George Sand: Thwarted Newspaper Publisher or Pioneer Literary Journalist?

George Sand: Thwarted Newspaper Publisher or Pioneer Literary Journalist?

Author: Jane Chapman

DOI: 10.1080/09639480701627600

Publication Frequency: 4 issues per year

Published in: Modern and Contemporary France, Volume 15, Issue November 2007 , pages 479 - 495


This article argues that Sand's newspaper publishing activities - from their inception in 1841 to their decline at the end of the Second Republic - deserve recognition within the history of the press. Hitherto neglected writings are analysed as a hybrid form of literary journalism according to some definitions of the genre provided by Norman Sims. This permits a focus on Sand's 'flights of imagination', articles written under pseudonyms and in the voices of fictional characters, created as a tool for idealistic political education. The now classic Benedict Anderson paradigm of 'imagined communities' is used to contextualise Sand's use of the vernacular and helps to position her contribution towards the use of newspapers as a vehicle for the communication of democratic and progressive ideas.


George Sand is recognised as one of the most prolific authors in literary history, yet her trials and tribulations as an editor and journalist are less well known, and have hitherto never been the subject of detailed analysis in English. She devoted much energy during a key period between 1841 and 1849 to launching and co-editing a total of five periodicals: a literary review, two local newspapers and two national republican political journals, with varying degrees of success. At the time, newspapers and politics were inextricably linked. Thus, by launching her own newspaper publications, Sand helped to build the profile of the oppositional press during a critical phase in the struggle for democracy - the central issue in nineteenth century Europe. Her management and writing experience in periodicals can be seen as a line on a graph, plotted alongside a parallel indicator for her political militancy, starting with the launch in 1841 of a first publication, rising to a peak of activity during 1848, and ending with a descent after political defeat and an onset of disillusionment during 1849.

Hitherto, Sand's many letters and press articles have been used largely as support evidence for her novels, mainly as a means of accessing her philosophical ideas. For Perrot (2004) and Hamon (2001) they provide further raw material for illuminating her politics; for Reb_rioux (1994), Walton (2000) and Adler (1979) they provide evidence of her (limited) version of early feminism. Yet Sand's newspaper writings have not been assessed as a developing journalistic form and her achievements have never been studied by scholars of Journalism Studies.1

Sand's 'flights of imagination' will be singled out as a specific category of newspaper writing and positioned at the intersection of newspaper development with social, political and literary history. They will be analysed in the light of a broader nineteenth century contextual paradigm provided by Benedict Anderson (1991), whereby the press became a vehicle for the creation of 'imagined communities'. The focus on articles and pamphlets in which Sand used fictional characters as a pseudonym enables me to explore a definition of this work as a form of 'literary journalism', by comparing some of the characteristics of 'literary journalism' discussed by Norman Sims in relation to contemporary work, including his claim that: 'Literary journalists are boundary crossers in search of a deeper perspective on our lives and times' (Sims in Sims & Kramer 1995, p. 19).2


Historical Context and Influences

During this period there was no clear separation between journalism and other forms of literature, or between journalists and other writers. The conventions of journalism such as editing of copy, summarising, quoting and interviewing, had yet to emerge. Similarly there was no attempt to differentiate between 'comment' and the factual reporting of events: the presentation of moral discourses about politics took precedence (Chapman 2005b, p. 7). Contemporary observers from abroad such as Walter Bagehot (1915, p. 126) noted that in France more than any other country, journalism provided a well trodden career path from the literary world to politics (and back again), despite the fact that it was not well paid and could be potentially dangerous. A prime example is Proudhon, long time editor of Le Peuple who was elected as a politician during 1848, but also suffered repeated imprisonment and exile for his journalism. Sand's newspaper writings were less explosive but still contentious, as we will see.

Sand has been referred to as the most prominent of a literary generation (including Hugo, Sue, Lamartine and Michelet) who developed 'a kind of mythology of the common man and were playing with doctrines of democracy and socialism' (Wright 1995, p. 174). This suggests that romanticism had moved away from the reaction of the earlier phase of the movement and that by 1848 it was more closely aligned with democracy and socialism. During the late 1830s and early 1840s, Sand was impressed by the ideas of the followers of Saint-Simon, who espoused anti-clericalism combined with concern for the material, moral and intellectual well-being of working people. Although she also endorsed their belief in non-violent principles of social reorganisation, including the redistribution of private property, she stopped short of embracing Saint-Simonian ideas of free love, which she considered as harmful to the cause of women (Hamon 2001, p. 8).3

Yet by far the most significant influence on Sand's journalism came from Pierre Leroux's ideas of community, spirituality and love. He is credited with having introduced the word 'socialist' into France, although his lasting contribution to early socialism in France centres mainly on the significance he attached to emotion and community (see Dayen n.d.; Chastain & Sheridan 2006).

