George Sand (Thomas 1889)/Chapter 1
In naming George Sand we name something more exceptional than even a great genius. Her rise to eminence in the literature of her century is, if not without a parallel, yet absolutely without a precedent, in the annals of women of modern times.
The origin of much that is distinctive in the story of her life may be traced in the curious story of her lineage.
George Sand was of mixed national descent, and in her veins ran the blood of heroes and of kings. The noble and the artist, the bourgeoisie and the people, all had their representatives among her immediate ancestors. Her grandmother, the guardian of her girlhood, was the child of Maurice, Marshal Saxe, that favourite figure in history and romance, himself son of the famous Augustus II., Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and the Swedish Countess Aurora von Königsmark. The Marshal's daughter Aurore, though like her father of illegitimate birth—her mother, who was connected with the stage, passed by her professional name of Mdlle. Verrières—obtained after the Marshal's death the acknowledgment and protection of his relatives in high places, notably of his niece, the Dauphine of France, grand-daughter of Augustus of Poland, and mother of the three kings—Louis XVI., Louis XVIII., and Charles X.
Carefully educated at St. Cyr, Mdlle. de Saxe was married, when little more than a child, to the Count de Horn, who was also of partly royal but irregular origin. He very shortly afterwards fell in a duel. His widow, at thirty, became the wife of M. Dupin de Francueil, an old gentleman of good provincial family and some fortune. Maurice, their only child, was the father of George Sand.
Madame Dupin (the suffix de Francueil was afterwards dropped by her husband) appears to have inherited none of the adventurous and erratic tendencies of her progenitors. Aristocratic in her sympathies, philosophic in her intellect, and strictly decorous in her conduct, throughout the whole of her long and chequered life she was regarded with respect. Left a widow again, ten years after her second marriage, she concentrated her hopes and affections on her handsome and amiable son Maurice. Though fondly attached to her, he was yet to be the cause of her heaviest sorrows, by his more than hazardous marriage, and by his premature and tragical fate.
His strongest natural leanings seem to have been towards art in general, music and the drama in particular, and of his facile, buoyant, artist temperament there is ample evidence; but the political conditions of France under the Directory in 1798 left him no choice but to enter the army, where he served under Dupont, winning his commission on the field of Marengo in 1800. It was during this Italian campaign that the young officer met with the woman who, four years later, became his wife, and the mother of his illustrious child.
Mademoiselle Sophie Victoire Delaborde was, emphatically speaking, a daughter of the people. Her father had been a poor bird-seller at Paris, where she herself had worked as a milliner. Left unprotected at a very early age, thoroughly uneducated and undisciplined, gifted with considerable beauty, and thrown on the world at a time when the very foundations of society seemed to be collapsing, she had been exposed to extreme dangers, and without any of the ordinary safeguards against them. That she proved herself not undeserving of the serious attachment with which she inspired Maurice Dupin, her least favourable judges were afterwards forced to admit; though, at the time, this infatuation of the lieutenant of six-and-twenty for one four years his senior, and of the humblest extraction, and whose life hitherto had not been blameless, was naturally regarded as utterly disastrous by his elders.
The devoted pair were married secretly at Paris in 1804; and on the 5th of July in the same year—the last of the French Republic and the first of the Empire—their daughter entered the world, receiving the name of Amantine-Lucile-Aurore.
