Friday, April 6, 2012

April 6

Today we have a wonderful letter from Mrs. Browning to Miss Mitford, written from Paris in 1852. Mrs. Browning is having the time of her life mingling with her literary hero:

"George Sand we came to know a great deal more of. I think Robert saw her six times. Once he met her near the Tuileries, offered her his arm, and walked with her the whole length of the gardens. She was not on that occasion looking as well as usual, being a little too much 'endimanchée [Sunday best]' in terrestrial lavenders and supercelestial blues—not, in fact, dressed with the remarkable taste which he has seen in her at other times. Her usual costume is both pretty and quiet, and the fashionable waistcoat and jacket (which are a spectacle in all the 'Ladies' Companions' of the day) make the only approach to masculine wearings to be observed in her. She has great nicety and refinement in her personal ways, I think, and the cigarette is really a feminine weapon if properly understood. Ah, but I didn't see her smoke. I was unfortunate. I could only go with Robert three times to her house, and once she was out. He was really very good and kind to let me go at all, after he found the sort of society rampant around her. He didn't like it extremely, but, being the prince of husbands, he was lenient to my desires and yielded the point. She seems to live in the abomination of desolation, as far as regards society—crowds of ill-bred men who adore her à genoux bas[kneeling down], betwixt a puff of smoke and an ejection of saliva. Society of the ragged Red diluted with the lower theatrical. She herself so different, so apart, as alone in her melancholy disdain! I was deeply interested in that poor woman, I felt a profound compassion for her. I did not mind much the Greek in Greek costume who tutoyéd her, and kissed her, I believe, so Robert said; or the other vulgar man of the theatre who went down on his knees and called her 'sublime.' 'Caprice d'amitié [whim of friendship],' said she, with her quiet, gentle scorn. A noble woman under the mud, be certain. I would kneel down to her, too, if she would leave it all, throw it off, and be herself as God made her. But she would not care for my kneeling; she does not care for me. Perhaps she doesn't care for anybody by this time—who knows? She wrote one, or two, or three kind notes to me, and promised to 'venir m'embrasser [come kiss me]' before she left Paris; but she did not come. We both tried hard to please her, and she told a friend of ours that she 'liked us'; only we always felt that we couldn't penetrate—couldn't really touch her—it was all vain. Her play failed, though full of talent. It didn't draw, and was withdrawn accordingly. I wish she would keep to her romances, in which her real power lies."

Mrs. Browning's appreciation of George Sand is not really so hard to understand. She is the bold woman that Mrs. Browning could not be. As I have noted before, I suspect that Mrs. Browning wanted to smoke, preside over a room full of men who she could be 'scornful' of and full of 'melancholy disdain'. Her notions that Sand did not like her is probably true to an extent, but more likely Sand simply did not even think of her. Mrs. Browning was simple outside of Sand's scope of interest in the world. Their meetings were probably mere courtesy. But it is wonderful to see Mrs. Browning's excitement over her brush with her favorite novelist.

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