Undoing realism: reclaiming the Garden of Eden in George Sand’s Isidora (1845)

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George Sand’s idealist novel Isidora (1845) can be read, I argue, as a feminist re-writing of the Biblical Fall and the Garden of Eden. In Pouvoirs de l’horreur (1980), Julia Kristeva notes that ‘le récit de la chute met en scène une altérité diabolique par rapport au divin’. It is specifically a covetous desire for woman which Kristeva states as rupturing the divine in paradise, as Adam is torn apart by temptation: ‘Adam n’a plus la calme nature de l’homme paradisiaque, il est déchiré par la convoitise: désir de la femme.’ Thus, whilst sin can be interpreted as being brought into the world by both Adam and Eve, ‘sa racine et sa représentation fondamentale n’est autre que la tentation féminine’. Although Kristeva does not mention the textual re-appropriation of this strand of theological thinking within literary contexts, the textual equation of woman, sin and desire is commonly seen at work within the nineteenth-century realist novel, in which the narrative of the Fall is re-appropriated according to a gendered framework. Often, the ‘altérité diabolique’ to which Kristeva refers is feminized in the male realist and naturalist novel of the nineteenth century through the textual and aesthetic re-appropriation of Eve as a figure of feminine evil, whose seductress ways are quintessentially represented in the figure of the courtesan, as well as that of the adulteress. The divine is then represented in the figure of the ideal woman, a symbol of feminine passivity, docility and self-sacrifice, attributes often associated with what Bram Dijkstra calls ‘the virtuous household nun’. Yet, in a century beset with dualities and dichotomies, Sand’s Isidora defies the gendered binaries of the nineteenth-century novel by rejecting the clear-cut distinction of the angel/whore dichotomy, entangling certain characteristics of the ‘diabolical’ courtesan and the ‘divine’ woman in the identity of the protagonist, Isidora. In this article, we will see how Sand rejects the textual re-appropriation of Eden as a gendered space of control in which to police the feminine. Moreover, it will be argued that Sand rejects the phallocentric terms of theological literary narratives by re-writing Eden as a space of feminine liberation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-18
Number of pages4
JournalFrench Studies Bulletin
Issue number159
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2021


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