Leroux's Christian version of republicanism and socialism exalted the common man but rejected the institutional structures of Catholicism. Journalism as political education became a communicative tool for the moral regeneration of society. The fact that he believed that time should be spent on painstaking moral education in order gradually to win over the masses, provided a seductive form of egalitarian philosophy for Sand: 'si j'ai une goutte de vertu dans les veines, c'est _ lui que je la dois' (1964-92, v, p. 547). Accordingly, she believed that experimentation was necessary in the communication of ideas, as she felt that this was more likely to achieve social transformation than the establishment of systems or ideology.

Sand articulated her faith in the relevance of Leroux's philosophical ideas at length to Charles Duvernet, a former journalist on the Parisian national daily Le National, in a letter (1964-92, v, p. 547) that marks her debut in 'engaged' political debate. She was quick to criticise the National newspaper's lack of commitment to ideas for social change, envisaging a more discursive, creative role for radical newspapers. Experimentation was to take the form of stylistic versatility: open letters with elements of reportage, open letters as opinion pieces, essays, informational bulletins and political discussions between imaginary characters. Sand's stylistic presentation was motivated by a need to write in what she saw as the language of ordinary people. In this she was also influenced by Leroux.

In 1841 Sand and Leroux launched a Paris-based national review, La Revue ind_pendante. The journal came to replace Louis Blanc's Revue du progr_s as an organ to propagate his ideas on the organisation of labour. It also gave Sand an outlet for uncensored serialisation of her novel, Horace, which La Revue des deux mondes had rejected along with Le Compagnon du Tour de France on the grounds of political outlook. Sand and Leroux worked for nothing, waiting to publish until they had made enough money to pay the deposit (Sand 1882-92, ii, p. 212), yet despite the hardship, according to one press historian their 'emotional approach to social problems attracted a temporary popularity' (Collins 1959, pp. 91-95). Examples of that 'emotional approach' form the core of the evidence analysed in this article.

As Sand's concern about the underemployment and impoverishment of the rural and urban working classes increased, her novels also became more overtly political, exemplified by Consuelo (1842) and La Comtesse de Rudolstadt (1843). Gradually, she developed a faith that the working class would achieve liberation for themselves, and addressed the political issues surrounding this aim in novels such as Le Meunier d'Angibault (1844) and Le P_ch_ de Monsieur Antoine (1845), as well as in Le Compagnon du Tour de France (1840) and Horace (1841). Sand did not differentiate clearly between urban and rural labourers. Instead she viewed peasant life as an ideal which would provide a starting point from which better working conditions could be constructed. In the romans champ_tres - Sand's rustic novels of this period - the voice of the text is that of the peasant narrator, and in her journalism she presented examples of attitudes that she would have liked the peasant to espouse, which are analysed later. Her interest in peasants was relatively common. Thus Zeldin has pointed out that: 'The romantics, the Catholic revivalists, the believers in a conservative and hierarchical order, all held him (the peasant) up as a model of a human unspoilt by progress' (1973, p. 133). In addition, this ideal was also shared by Lamartine, the fouri_ristes, Leroux and many other Christian socialists.

Sand's exploration in her novels of ways that working people could achieve freedom was accompanied by a criticism of bourgeois leadership. In her journalism, she aimed to expose the abuse and corruption of bourgeois power, and this provided the principal thrust for the local newspaper, _claireur de L'Indre, that she launched in 1844. Thus her journalistic collaboration with Leroux was deliberately aimed at the publication of pro-worker, oppositional, republican and socialist writing (Walton 2000, p. 130). Sand was not alone in making bourgeois power her target: Terdiman has demonstrated how, more generally throughout the nineteenth century, the disenchanted intelligentsia used the newspaper as a symbolic focus for their attacks on establishment groups with opposing views, so that the press became, 'the quintessential figure for the discourse of their middle-class enemy, the name for the writing against which they sought to counter pose (sic) their own' (Terdiman 1985, p. 120).

Simultaneously, in her novels she explored alternative models for the way that progressive bourgeois leadership should be in the future. For instance, there is a dialogue in Le Compagnon du Tour de France between the artisan Pierre Huguenin and the bourgeois professional agitator, Achille Lefort, who argues that it is not possible to change society without the leadership of educated, bourgeois men. He asks whether such people should stand aside and merely wait for the people to liberate themselves, suggesting that the ordinary person needs advice, guidance and order. Pierre responds that the people will work out their own rules, for he considers that even the most outstanding leader will do well to listen to the people that he presumes to lead. He even goes as far as to admit that the most humble person still has the right to reject opinions that are immoral and the right to curb the power of a leader who is abusing his position of power. Great intellectuals, great poets, and others who aspire to leadership must prove their virtue and charity in the eyes of others (Sand 1988, pp. 276-277).


First Local Newspaper Launch

Sand deplored the weakness of the provincial press and what she saw as the destructive centralising influence of Paris, believing passionately in the need to reduce the gap between capital and provinces. One of her lifelong goals, as stated in lengthy correspondence to Lamartine, Duvernet and others (1964-92, vi, L.2763, 2766, 2836), was to achieve a united front editorially of all republican provincial papers to educate the public towards acceptance of greater decentralisation from Paris, and more local democracy. Lamartine had started a newspaper in Macon, Le Bien Public, and Sand requested his collaboration, mindful of the fact that successful publishing required extreme perseverance and motivation on the part of a local newspaper editor and owner (for the two were often synonymous at this time).

