Woman in the Nineteenth Century

by Margaret Fuller

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

From a Criticism on "Consuelo"

The work itself cannot fail of innumerable readers, and a great influence, for it counts many of the most significant pulse-beats of the tune. Apart from its range of character and fine descriptions, it records some of the mystical apparitions, and attempts to solve some of the problems of the time. How to combine the benefits of the religious life with those of the artist-life in an existence more simple, more full, more human in short, than either of the two hitherto known by these names has been,—this problem is but poorly solved in the "Countess of Rudolstadt," the sequel to Consuelo. It is true, as the English reviewer says, that George Sand is a far better poet than philosopher, and that the chief use she can be of in these matters is, by her great range of observation and fine intuitions, to help to develop the thoughts of the time a little way further. But the sincerity, the reality of all he can obtain from this writer will be highly valued by the earnest man.

In one respect the book is entirely successful—in showing how inward purity and honor may preserve a woman from bewilderment and danger, and secure her a genuine independence. Whoever aims at this is still considered, by unthinking or prejudiced minds, as wishing to despoil the female character of its natural and peculiar loveliness. It is supposed that delicacy must imply weakness, and that only an Amazon can stand upright, and have sufficient command of her faculties to confront the shock of adversity, or resist the allurements of tenderness. Miss Bremer, Dumas, and the northern novelist, Andersen, make women who have a tendency to the intellectual life of an artist fail, and suffer the penalties of arrogant presumption, in the very first steps of a career to which an inward vocation called them in preference to the usual home duties. Yet nothing is more obvious than that the circumstances of the time do, more and more frequently, call women to such lives, and that, if guardianship is absolutely necessary to women, many must perish for want of it. There is, then, reason to hope that God may be a sufficient guardian to those who dare rely on him; and if the heroines of the novelists we have named ended as they did, it was for the want of the purity of ambition and simplicity of character which do not permit such as Consuelo to be either unseated and depraved, or unresisting victims and breaking reeds, if left alone in the storm and crowd of life. To many women this picture will prove a true Consuelo (consolation), and we think even very prejudiced men will not read it without being charmed with the expansion, sweetness and genuine force, of a female character, such as they have not met, but must, when painted, recognize as possible, and may be led to review their opinions, and perhaps to elevate and enlarge their hopes, as to "Woman's sphere" and "Woman's mission." If such insist on what they have heard of the private life of this writer, and refuse to believe that any good thing can come out of Nazareth, we reply that we do not know the true facts as to the history of George Sand. There has been no memoir or notice of her published on which any one can rely, and we have seen too much of life to accept the monsters of gossip in reference to any one. But we know, through her works, that, whatever the stains on her life and reputation may have been, there is in her a soul so capable of goodness and honor as to depict them most successfully in her ideal forms. It is her works, and not her private life, that we are considering. Of her works we have means of judging; of herself, not. But among those who have passed unblamed through the walks of life, we have not often found a nobleness of purpose and feeling, a sincere religious hope, to be compared with the spirit that breathes through the pages of Consuelo.

The experiences of the artist-life, the grand and penetrating remarks upon music, make the book a precious acquisition to all whose hearts are fashioned to understand such things.

We suppose that we receive here not only the mind of the writer, but of Liszt, with whom she has publicly corresponded in the "Lettres d'un Voyageur." None could more avail us, for "in him also is a spark of the divine fire," as Beethoven said of Ichubert. We may thus consider that we have in this book the benefit of the most electric nature, the finest sensibility, and the boldest spirit of investigation combined, expressing themselves in a little world of beautiful or picturesque forms.

Although there are grave problems discussed, and sad and searching experiences described in this work, yet its spirit is, in the main, hopeful, serene, almost glad. It is the spirit inspired from a near acquaintance with the higher life of art. Seeing there something really achieved and completed, corresponding with the soul's desires, faith is enlivened as to the eventual fulfilment of those desires, and we feel a certainty that the existence which looks at present so marred and fragmentary shall yet end in harmony. The shuttle is at work, and the threads are gradually added that shall bring out the pattern, and prove that what seems at present confusion is really the way and means to order and beauty.

Return to the Woman in the Nineteenth Century Summary Return to the Margaret Fuller Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson