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)


Stefanie said...

Did I miss something big? Who's the narrator?

I was bugged by Indiana too and kept thinking she needed some anti-depressants. And I thought Ralph's suggestion they commit suicide was strange and sick. But I liked the plot and the dastardly Raymon. All very melodramatic.

Rebecca H. said...

You didn't like it, did you? :) I had more sympathy for Indiana because of the difficulty of being a woman at the time -- I guess I see her depression and sickness as symptoms of social oppression and now problems coming from Indiana herself.

Anonymous said...

Okay--I am glad I was not the only one to pick up who the narrator was...(hanging my head in shame)...I didn't want to admit to it, but since you did, Stefanie, I will, too. I only know that it is a man. I did keep wondering as he would insert his thought every so often!

Cathy said...

Dorothy, I've just read your piece about Halloween on your 'Of Books and Bicycles' blog and wanted to empathize. I couldn't post a comment - so I'm leaving it here: I watch absolutely no scary films and have never read a Stephen King book. I really thought this made me a complete oddity. It's nice to know I'm in good company.
(My apologies to your fellow 'Slaves' contributors)

litlove said...

Just a note on the suicide issue. Sand had strange, but consistent, ideas on suicide, seeing it as potentially something very beautiful and spiritual if done in the right way. I know that it was against the teachings of the church, but Sand has her own ideas, and death by a dramatic leap was seen in her mind as noble, whilst death by drowning was considered shameful. I'm afraid there's no logic behind this, just a conviction on Sand's part.