana fan

Judging from everyone else's reponse, 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!

(Cross posted at pages turned)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cross posted at A Work in Progress

To truly appreciate George Sand's novel, Indiana, I feel as though I need to have read at least some of Balzac's novels as well as some of Sand's later works, have some background knowledge of French politics and society ca. 1830, knowledge of realist French literature, and a basic understanding of Freudian theory (sheesh this man pops in literature all over the place...I must read up on him, I guess). Well, upon reading the introduction to the novel and some criticism, I feel that way anyhow. What you would think is simply a novel of romance and betrayal has so many undercurrents and themes running through it, it is leaving my head spinning. I wish I could say now I am going to annotate these various subjects to you, in easy understandable prose, but alas, I don't think I am entirely up to that. I couldn't even find a decent picture of Bourbon Island to snatch and share with you here (where part of the novel is set).

So, instead, let me tell you a little bit about this thin little novel. I will try not to give too much away, but if you plan on reading Indiana, beware of possible spoilers.

Indiana is a young woman, born on Bourbon Island and married off to a much older man (your basic loveless marriage). I'm not sure what happened to her mother or her father, but she has been raised primarily by an older cousin, Ralph. She also is very close to Noun, her maid, who was raised alongside her. Both are Creoles. When we meet Indiana she is living in France with her husband and the phlegmatic (as he is described in the book), Ralph. There is an intruder on the estate--M. Delmare (Indiana's husband) goes off to investigate and perhaps "do away" with the villain. The villain, wounded, is brought into the house--enter stage left, Raymon--our seducer. Not to worry. Surely he is no villain. He gives a rather corny excuse as to why he was there, but really he is their aristocratic and very attractive neighbor. Shall I tell you why he really was there? He doesn't just seduce Indiana, he has already done the dirty with her maid. Indiana doesn't know this, and by the time she finds out, it is already too late and she will be in love with him. It took me until the end of the novel to figure out (and later confirm in the introduction) that Indiana actually remains virginal all the way to the end.

What I found interesting about this novel was the "mirroring" of themes--(thanks to Litlove for the heads up). Indiana and Noun are almost twins/two parts of a whole.

"Noun was Madame Delmare's 'milk sister'; brought up together, these two young women loved each other tenderly. Noun was tall, strong, beaming with health, alert, and full of ardent, passionate Creole blood; her shining beauty eclipsed the pale and frail charms of Madame Delmare; but the goodness of their hearts and the strength of their mutual attachment eliminated all feeling of rivalry."

According from my extra readings that is not the only parallel. Indiana and Ralph are considered "doubles" as well. Ralph, M. Delmare and Raymon are considered a set and the mirror of them is Indiana, Noun and Laure de Nangy. How does an author fill one small novel with so much "stuff"? Do they set out to do this intentionally? Or is it the critics who later dig it all up pick it apart and infuse the meaning they think they see? Sand didn't have the benefit of Freud to know some of this stuff, but I guess whatever it is that we all have swimming around in our subconscious is there (we just don't know about it). I didn't like the idea that Indiana and Ralph's coming together at the end was considered incestuous. I know he was meant to be brother-like throughout much of the novel, but they weren't really, so I'd rather not go there. And I haven't even mentioned the whole theme of marriage and subjugation of women in this enterprise (I can't leave out the feminists). You see, there is simply too much to tackle in one short post.

But I can say I enjoyed this novel. I might have eventually read Sand, but then again I might not have gotten around to reading her anytime soon. I thought she would be a good choice for the Slaves to read and discuss, and it seems like there will be lots to discuss! I liked the character, Indiana, but why do women always fall for these jokers? I suppose he seemed decent enough. The reader got to see his other side, and every time I would just shake my head! I am glad that it didn't end badly, as I suspected in that last chapter. And I agree with Stefanie about poor Ophelia. I hate it when authors let bad things happen to animals! You can read more about Indiana here! And maybe there will be discussion here (not sure how we get a forum set up?)?


Cross-posted at So Many Books

What a whirlwind of a book Indiana is! Illicit love, running away, suicide, silent suffering and more. The book is about a lot of things but what sticks with me most is the selfishness. All the characters are selfish in one way or another and they all suspect each other of it but never themselves. The only one who is honest about his selfishness is M. Delmare. He admits it pretty early in the book when arguing with Sir Ralph:
I'm selfish; that's well known. I've got used to not being ashamed of that any more and, after analysing all the virtues, I've discovered self-interest to be the basis of them all. Love and devotion, which are apparently two generous emotions, are perhaps the most self-interested of all, and patriotism is no less, you may be sure. I've no great love for mankind, but I wouldn't want to make that obvious for anything in the world; for my fear of men is in proportion to the little esteem I have for them. So we're both selfish, but I admit it and you deny it.
M Delmare doesn't know how he has hit the nail on the head with this one. Sir Ralph has been secretly in love with Indiana since they were children. He considers his silent devotion all for her benefit. But Indiana describes Ralph's character to Raymon at one point as selfish. Raymon too is described as an egotist (selfish) on several occasions. His wooing of Indiana is nothing but selfish. He claims to love her but what he really loves is the conquest and is even called a "Lovelace" at one point.