The discovery of the mésalliance she had been dreading for some time, and which her son had not dared to confess to her, was a heavy blow to old Madame Dupin. However she schooled herself to forgive what was irrevocable, and to acknowledge this most unwelcome daughter-in-law, the infant Aurore helping unconsciously to effect the reconciliation. But for more than three years M. Dupin's mother and his wife scarcely ever met. Madame Dupin mère was living in a retired part of the country, in the very centre of France, on the little property of Nohant, which she had bought with what the Revolution had left her out of her late husband's fortune. Maurice, now Captain Dupin and aide-de-camp to Murat, resided, when not on service, in Paris where he had settled with his wife and child. The union, strange though it may seem, continued to be a happy one. Besides a strong attachment there existed a real conformity of disposition between the two. The mother of George Sand was also, in her way, a remarkable woman. She has been described by her daughter as "a great artist lost for want of development"; showing a wonderful dexterity in whatever she put her hand to, no matter if practised in it or not. "She tried everything, and always succeeded"—sewing, drawing, tuning the piano—"she would have made shoes, locks, furniture, had it been necessary." But her tastes were simple and domestic. Though married out of her rank, she was entirely without any vain ambition to push herself into fashionable society, the constraint of which, moreover, she could not bear. "She was a woman for the fire-side, or for quick, merry walks and drives. But in the house or out of doors, what she wanted was intimacy and confidence, complete sincerity in her relations with those around her, absolute liberty in her habits and the disposal of her time. She always led a retired life, more anxious to keep aloof from tiresome acquaintance than to seek such as might be advantageous. That was just the foundation of my father's character; and in this respect never was there a better-assorted couple. They could never be happy except in their own little ménage. Everywhere out of it they had to stifle their melancholy yawns, and they have transmitted to me that secret shyness which has always made the gay world intolerable, and home a necessity to me."
In a modest bourgeois habitation in the Rue Meslay, afterwards transferred to the Rue Grange-Batelière, Aurore Dupin's infancy passed tranquilly away, under the wing of her warmly affectionate mother who, though utterly illiterate, showed intuitive tact and skill in fostering the child's intelligence. "Mine," says her daughter, "made no resistance; but was never beforehand with anything, and might have been very much behindhand if left to itself."
Aurore was not four years old when adventures began for her in earnest. In the spring of 1808, her father was at Madrid in attendance upon Murat; and Madame Maurice Dupin, becoming impatient of prolonged separation from her husband, started off with her little girl to join him. The hazards and hardships of the expedition, long mountain drives and wild scenery, strange fare and strange sights, could not fail vividly to impress the child, whose imagination from her cradle was extraordinarily active. Her mother ere this had discovered that Aurore, then little more than a baby, and pent up within four chairs to keep her out of harm's way, would make herself perfectly happy, plucking at the basket-work and babbling endless fairy tales to herself, confused and diluted versions of the first fictions narrated to her. A picturesque line in a nursery song was enough to bring before her a world of charming wonders; the figures, birds, and flowers on a Sèvres china candelabrum would call up enchanting landscapes; and the sound of a flageolet played from some distant attic start a train of melodious fancies and throw her into musical raptures. Her daily experiences, after reaching Madrid with her mother, continued to be novel and exciting in the extreme. The palace of the Prince de la Paix, where Murat and his suite had their quarters, was to her the realisation of the wonder-land of Perrault and d'Aulnoy; Murat, the veritable Prince Fanfarinet. She was presented to him in a fancy court-dress, devised for the occasion by her mother, an exact imitation of her father's uniform in miniature, with spurs, sword, and boots, all complete. The Prince was amused by the jest, and took a fancy to the child, calling her his little aide-de-camp. After a residence of several weeks in this abode, whose splendour was alloyed by not a little discomfort and squalor, the return-journey had to be accomplished in the height of summer, amid every sort of risk; past reeking battlefields, camps, sacked and half-burnt villages, and beleaguered cities. Captain Dupin succeeded, however, in escorting his family safely back into France again, the party halting to recruit awhile under his mother's roof.
Nohant, a spot that has become as famous through its associations as Abbotsford, lies about three miles from the little town of La Châtre, in the department of the Indre, part of the old province of Berry. The manor is a plain grey house with steep mansarde roofs of the time of Louis XVI. It stands just apart from the road, shaded by trees, beside a pleasure ground of no vast extent, but with its large flower-garden and little wood allowed to spread at nature's bidding, quite in the English style. Behind the house cluster a score of cottages of the scattered hamlet of Nohant; in the centre rises the smallest of churches, with a tiny cemetery hedged around and adjoining the wall of the manor garden.
