Sunday, October 29, 2006


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.


Harry said...

Hello Stephanie,
I like your blog. You enjoy a good read, may I recommend TO THE EDGE OF THE SKY by Anhua Gao? Published by OVERLOOK in the US and PENGUIN in the UK, it is a great read.

It was a bestseller in 2000 but there are still copies to be had. Try AMAZON (Five Stars). If you can't get a copy you can email the author at for an author signed paperback especially dedicated of requested. Makes a great gift idea too.

Good luck in all that you do,

Rebecca H. said...

Interesting post. I'm glad you pointed out Indiana's illness -- I'd forgotten how all-pervasive it was in the novel. I think she's a "woman of sensibility" -- popular at the end of the 18C and beginning of the 19C -- who feels very strongly and that strong feeling often expresses itself through a delicate body that is prone to illness. I wonder what Sand is saying about this -- is Indiana ill because she is a victim of a society that won't take her seriously and urges her to be nothing but delicate and emotional, or are we to condemn her for weakness? I'm inclined to say the former, I think.

Stefanie said...

There's lots of feminist theory on women and illness and I haven't read much of it, maybe someday. I can't figure out what Sand was up to with Indiana. She seems rather like a plant. Delmare doesn't provide enough sunlight and water. Raymon provides too much fertilizer. And Ralph turns out to be the patient gardener with a green thumb :)