Certainly, Sand's newspaper activities at local level were inhibited by many administrative and practical problems not of her making, for she acknowledged that: 'loin d'_tre un objet de sp_culation, cette publication ne vivra que de notre d_vouement et de nos sacrifices' (1879, p. 3). As in other countries, French newspapers had to pay stamp duty and postal costs for distribution in addition to a financial deposit ('caution money') which was increased by the press law of 9 September 1835, alongside a tightening of libel for a range of offences such as criticism of the monarchy.4 The first edition of Sand's _claireur de L'Indre was launched as a weekly journal with an annual subscription of 15 francs on 14 September 1844.

Although Sand was not officially on the board of directors, she was obliged to edit the paper herself for longer than she had wanted because a suitable editor could not be found. She suggested and approached a variety of people, agonising at length in her letters to Charles Duvernet about the problem and feeling stressed by the pressure of her other commitments (Sand 1964-92, vi, pp. 433, 448, 484, 501). Sand's friends also tried unsuccessfully to find a local printer. Instead, they were obliged to print in Paris where craftsmen would take more risks in working on an oppositional paper because of business competition from a greater number of printers.

Sand also had disagreements with the _claireur editorial team over the use of printers and the political approach of the paper. She wanted the newspaper to become an organ for Leroux's ideas, but her colleagues from the Berry region were not so keen (Sand 1882, ii, p. 396). In 1845 Sand and Leroux started their own printing firm, L'Imprimerie de Boussac,5 with money for the machinery and materials provided by George, whilst Pierre, as a trained printer and also with a brother who was a full-time typesetter, provided the knowledge and skills. The enterprise brought Sand into direct contact with a proletarian workforce, but ironically they voted against her idea of setting up a workers' cooperative (Reb_roux 1994, p. 92).


A Peasant Speaks

In 1843 Sand uncovered a story in her local area that was to mark her entry into campaigning journalism. It was the heart-rending story of a local girl (named 'Fanchette' by Sand), a scandal that the writer wanted to communicate as widely as possible with maximum publicity, using all her literary expertise. She published the story initially during October and November 1843 in La Revue ind_pendante as 'Fanchette, lettre de Blaise Bonnin _ Claude Germain': this was the first time that she had used a fictional character as pseudonym. Pierre Leroux recognised the potential of exploiting the story to mobilise local opinion: 'c'est une bonne action et un chef-d'oeuvre' (Perrot 2004, p. 64). As Sand wanted a vehicle for publicising the case in the area, this 'chef-d'oeuvre' was to become the catalyst for the launch of L'_claireur de l'Indre.

The story involved a 15-year-old young girl. She could hardly speak ('une idiote') and had been discovered in a poor state after roaming the woods around Sand's rural locality of La Ch_tre, in the Berry area of the Indre. It was impossible to discover her real name, her family or where she had come from, but a doctor took her to a local convent. The nuns were reluctant to help, yet when he made out a certificate indicating that the girl was sick, they had no choice but to take her in. She was soon 'farmed out' to another nun, from whom the girl ran away three times, finally returning to the convent where she had received support from the other children. Nevertheless, the mother superior organised for the girl to be taken away and abandoned 24 kilometres away, somewhere between La Ch_tre and Aubusson. When local people started to gossip, the coachman was questioned and a search undertaken. By the time the girl was found, she had been raped and badly abused.

This episode came at a time when Sand was becoming increasingly preoccupied with what she called the 'probl_me social' (1969, v, p. 826); therefore, she wrote about it in a way which would illicit both compassion and indignation. Her literary style involved an imaginary correspondence between two characters: a Berrichon peasant (Blaise Bonnin), who represented the finer points of rural working-class common sense, and his godfather (Claude Germain). Blaise Bonnin's straight talking appeared in conversational letter-writing style: 'Si _a (Fanchette) n'a pas m_rit_ la mort, _a a donc droit _ la vie? Suivez mon id_e, parrain. C'est-_-dire, _a a droit _ du pain, _ des habits, _ un couvert, _ des soins, _ la charit_, pour tout dire1946, p. 270). She continued to expose the scandal by substantiating her allegations in further articles and also by publishing the story as a pamphlet, the proceeds of which went towards a fund for the girl. The refusal of local printers to print the Fanchette pamphlet forced Sand to conclude that public opinion deserved to have a stronger, freer means of communication. 'Partout, en province, m_me position des imprimeurs, m_me d_pendance du pouvoir, m_me _pret_ du pouvoir _ paralyser la presse' (Perrot 2004, p. 65).