At this country home the tired travellers gladly alighted; but they had barely a few weeks in which to recover from the fatigues of their Spanish campaign, when a terrible calamity overwhelmed the household. Maurice Dupin, riding home one night from La Châtre, was thrown from his horse and killed on the spot.
The story of Aurore Dupin's individual life opens at once with the death of her father—a loss she was still too young to comprehend, but for which she was soon to suffer through the strange, the anomalous position, in which it was to place her. Maurice Dupin's patrician mother and her plebeian daughter-in-law, bereft thus violently of him who had been the only possible link between them, found themselves hopelessly, actively, and increasingly at variance. Their tempers clashed, their natures were antipathetic, their views contradictory, their positions irreconcileable. Aurore was not only thrust into an atmosphere of strife, but condemned to be the apple of discord. She was to grow up between two hostile camps, each claiming her obedience and affection.
The beginning was smooth, and the sadness which alone kept the peace was not allowed to weigh on the child. She ran wild in the garden, the country air and country life strengthening a naturally strong constitution; and her intelligence, though also allowed much freedom in its development, was not neglected. A preceptor was on the spot in the person of the fourth inmate of Nohant, an old pedagogue, Deschartres by name, formerly her father's tutor, who had remained in Madame Dupin's service as "intendant." The serio-comic figure of this personage, so graphically drawn by George Sand herself in the memoirs of her early life, will never be forgotten by any reader of those reminiscences. Pedant, she says, was written in every line of his countenance and every movement that he made. He was possessed of some varied learning, much narrow prejudice, and a violent crotchety temper; but had proved during the troubles of the Revolution his sincere and disinterested devotion to the family he served, and Aurore and "the great man," as she afterwards nicknamed her old tutor, were always good friends.
Before she was four years old she could read quite well; but she remarks that it was only after learning to write that what she read began to take a definite meaning for her. The fairy-tales perused but half intelligently before were re-read with a new delight. She learnt grammar with Deschartres, and from her grand-mother took her first lessons in music, an art of which she became passionately fond; and it always remained for her a favourite source of enjoyment, though she never acquired much proficiency as a musical performer. The educational doctrines of Rousseau had then brought into fashion a régime of open-air exercise and freedom for the young, such as we commonly associate with English, rather than French, child-life; and Aurore's early years—when domestic hostilities and nursery tyrannies, from which, like most sensitive children, she suffered inordinately, were suspended—were passed in the careless, healthy fashion approved in this country. A girl of her own age, but of lower degree, was taken into the house to share her studies and pastimes. Little Ursule was to become, in later years, the faithful servant of her present companion, who had then become lady of the manor, and who never lost sight of this humble friend. Aurore had also a boy playmate in a protégé of her grandmother's, five years her senior, who patronised and persecuted her by turns, in true fraternal fashion. This boy Hippolyte, the son of a woman of low station, was in fact Aurore's half-brother, adopted from his birth and brought up by Madame Dupin the elder, whose indulgence, where her son was concerned, was infinite. With these, and the children of the farm-tenants and rural proprietors around, Aurore did not want for companions. But the moment soon arrived when the painful family dispute of which she was the object, was to become the cause of more distress to the child than to her elders. There were reasons which stood in the way of Madame Maurice Dupin's fixing her residence permanently under her mother-in-law's roof. But the mind of the latter was set on obtaining the guardianship of her grand-daughter, the natural heir to her property, and on thus assuring to her social and educational privileges of a superior order. The child's heart declared unreservedly for her mother, whose passionate fondness she returned with the added tenderness of a deeper nature, and all attempts to estrange the two had only drawn them closer together. But the pecuniary resources of Maurice Dupin's widow were of the smallest, and the advantages offered to her little girl by the proposed arrangement so material, that the older lady gained her point in the end. Madame Maurice settled in Paris. Aurore grew up her grandmother's ward, with Nohant for her home; a home she was to keep, knowing no other, till the end of her life.
