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A Woman’s Place: La Petite Fadette v. La Voix des Femmes Margaret Cohen F OR CONTEMPORARY FEMINISTS, the most notorious moment in George Sand’s career is not one of the sensational affairs reported with glee by her multiple biographers, but rather her 1848 response to La Voix des Femmes. When this revolutionary feminist polit­ ical club and newspaper proposed Sand for candidacy to the National Assembly in the general elections of April 1848, Sand did not even deign to refuse its proposal directly. Writing instead to the republican papers, La Vraie République and La Réforme, she dismissed Eugénie Niboyet’s laudatory rhetoric as a joke in poor taste and declared: “ 1) J’espère qu’aucun électeur ne voudra perdre son vote en prenant fantaisie d’écrire mon nom sur son billet. 2) Je n’ai pas l’honneur de connaître une seule des dames qui forment des clubs et rédigent des journaux.” 1How, we wonder, could this self-professed supporter of women’s civil rights treat her sisters with such contempt? True, Sand’s demands for women in­ cluded only “ l’égalité civile, l’égalité dans le mariage, l’égalité dans la famille,” while La Voix des Femmes advocated also “ l’exercice des droits politiques.” 2Sand’s hostility to this organization is, nonetheless, surprising, for the activities that she condemned closely resembled her own at the time. Figuring in contemporary political caricatures of the provisional government, Sand was defacto minister of propaganda dur­ ing the first six weeks of the revolutionary republic, as she edited the government Bulletins and contributed to republican newspapers in the provinces and in Paris. Trying to explain Sand’s condemnation of politically engaged women, we can turn to the psychological and political pressures that may have produced it. Surely her response was made in less than good faith, we surmise, as we question her biography to determine why. But Sand’s reply is also consonant with her theoretical position on a woman’s most appropriate means of social intervention, a position advanced through­ out her work of the late 1830’s and the 1840’s. In the following essay, I will explain the content of this position as formulated in a text where Sand discusses women’s social intervention in explicitly revolutionary terms, her first novel written “ à la suite des néfastes journées de juin 26 S u m m e r 1989 C o h e n 1848,” La Petite Fadette.3 Showing how Sand links the socially un­ acceptable behavior of her heroine, Fadette, to a heritage of women’s militant revolutionary participation, I will argue that La Petite Fadette constitutes Sand’s answer to La Voix des Femmes. Political activity is not the only way in which social ideals can be implemented, Sand sug­ gests, and, rather than pursuing the revolutionary tactics of men, women should understand the substantial social power of the sphere which is properly theirs. If I neglect Sand’s biography as I lay out her hostility to militant rev­ olutionary women, it is in part due to constraints of space. But my reasons for such neglect are also strategic. Before explaining away a prior feminist’s most unpalatable position, I want to take it seriously. I thus seek to meet a challenge posed by Naomi Schor in her discussion of La Petite Fadette. “ Sexual difference,” writes Schor, “ can no longer be studied within the conceptual universe of psychoanalysis alone. A new articulation must be elaborated to take into account the place of history in the play of difference.” 4 To assert that La Petite Fadette's subject is women’s appropriate place in social struggle is, of course, to deviate from the traditional inter­ pretation of a text whose non-political motivation has become a literary myth. In 1848, crushed by the Parisian intelligentsia’s failure to put its socially progressive theory into practice, George Sand took refuge in the Berry countryside and a simple tale of pastoral life so devoid of political content that it became favorite bedtime literature for bourgeois children like Marcel Proust and one of the first books read by American students learning French. While...


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