Nevertheless, in journalistic terms Sand had managed (in modern parlance) to 'stand up the story', backing up her articles with copies of the report of the police commissioner, a letter from the mayor and the convent doctor. She risked imprisonment, faced the possibility of intervention by the prefect and criticism from the establishment paper, Le Journal de l'Indre, but avoided prosecution because her facts were correct. According to Norman Sims: 'literary journalists follow their own set of rules 

Sand followed up with two newspaper campaigns, both of which were linked to the signing of petitions. First Sand used the cover of a letter to L'_claireur by 'G. ouvrier boulanger' (28 September 1844), another pseudonym which enabled her to write about the working conditions in this industry in support of a 6,000-name petition by the employees calling for regulatory reforms, that was ignored by the prefect of the Seine. Worker G. denounced the practices of employment bureaux that profited from unemployment amongst the workforce during economic crises, and provided graphic descriptions of 'human slaughterhouses'. These were described as unsanitary, humid basement workplaces with water running down the walls, where workers slept on site, in between 16- to 18-hour shifts for the daily sum of 4 francs plus two loaves of bread. 'On croirait assister _ la derni_re sc_ne d'un meurtre' (1879, p. 28). Conditions were ignored by government inspectors, who had been bought off by employers.

She then returned to further writings by Blaise Bonnin on rural conditions in the pages of L'_claireur de l'Indre,with his own column 'Lettre d'un paysan de la vall_e noire _crite sous la dict_e de Blaise Bonnin' (5-12 October 1844). The character now had a distinct range of views and literary character, including what is called today 'a back story'. With the help of a village priest, and by looking at the official newspapers that the landlord lent him, he had managed to teach himself to read. Now, as a result of this effort, 'je fourre encore un peu le nez par-ci par-l_ dans les nouvelles' (1879, p. 38). This seemed to have resulted in an impressive level of fluency on a comprehensive range of opinions about the rural economy and peasant lifestyle, which would probably not have emerged from an authentic factual interview with a real peasant. Bonnin's rhetoric has an informal, popular ring to it. With all these regulations, 'avec la loi sur les communaux, avec la loi sur la chasse, avec la loi sur la mendicit_, je ne sais pas s'il nous restera de quoi acheter une corde pour nous pendre'. He complained about the onerous nature of taxes and of farming, about having to borrow at high rates and about the inability of peasants to benefit from modern equipment (Sand 1879, pp. 37-58). Sand wanted to explore the intricacies of possible peasant reactions. Thus she assumes a peasant logic and outlook, expressed in Bonnin's conversational turn of phrase: 'On r_pond _ nos plaintes que les bourgeois ont le droit et la force, que les propri_t_s seront respect_es, et que c'est dans l'int_r_t du petit comme du gros. Moi, je dis que ce qu'on appelle le petit est encore un tr_s gros pour nous, et qu'apres ceux-l_, les plus nombreux sont si petits, si petits, qu'il para_t qu'ils ne comptent pas. Beau calcul, ma foi, que de dire: "Voil_ cinq hommes sur mille, que nous avons content_s et qui sont en position de devenir toujours plus riches ! Si les 995 autres ne sont pas contents, qu'ils aillent plus loin. " Et ou plus loin, c'est partout de m_me ?' (1879, pp. 57-58). Sand's chosen format of letters to a newspaper under a pseudonym with an invented character represents, according to Perrot, 'une forme qu'elle affectionne parce qu'elle correspond _ la position m_diatrice qu'elle s'assigne: faire entendre la voix des humbles' (2004, p. 110). I would argue that she went further than simply offering a voice: she wanted to present a model for the way peasant attitudes should be. Bonnin symbolised an exemplar for the future. Thus Sand's literary strategy gave more control over content, which according to her aims, had to be tightly focused on encouraging class consciousness. An authentic interviewee may not have been so articulate or have provided the kind of quotes that she wanted.

As Sims comments: 'Unlike standard journalism, literary journalism demands immersion in complex, difficult subjects' (1984, p. 3). Bonnin, who earned 20 sous a day in summer and 10 sous in winter, espoused the cause of agricultural day workers whose situation had hardly improved since the Revolution, and in true Leroux fashion, suggested a communal way forward. The peasant justified this on the grounds that individuals were unable to borrow sufficient funds (at high interest rates of 15 to 20 per cent) to set up a business by themselves. Bonnin pointed out that the cooperative approach would only work with a spirit of mutual understanding, respect and fraternity (Hamon 2001, p. 187). The importance of Bonnin's views can be appreciated in the light of Zeldin's comments: 'She really wanted to understand the peasant, but she honestly confessed that she had failed: "I cannot form a clear idea of his emotions", she wrote, and it is this that torments me' (Zeldin 1973, p. 133).

However, there are other ways in which Sand could have made her points. Today's literary journalist creates a voice for the disenfranchised by using in-depth interview techniques, or with descriptive summary after spending some time with the subjects, then quoting them at length. Sand's alternative fictional techniques probably create more reader empathy, offering immersion into the character of the disenfranchised. To this extent, Sand's approach reflects the famous words of Marx in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 'They must be represented, for they cannot represent themselves'. If peasants had represented themselves, their response would probably have been different.