The separation was brought about very gradually to the child. The first few winters were spent in Paris, where her grandmother had an establishment. Then she could pass whole days with her mother, who, in turn, spent summers at Nohant, and Aurore for years was buoyed up by the hope that a permanent reunion would still be brought about. But meantime domestic jealousy and strife, inflamed by the unprincipled meddling of servants, raged more fiercely than ever, and could not but be a source of more than ordinary childish misery to their innocent object. It was but slowly that she became attached to her grandmother, whose undemonstrative temper, formal habits, and condescending airs were little calculated to win over her young affections, or fire her with gratitude for the anxiety displayed by this guardian to form her manners and cultivate her intellect. Nay, the result was rather to implant in her a premature dislike and distrust for conventional ideals. From the standard of culture and propriety, from the temptations of social rank and wealth held up for her preference, she instinctively turned to the simple unrestrained affection of the despised mother, and the greater freedom and expansion enjoyed in such company. In vain did disdainful lady's maids try to taunt her into precocious worldly wisdom, asking if she could really want to go and eat beans in a little garret. Such a condition, naturally, she began to regard as the equivalent of a noble and glorious existence!
Meantime, throughout all these alternations of content and distress, Nohant and its surroundings were perforce becoming dear to her, as only the home of our childhood can ever become. The scenery and characteristics of that region are familiar to all readers of the works of George Sand; a quiet region of narrow, winding, shady lanes, where you may wander long between the tall hedges without meeting a living creature but the wild birds that start from the honeysuckle and hawthorn, and the frogs croaking among the sedges; a region of soft-flowing rivers with curlew-haunted reed beds, and fields where quails cluck in the furrows; the fertile plain studded with clumps of ash and alder, and a rare farm-habitation standing amid orchards and hemp-fields, or a rarer hamlet of a dozen cottages grouped together. The country is flat, and, viewed from the rail or high road, unimpressive. But those fruitful fields have a placid beauty, and it needs but to penetrate the sequestered lanes and explore the thicket-bound courses of the streams, to meet with plenty of those pleasant solitudes after a poet's own heart, whose gift it is to seize and perpetuate transient effects, and to open the eyes of duller minds to charms that might pass unnoticed. In this sense only can George Sand be said to have idealised for us the landscapes she loved.
The thoughtful, poetic side of her temperament showed itself early, leading her to seek long intervals of solitude, when she would bury herself in books or dreams, to satisfy the cravings of her intellect and imagination. On the other hand, her vigorous physical organization kept alive her taste for active amusements and merry companionship. So the child-squire romped on equal terms with the little rustics of Nohant, sharing their village sports and the occupations of the seasons as they came round: hay-making and gleaning in summer; in winter weaving bird-nets to spread in the snowy fields for the wholesale capture of larks; anon listening with mixed terror and delight to the picturesque legends told by the hemp-beaters, as they sat at their work out of doors on September moonlight evenings—to all the traditional ghost-stories of the "Black Valley," as she fancifully christened the country round about. Tales were these of fantastic animals and goblins, the grand'-bête and the levrette blanche, Georgeon, that imp of mischief, night apparitions of witches and charmers of wolves, singing Druidical stones and mysterious portents—a whole fairy mythology, then firmly believed in by the superstitious peasantry.
As a signal contrast to this way of life came for a time the annual visits to Paris—suspended after she was ten years old. There liberty ended, and the girl was transported into a novel and most uncongenial sphere. Her grandmother's friends and relatives were mostly old people, who clung to antiquated modes and customs; and distinguished though such circles might be, the youngest member only found out that they were intolerably dull. The wrinkled countesses with their elaborate toilettes and ceremonious manners, the abbés with their fashionable tittle-tattle and their innumerable snuff-boxes, the long dinners, the accomplishment-lessons, notably those in dancing and deportment, were repugnant to the soul of the little hoyden. She made amends to herself by observing these new scenes and characters narrowly, with the acute natural perception that was one of her leading gifts. From this artificial atmosphere of constraint, it was inevitable that she should welcome hours of escape into her mother's unpretending domestic circle; and already at ten years old she had pronounced the lot of a scullery-maid enviable, compared to that of an old marquise.