The only one never considered selfish is Indiana, but I think she is the most selfish of all. She is not an educated woman but she is not stupid. She is nineteen, married to a man twice her age and supremely unhappy. She wants nothing more than to die so as to end her suffering. She is always ill and on the brink of death but makes a remarkable recovery when something of interest to her happens. Sir Ralph plays along with her illness which only encourages it. M. Delmare is highly annoyed by it, doesn't understand it but doesn't know what to do about it other than be gruff and force Indiana to do things she doesn't want to.

There is nothing more selfish than suffering unnecessarily, dragging all who are around you down with you. If Indiana is not suffering from illness she is suffering for the love of Raymon. She is pulled along by "the magnetic power of suffering." The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way. Indiana makes herself suffer needlessly. If she showed as much spirit with M. Delmare as she does with Raymon, she'd have her husband wrapped around her finger, "but Indiana was disheartened by her lot; she made no effort to try and make it better."

Emerson says, "the selfish man suffers more from his selfishness than he from whom that selfishness withholds some important benefit." The story of Indiana seems to prove that. Ralph and Indiana end up with the best lot. Even so, they are still selfish, living like hermits and spending their money on freeing slaves as though that will atone for everything.

George Sand's Indiana

I liked this book very much; unfortunately, I wasn't in the mood to focus closely as I read it or to take notes or even gather my thoughts much about it as I read, so I won't have a long or particularly intelligent post.

But I do recommend it if you haven't read it and are interested. It's a good story, and it takes up a lot of interesting ideas, chief among them, for me, about women's lot in a society run by men. Indiana doesn't get a great education and she doesn't have much experience in the world. A lot of what she learned about matters such as love and marriage come from novels -- always a sign of danger to come. It is a long and venerable tradition to use a novel to warn against novel reading.

She is married at 16 to an older man so she has no time to explore life and look around her as an adult. She lives in a time when emotional displays are valued in women, but rationality is not; Indiana seems not to have had the opportunities to develop her mind and the male characters seem lacking in the ability to value emotion. How is she to judge Raymon when he comes along? How is she to know she should stay far, far away? She has no real grounding from which to make sense of her situation.

And what an odd situation it is. She is married to Colonel Delmare, a jealous and violent man; she is watched over by the reserved and mysterious Ralph, a childhood friend; and she is pursued by the charming but untrustworthy Raymon. Her closest female friend dies early in the novel, leaving her quite alone. So the men vie for her attention and she falls for Raymon, not realizing that he is incapable of returning her love. The novel becomes the story of Indiana slowly making that realization -- that she is a much better, stronger person than the one she loves -- and dealing with the consequences.

I was shocked at the descriptions of Delmare's violence toward Indiana. This struck me as a harsher, more direct condemnation of men's power over women than I'm used to seeing in novels of the time period. Stefanie pointed out the horrifying scene when the dog Ophelia is brutally killed, and I think you can see this as an echo of what happens to Indiana herself -- she is portrayed as an innocent creature brutally struck down by a cruel world.

Ralph is an odd character, with his perfectly impassive face and his seeming heartlessness, although we learn by the end of the novel that seeing him as heartless is a mistake. But through most of the novel he hovers about, shadowing Indiana and rescuing her repeatedly, but not making clear his intentions or his role until the novel's end. And what makes Ralph an even odder character is his semi-incestuous relationship with Indiana. He's described as being her brother, her guardian, and her lover. In this sense, I'm not sure what it means that Indiana ends up with him at the end -- has she found her true love, or has she settled for something more familiar and calm and safe?

I understand that the novel's ending is controversial. The question seems to be whether we should see Indiana as subdued once again by the patriarchy -- she seems lifeless and spiritless at the end -- or whether this is actually a hopeful ending, illustrating how one woman escaped from the two men who caused her so much pain and established a comfortable life devoted to helping others. For she and Ralph decide to spend their time and energy and money buying the freedom of slaves.

I feel conflicted about this. It was my impression as I read that Indiana's voice and energy were written out of the text; in the final pages Ralph tells her story and all she seems to do is retire early to bed. This didn't seem like the Indiana of the earlier part of the novel. On the other hand, though, she has escaped, and, most importantly, escaped alive and she will live on to affect the lives of many people -- those slaves that she and Ralph are working to free. We are led through the novel to expect her death and to see death as her only option, but the novel's final word thwarts this expectation.

I'll be curious to see what others have to say about this.