The style of most newspaper writing at the time consisted of verbatim reports of parliamentary or judicial proceedings and speeches made at public meetings, which were printed in full, as if cultural authority and credibility would then be afforded to the information contained. In comparison, the language of Bonnin's dialogues appears straightforward and popular. Only towards the end of the century did journalism become 'the art of structuring reality, rather than recording it' (Smith 1978, p. 168). Forms of presentation such as the interview, investigative and descriptive writing then became more commonplace. In the absence of such conventions, Sand invented her own techniques, selecting approaches with which she was familiar through novel writing. Bonnin's complaints also represented her contribution to the national republican strategy for rural workers: he was a symbol who spoke for all agricultural labourers. L'_claireur de L'Indre was the first of about 50 provincial newspapers to back a petition and campaign by radical politician Ledru Rollin calling for a Chamber of Deputies enquiry into the condition of the working class (Sand 1969, vi, p. 485).


The Return of the Peasant

Sand developed a range of fictional characters who discussed political issues: in 1845, for instance, she opposed the introduction of a law restricting the rights of vagrants by composing Le P_re Va-Tout-Seul for L'Almanach populaire de France pour 1845, and several articles in L'_claireur de L'Indre on the subject. With the advent of the February 1848 Revolution she was further motivated to talk directly to the French population through her writing, and to contribute to the battle of ideas. Journalism became her way of participating in republican politics, in order to win support for the consolidation of the fragile new regime at the forthcoming national elections. Meanwhile, the conservative population of Nohant - Sand's village - had chosen her 25-year-old son Maurice as republican mayor.6 Villagers began to adopt the epithets 'citizen' and 'comrade' when addressing each other. Yet Sand was still disturbed by the prevalence of rural conservatism: country people needed to be converted rapidly. Once more she called upon 'Blaise Bonnin' to educate the working class.

The provisional Republican government had announced elections for the Constituent Assembly on 23 April. In Paris, Sand mixed in the new circles of power, knew the leading politicians well, and was able to enlist Lamartine and Louis Blanc as collaborators for L'_claireur de l'Indre - a reflection of her political priority in the light of the lack of provincial support for the revolution. Whilst Lamartine's Le Bien public, Lamennais' Le Peuple constituant and Hugo's L'_venement all supported the new republic, Sand was the only writer to use pseudonyms and fictional characters as such a prominent journalistic device for communication with the people.

Bonnin had a destiny: painstaking political education. Following his debut as a rural day labourer, mouthpiece for the Fanchette scandal, and vehicle for the complaints of the peasants in the Black Valley, the peasant was now raised to a higher social status: a voter and adjunct to the Mayor of Montgivray, the commune where Sand's step-brother lived. In his pamphlet on the history of France since 1789 Bonnin addresses readers as 'chers paroissiens', presenting a pointed analysis of contemporary history from the perspective of the previous betrayals of the working class.

This revisionist aim had a purpose: to ensure that readers did not forget how their kindred had been treated by the bourgeoisie before the Revolution. Sand wanted them to assess candidates wisely before they voted for them.

Dans quelques ann_es d'ici, quand nous saurons tous lire et _crire sans qu'il nous en co_te rien pour apprendre, nous saurons bien ce que chacun fait, ce que chacun dit, ce que chacun vaut. C'est l_ ce qu'on appelle le progr_s. Mais, aujourd'hui, nous ne sommes pas encore assez savants pour ne pas risquer gros avec les bourgeois, dont quelques-uns auront profit _ nous faire voter pour eux et pour leurs amis, contre nos int_r_ts. (Perrot 2004, p. 257)

Today, such comments may appear patronising towards ordinary people, but at the time it was generally accepted that the right to vote had to be earned, usually via a property qualification, but also by educating ordinary people into civic responsibility.

Sand's Paroles de Blaise Bonnin aux Bons Citoyens, consisting of five brochures, was written at the request of the Ministry for Public Education. At the time of writing, the provisional government's 450 centimes taxation measure was causing hardship amongst the working population. The title and use of the pseudonym was suggested by Jean Reynaud7 from the cabinet office, who was of the opinion that this form of authorship would offer both simplicity and respectability (Perrot 2004, p. 267). In other words, a government department wanted to support and legitimise Sand's fictional approach to journalism: recognition of the effectiveness of this idiosyncratic literary form. The importance of official support for Sand's stylistic 'flight of imagination' with its perceived appeal to the labouring classes can be appreciated more fully if it is viewed as an example of a cultural phenomenon analysed by Benedict Anderson (1991) concerning the relationship between language, newspapers and the emergence of nationalism.

Anderson believes that the growth in popularity of newspapers created middle-class solidarity in the form of an imagined political community of readers. Members of such communities will never know most of their fellow-members. Yet in their minds each lives the image. Newspaper reading was what defined and increased consciousness as the literate classes came to visualise others like themselves through print, whereas previously this would have been achieved only by marriage or via financial transactions; prior to the nineteenth century, class solidarities had been the products of kinship, client-ship, and personal loyalties. As literacy gradually began to increase, it became easier for a newspaper to cast itself as the public voice of an audience that it claimed to represent and for it to arouse popular support, 'with the masses discovering a new glory in the print elevation of languages they had humbly spoken all along' (Anderson 1991, p. 80).