Nevertheless the fact of her having, at an age when impressions are strongest and most lasting, mixed freely and on equal terms with the upper classes of society, was a point in her education not without its favourable action on her afterwards as a novelist. Despite her firm Republican sympathies, emphatic disdain for mere rank and wealth, and her small mercy for the foibles of the fashionable world, she can enter into its spirit, paint its allurements without exaggeration, and indicate its shortcomings with none of that asperity of the outsider which always suggests some unconscious envy lurking behind the scorn.
The despised accomplishment-lessons, in themselves tending only to so much agreeable dabbling, proved useful to her indirectly by creating new interests, and as an intellectual stimulus. There seems to have been little or no method about her early education. The study of her own language was neglected, and the time spent less profitably, she considered, in acquiring a smattering of Latin with Deschartres. She took to some studies with avidity, while others remained wholly distasteful to her. For mere head-work she cared little. Arithmetic she detested; versification, no less. Her imagination rebelled against the restrictions of form. Nowhere, perhaps, except in the free-fantasia style of the novel, could this great prose-poet have found the right field in which to do justice to her powers. The dry technique in music was a stumbling-block of which she was impatient. History and literature she enjoyed in whatever they offered that was romantic, heroic, or poetically suggestive. In her Nohant surroundings there was nothing to check, and much to stimulate, this dominant imaginative faculty. Her youthful attempts at original composition she quickly discarded in disgust; but it seemed almost a law of her mind that whatever was possessing it she must instinctively weave into a romance. Thus in writing her history-epitome she must improve on the original, when too dry, by exercising her fancy in the descriptions of places and personages. The actual political events of that period were of the most exciting character; Napoleon's Russian campaign, abdication, retreat to Elba, the Hundred Days, Waterloo, the Restoration, following each other in swift succession. Old Madame Dupin was an anti-Bonapartist, but Aurore had caught from her mother some thing of the popular infatuation for the Emperor, and her fancy would create him over again, as he might have been had his energies been properly directed. Her day-dreams were often so vivid as to affect her senses with all the force of realities.
Such a visionary life might have been most dangerous and mentally enervating had her organisation been less robust, and the tendency to reverie not been matched by lively external perception and plentiful physical activity. As it was, if at one moment she was in a cloudland of her own, or poring over the stories of the Iliad, the classic mythologies, or Tasso's Gerusalemme, the next would see her scouring the fields with Ursule and Hippolyte, plaving practical jokes on the tutor, and extemporising wild out-of-door games and dances with her village companions.
Of serious religious education she received none at all. Here, again, the authorities were divided. Her mother was pious in a primitive way, though holding aloof from priestly influences. The grandmother, a disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and of Voltaire, had renounced the Catholic creed and was what was then called a Deist. But beyond discouraging a belief in miraculous agencies she preserved a neutrality with her ward on the subject, and Aurore was left free to drift as her nature should decide. Instinctively she felt more drawn towards her mother's unreasoning, emotional faith than towards a system of philosophic, critical inquiry. But on both sides what was offered her to worship was too indefinite to satisfy her strong religious instincts. Once more she filled in the blank with her imagination, which was forthwith called upon to picture a being who should represent all perfections, human and divine; something that her heart could love, as well as her intelligence approve.
This ideal figure, for whom she devised the name Corambé, was to combine all the spiritual qualities the Christian ideal with the earthly grace and beauty of the mythological deities of Greece. For very many years she cherished this fantasy, finding there the scope she sought for her aspirations after superhuman excellence. It is hardly too much to say that the Christianity which had been expressly left out in her teaching she invented for herself. She erected a woodland altar in the recesses of a thicket to this imaginary object of her adoration, and it is a characteristic trait that the sacrifices she chose to offer there were the release of birds and butterflies that had been taken prisoners—as a symbolical oblation most welcome to a divinity whose essential attributes were infinite mercy and love. It will be remembered that a somewhat similar anecdote is related of the youthful Goethe.
Aurore as the years went on had grown sincerely fond of Madame Dupin; but her mother still held the foremost place in her heart, and she had never ceased to cherish the belief that if they two could live together she would be perfectly happy. The discovery of this deeply irritated her grandmother, who at length was provoked to intimate to the girl something of the real motive for insisting on this separation—namely, that her mother's antecedents were such as, in the eyes of Aurore's well-wishers, rendered it desirable to establish the daughter's existence apart from that of her parent. Sooner or later such a revelation must have been made; but made as it was, thus precipitately, in a moment of jealous anger, the chief result was of necessity to cause a painful and dangerous shock to the sensitive young mind. It brought about an unnatural discord in her moral nature, forbidden all at once to respect what she had loved most, and must continue to love, in spite of all. On the injurious effects of the over-agitation to which she was subjected in her childhood she has laid much stress in her remarkable work, "The Story of My Life." Much of this book, written when she was between forty and fifty, reads like a romance; and had a certain amount of retrospective imagination entered into the treatment of these reminiscences it would not be surprising. The tendency to impart poetical colour and significance to whatever was capable of taking it was her mastering impulse, and may sometimes have led her to lose the distinction between fancy and reality, especially as by her own confession her memory was never her strong point. But she had an excellent memory for impressions, and no reader whose own recollections of childhood have not grown faint, but will feel the profound truth of the spirit of the narrative, which is of a kind that occasional exaggerations in the letter cannot depreciate in value as a psychological history. For an account of her early life it must always remain the most important source.
Aurore was now thirteen, and though she had read a good deal of miscellaneous literature her instruction had been mostly of a desultory sort; she was behindhand in the accomplishments deemed desirable for young ladies; and her country manners, on the score of etiquette, left something to be desired. To school, therefore, it was decided that she must go; and her grandmother selected that held by the nuns of the "English convent" at Paris, as the most fashionable institution of the kind.
This Couvent des Anglaises was a British community first established in the French capital in Cromwell's time. It has now been removed, and its site, the Rue St. Victor, has undergone complete transformation. In 1817, however, it was in high repute among conventual educational establishments. To this retreat Aurore was consigned and there spent more than two years, an untroubled time she has spoken of as in many respects the happiest of her life. There is certainly nothing more delightful in her memoirs than the vivid picture there drawn of the convent-school interior, drawn without flattery or malice, and with sympathy and animation.
The nunnery was an extensive building of rambling construction—with parts disused and dilapidated—quite a little settlement, counting some 150 inmates, nuns, pupils and teachers; with cells and dormitories, long corridors, chapels, kitchens, distillery, spiral staircases and mysterious nooks and corners; a large garden planted with chestnut trees, a kitchen garden and a little cemetery without gravestones, overgrown with evergreens and flowers. The sisters were all English, Irish, or Scotch, but the majority of the pupils and the secular mistresses were French. Of the nuns their ex-scholar speaks with respect and affection, but their religious exercises left them but the smaller share of their time and attention to devote to the pupils. The girls almost without exception were of high social rank, the bourgeois element as yet having scarcely penetrated this exclusive seminary. Aurore formed warm friendships with many of her school-fellows and seems to have been decidedly popular with the authorities as well, in spite of the high spirits which amid congenial company found vent in harmless mischief and a sort of organised playful insubordination. The school had two parties: the sages or good girls, and the diables, their opposites. Among the latter Aurore conscientiously enrolled herself and became a leader in their escapades, acquiring the sobriquet of "Madcap." These outbreaks led to nothing more heinous than playing off tricks on a tyrannical mistress, or making raids on the forbidden ground of the kitchen garden. But the charm that held together the confraternity of diables was a grand, long-cherished design, to which their best energy and ingenuity were devoted—a secret, heroic-sounding enterprize, set forth as "the deliverance of the victim." A tradition existed among them that a captive was kept languishing miserably in some remote cell, and they had set themselves the task of discovering and liberating this hapless wretch.