Anderson cites Tom Nairn, who makes a connection between the intelligentsia, the struggle for democracy and the role of language in Europe. He points out that nineteenth-century nationalism was by definition populist:

It had to function through highly rhetorical forms, through a sentimental culture sufficiently accessible to the lower strata now being called into battle. This is why a romantic culture quite remote from Enlightenment rationalism always went hand in hand with the spread of nationalism. The new middle class intelligentsia of nationalism had to invite the masses into history and the invitation card had to be written in a language they understood. (1977, p. 340)

At the time, Sand and the Red republicans advocated active solidarity with revolutionaries in other countries who were fighting for the rights of nationalities, and in many cases within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for the official acceptance of their own language. Thus Nairn's point, supported by Anderson, helps to explain the cultural context behind Sand's linguistic experimentation and the importance that she attached to the use of common, spoken dialogues in her journalism. She herself was well aware of the connection between nationalism and democracy, evidenced by her correspondence and friendship with Mazzini,8 her translation of his work and the fact that she dedicated a novel to him.

There is a further aspect to the relevance of the Anderson thesis which helps our appreciation of Sand's belief in the solidarity of community. The press brought the potential to unite a community in time as well as space. These were aspects of idealised political consciousness that Sand and Leroux aimed for locally and nationally, exemplified by Sand's 'Histoire de la France _crite sous la dict_e de Blaise Bonnin'. Quoting Hegel's famous description of newspapers as a substitute for morning prayer, Anderson argues that each reader 'is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion'. This ritual is renewed at regular intervals (daily, weekly), 'What more vivid figure for the secular, historically clocked, imagined community can be imagined?' (1991, p. 35).

The efficacy of this press ritual for rural societies is clear, for people are scattered and unable to speak collectively. In this situation, a newspaper can act as a substitute to articulate their views, but in Sand's case, the views represented a wish list of political ideas. Employing an argument that would now be considered very modern, Bonnin defends progressive income tax as the fairest of systems, and presents a portfolio of fiscal reforms for the future government. Similarly, in editions 4 and 5 of Paroles de Blaise Bonnin aux Bons Citoyens, Blaise argues for the unity of the people, stating that Parisian issues are actually concerns for the entire population. This argument represented an ideal that Sand desired, which actually had no basis in reality; but, as Anderson says, 'communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined' (1991, p. 6). In the fourth edition of 'Paroles de Blaise Bonnin', Sand's own voice clearly emerges when the symbolic peasant refers to Paris as 'la grande commune des communes, la paroisse des paroisses. Rien de ce qui se passe l_ ne vous est _tranger. Paris est _ vous comme votre place publique, comme votre _glise est _ vousLe Compagnon du Tour de France on Perdiguier, and she had collaborated with him on his Livre du Compagnade (1839). As a politically committed, self educated literary artisan, he seemed to be the ideal role model for the job: he talked the language of 'real' workers, the sort that Sand felt the government would want people to hear (Perrot 2004, p. 267). Once more, this was evidence of her concern with the style of language needed for democratic politics. Perdiguier did not respond, so Sand wrote the other brochures herself in April 1848.


The Voice of the Author

The results of the elections for the National Assembly were announced from the Hotel de Ville on the evening of 28 April. The greater the alacrity of political events, the more personalised Sand's journalistic flights of imagination became. She was amongst the crowds waiting in anticipation outside for an announcement, observing events. An open letter to Maurice, published by La Vraie R_publique on 2 May 1848 as Devant l'Hotel de Ville, provides detailed 'reportage'9 about political conversations, followed by comment on this historic example of democracy in action, which she interprets as evidence of the ideal of popular education as a tool for consciousness raising: 'Ce que le peuple trouve lui-m_me vaut mieux que tout ce qu'on invente pour lui'.

However, 'reportage' only serves as scene setting for Sand's main argument about popular democracy, which is presented in her favourite literary format - a discussion between four workers (called A-D), each different character types, including a bourgeois. Sand hoped to bridge the gap between rich and poor using a voluntary good sense and community of interests that would unite mankind. The dialogue is presented somewhat crudely to illustrate this point, as the men (who symbolise 'Le Peuple') discuss a number of measures that could act as steps towards a more equal society:

·         A. On propose de laisser, jusqu'_ nouvel ordre, le salaire sur son ancienne base, mais de partager _galement la part des b_n_fices.

·         D. D'autres parlent de renoncer _ cette part des b_n_fices.

·         C. Au profit de tous, donc ?

·         A. Oui, au profit de l'association.

·         B. Cela, je le comprends, et je ne dis pas non; j'y penserai. Et vous ?