It is needless to say that prisoner and dungeon existed in their girlishly romantic brains alone, but easy to see how such a legend might possess itself of their imaginations, and to what bewitching exploits it might invite firm believers. The supervision was not so very strict but that a diable of spirit might sometimes play truant from the class-room unnoticed. The truants would then start on an exciting journey of discovery through the tortuous passages, exploring the darkest recesses of the more deserted portions of the convent: now penetrating into the vaults, now adventuring on the roofs, regardless of peril to life or limb. This sublimely ridiculous undertaking, half-sport, half-earnest, so fascinated Aurore as to become the most important occupation of her mind!
The teaching provided for the young ladies appears to have been of the customary superficial order—of everything a little, a little music, a little drawing, a little Italian. With English she had the opportunity of becoming really conversant, as it was the language commonly spoken in the convent, where also she could not fail to acquire some insight into the English character. This she has treated more fairly than England for long was to treat her. Few of her gifted literary countrymen have done such justice to the sterling good qualities of our nation. Even when, in delineating the Briton, she caricatures those peculiarities with which he is accredited abroad, her blunders seem due to incomplete knowledge rather than to any inability to comprehend the spirit of a people with whom, indeed, she had many points of sympathy. She could penetrate that coldness and constraint of manner so repelling to French natures, and has said of us, with unconventional truth, that our character is in reality more vehement than theirs; but with less mastery over our emotions themselves, we have more mastery over the expression of our emotions. Among her chosen school-comrades were several English girls, but on leaving the convent their paths separated, and in her after life she had but rare opportunities for renewing these early friendships.
Some eighteen months had elapsed in this fashion when Aurore began to tire of diablerie. The victim remained undiscoverable. The store of practical jokes was exhausted. Her restless spirit, pent up within those convent walls, was thirsting for a new experience,—something to fill her heart and life.
It came in the dawn of a religious enthusiasm—different from her mystical dream of Corambé which however poetical was out of harmony with the spirit and ritual of a Catholic convent. But monastic life has its poetical aspects also; and through these it was that its significance first successfully appealed to her. An evening in the chapel, a Titian picture representing Christ on the Mount of Olives, a passage chanced upon in the "Lives of the Saints," brought impressions that awoke in her a new fervour, and inaugurated a period of ardent Catholicism. All vagueness was gone from her devotional aspirations, which now acquired a direct personal import. The change brought a revolution in her general behaviour. She was understood to have been "converted." "Madcap" was now nicknamed "Sainte Aurore" by her profane school-fellows, and she formed the serious desire and intention of becoming a nun.
The sisters, a practical-minded community, behaved with great good sense and discretion. Without distressing the youthful proselyte by casting doubts on her "vocation," they reminded her that the consideration was a distant one, as for years to come her first duty would be to her relatives, who would never sanction her present determination. Her confessor, the Abbé Prémord, a Jesuit and man of the world was likewise kindly discouraging; and perceiving that her zeal was leading her to morbid self-accusation and asceticism of mood, he shrewdly enjoined upon her as a penance to take part in the sports and pastimes with the rest as heretofore, much to her dismay. But she soon found her liking for these return, and with it her health of mind. Unshaken still in her private belief that she would take the veil in due time, she was content to wait, and in the interval to be a useful and agreeable member of society. No more insubordination, no more mischievous freaks, yet "Sainte Aurore" remained the life and soul of all recreations recognised by authority, which even included little theatrical performances now and then.
She had become more regular in her studies since her mind had taken a serious turn, but her heart was less in them than ever. Considering this, and the deficiencies in the system of instruction itself, it is hardly surprising that when, in the spring of 1820, her grandmother fearing that the monastic idea was taking hold of Aurore in good earnest decided to remove her from the Couvent des Anglaises, she knew little more than when first she had entered it.