·         D. Moi, j'y r_fl_chirai, cela ne me para_t pas impossible. (La Vraie R_publique, 2 mai 1848)

On 15 May Sand attended a rally for solidarity with Polish revolutionaries. The left had started to orchestrate huge demonstrations in favour of an active foreign policy in support of revolutions abroad, and to demand the continuation of social programmes at home. She marched alongside the leaders, Barb_s, Blanqui, Raspail and Leroux, all of whom were arrested. The offices of the newspaper for which she was now writing, La Vraie R_publique, were ransacked and the editor, Theophile Thor_, had to go into hiding. Sand was also in danger of arrest. She retreated to Nohant, where she invented two new characters: this time a man and wife, who took over the former role of Claude and Blaise. They correspond with each other about their separate experiences, in letters that contrast the politics of the revolutionary city with the politics of rural tranquillity.

Antoine, a carriage maker, was amongst the Parisian crowd as a witness to the troubles at the 15 May demonstration. By telling his wife about his own experiences on the demonstration, Antoine is actually offering an interpretation of events in defence of the activist leaders who were arrested. Sand's aim is to show, through Antoine's eye witness journalistic commentary, that the crowd had been manipulated and provoked. He gives a detailed and fluent account of the demonstration, noting feelings, conversations and impressions, including his own reaction to the National Guard: 'tous les jours, dans toutes les affaires qui arrivent depuis deux mois, on est insult_ du geste et du regard par des messieurs arm_s en guerre qui, en passant aupr_s de vous, crient n'importe quoi, avec l'intention de vous vexer' (La Vraie R_publique, 28 May 1848).

More than ever, these two characters represented both sides of Sand's own personality and lifestyle - countryside calm and metropolitan political frenzy. This is evidenced first by Sand's accounts of events in Paris, using Antoine as mouthpiece, and secondly by her bucolic references using Gabrielle. When Sand returned to her rural retreat of Nohant, she wrote in correspondence that she felt she was returning to paradise (1964-92, viii, L3947, p. 479). Similarly, Antoine's wife is at home in the provinces, and writes to her husband about the political tensions that exist amongst rural communities. As Sims says of literary journalism, 'the voice of the writer surfaces to show readers that an author is at work' (1984, p. 3). Like Sand, Gabrielle is a lover of nature and the countryside, who writes that she can no longer separate out ideas about man from ideas about nature (La Vraie R_publique, 5 June 1848). Gabrielle witnesses inflammatory gossip about communism in the countryside, and her comments reflect a familiar theme of Sand's: that country people are influenced by malicious stories and rumours circulated by the bourgeoisie, and by priests (ibid.)

Gabrielle's observations came at a time when people in the Berry area reacted violently to Sand's self-professed communism, demonstrating outside the walls of her estate and calling for death to all communists.10 Arguably, this personalisation in Sand's newspaper account corresponds to a feature that has been identified within contemporary literary journalism: 'Standard reporting hides the voice of the writer, but literary journalism gives that voice an opportunity to enter the story, sometimes with dramatic irony' (Sims in Sims & Kramer 1995, p. 3). The dramatic irony in this case resides in the fact that neither Sand nor Gabrielle can attain real tranquillity in a rural environment at a time when there can be no escape from the harsher side of politics.


Two More Unsuccessful Launches

In a further attempt to reach the masses, Sand launched a national newspaper, La Cause du Peuple. It only ran for three issues, all in the month of April 1848. The first two editions were written with the enthusiasm of her letters hailing the Republic, but the third and final issue showed despair at the waning of revolutionary support. When on 30 April 1848 Sand took stock of the number of subscriptions to her paper, she decided to 'suspend' the publication and to refund payments (1964-92, viii, p. 439). It was not commercially viable: she was too stretched financially. This was not the first time she had experienced the financial strain of newspaper publication.11

When further elections took place on 10 December 1848, the outsider presidential candidate, Louis Napoleon, obtained 74.2% of the votes cast. The following year, the republican candidate for La Ch_tre was defeated during the May 1849 Assembly elections, although the Red-republicans did well in most other rural areas. Sand described the locals as voting 'comme des cochons' (1964-92, ix, p. 146). Her journalism was now lower profile: she anonymously financed a new local newspaper, Le Travailleur de l'Indre, leaving the writing and management to her Berrichon friends but even this strategy proved difficult. Sand had wanted the paper to articulate 'pur et simple' democratic principles locally (1964-92, ix, p. 294), but the editor, Victor Borie, was forced to flee in exile to Brussels. The first edition came out on 30 December 1849 with a new editor who was equally ill fated: he was sentenced to three months in prison for reproducing an article from the Italian newspaper L'Italia which challenged the position of Pope Pius IX.12 The journal folded, exemplifying a bigger phenomenon: the collapse of the republican political press in the provinces. On 27 August 1850, Sand concluded in a letter to Blanc, exiled in London, 'Les provinces n'ont pas compris et ne comprennent pas encore' (1964-92, xxv, p. 743).



Sand devoted time, money and energy to the task of progressive political education using newspapers as a communicative tool. In many ways she represents a category of newspaper pioneer that is often neglected within journalism history: the non-profit-making radical entrepreneur, publishing at a time when devotion to political communication was considered to be the most crucial motivator. The oppositional nature of her 'engaged' journalism meant that her small business self-publishing projects were always destined to be extremely challenging, a fact that she herself recognised. The struggling provincial press was still at a stage of economic development characterised within newspaper history as non-commercial, pre-industrialised mass production.13 What is all the more unusual, of course, was that Sand assumed this activist position as a disenfranchised woman who claimed that she was detached from the power struggles and machinations of politics, but actually influenced those at the centre of power in the provisional government of 1848.

The way that she wrote is also historically significant, in that it exemplifies a fictional influence and a cross-over between novels and press writing which seems of relevance to several of the defining characteristics of literary journalism. Anderson reminds us that newspapers elevated ordinary spoken language, as opposed to the official language of power oligarchies, to a new level of importance, and he sees this as indicative of a broader nineteenth-century trend towards the democratisation of language. Sand's journalism exemplified this point by attaching great importance to use of the vernacular. She brought to the process of newspaper writing an unusual combination of imagination, backed by an emotional commitment to her own moral philosophy and content.

The general indicators that Sims provides on the nature of literary journalism when applied to some of Sand's press articles serve to reinforce the important influence of novelists on the development of the press during a period when there was an absence of stylistic conventions for newspaper writing. What makes Sand unique in this respect is not so much that she was 'a boundary crosser in search of a deeper perspective' (Sims in Sims & Kramer 1995, p. 19), but more importantly that she approached the task with a strong idealism. This acted as the motivator for a well focused sense of moral purpose, including an obsession with understanding the peasant mentality and with arguing for the unity of town and country.

Politics to Sand was largely about an abstract ideal rather than a preoccupation with institutions and power relations, but her ideas were in tune with the progressive concerns and language of the age. However, in the years immediately after 1848, enthusiasm for politics began to wane and Sand felt that her efforts had been thwarted. This was not altogether true. Admittedly rural peasants had been slow to grasp the challenge of universal suffrage, but approximately a third of them nationally supported Ledru-Rollin in the elections of 1849 (Bouillon 1956, p. 95). In hindsight it can be argued that the short-lived Second Republic introduced the beginnings of a modern form of participatory party politics, in which Sand was active, if only temporarily. The journalism historian's long view therefore provides greater acknowledgement of her contribution than she herself did.



[1] For an introduction, see my chapter in Keeble & Walker (2007).

[2] See also Sims (1984); Campbell (2000).

[3] Sand's status as a woman must remain a constant factor in any assessment of her journalistic contribution, and her ambiguous position within the history of feminism has already been subject to much scholarly interest. The early feminist writers in France, producing journalism exclusively by and for women, came from the ranks of Saint-Simonian followers, but Sand gave priority to a universal class struggle, rejecting separatist gender campaigning for the vote. She took the view that women's liberation was best achieved by the extension of civil liberties such as divorce and by the gradual achievement of economic independence (Adler 1979; Walton 2000; Michaud 1994).

[4] In 1848 the provisional government suspended stamp duty and on 6 March most of the September 1835 legislation was abolished. Caution money was retained, but provisionally suspended (Collins 1959, p. 102; Chapman 2005a, p. 37).

[5] The town in north-east Creuse is associated with Leroux, but Sand based her novel Jeanne around the chateau and the nearby villages. She took refuge at the chateau during the 1870 war.

[6] Sand always claimed she had brought him up according to Leroux's philosophy.

[7] Reynaud was on the extreme left in the assembly, and shared a belief in reincarnation with Leroux, who broke off their friendship when Reynaud decided that reincarnated spirits travelled from planet to planet (Zeldin 1973, p. 454).

[8] The prophet of the revolutionary Italian nationalist movement and leader of 'Young Italy' spent most of his life in exile in Marseilles, Berne and London. After the failure of the 1848 Revolution in France, Ledru-Rollin launched a short-lived newspaper (Le Proscrit) jointly with Mazzini, thereby excluding Louis Blanc who was also in exile in London. Sand tried to mediate in the feud between Ledru-Rollin and Blanc.

[9] I use this journalistic term in its present day meaning as a style of reporting that requires immersion in the subject matter.

[10] Sand's support for 'communism' (in the pre-Marxist, utopian sense of egalitarian community) had provoked opposition from others, including some of the Parisian literati, as early as 1841. Lamennais claimed in correspondence that potential contributors to La Revue ind_pendante withdrew their support because they did not want to be associated with Sand's communism, as expressed in the novel Horace which the journal planned to serialise (Lubin footnote, Sand 1964-92, vol. 5, p. 536).

[11] The rapid appearance then disappearance of small circulation radical newspapers was typical of the period, mirrored simultaneously in Britain by the rise and fall of the 'radical press' (Chapman 2005b, p. 8).

[12] It is possible that Sand translated the article in question (Hamon 2001, p. 311).

[13] For a history of the press, see Albert & Terrou (1979); Bellanger et al. (1969); Ferenczi (1993); Voyenne (1985).


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