The sequel to a previous post…
In response to a classmate who believes that French author Madam George Sand (Judy Davis) in James Lapine’s 1991 film Impromptu, is “attracted to Chopin (Hugh Grant) because she unconsciously learned to be more feminine like he was,” I’d like to respectfully disagree.
Prior to Sand’s pursuit of Chopin, she is already quite feminine as demonstrated through her clothing throughout the film. As a child, she wears a dress and has long hair. Sand’s bed clothes in the very first scene are traditionally frilly with ruffles, bows and layers. At the first party where she is to meet her publisher, Chopin’s presence yet unbeknownst to her, Sand wears a rather eccentric dress/pants combination, but somewhat of a silken embroidered dress with a bow in front all the same. When she visits her mother prior to engaging in her relationship with Chopin she wears a conservatively elegant cloak and, when her mother dies, Sand’s mourning dress is a traditional black gown and her hair is traditionally upswept. Perhaps Sand entertains the idea of being fit for a more traditional dress when in pursuit of Chopin, but she also tries moving in the opposite direction by buying men’s clothing. Overall, I’d say Sand is never portrayed as strictly masculine nor feminine, but rather the perfect embodiment of both at once.
In thinking about the roles of man and woman I find that Sand, rather than learning to be more feminine from Chopin, becomes increasingly masculine once they are lovers. She takes on the traditional role of the courting gentleman buying flowers and advancing in constant persuit. Likewise, Chopin’s feminine behavior is simply reinforced in the process. I see no evidence of him becoming more masculine when he sits like a woman being rowed about in a canoe, is led up an escarpment, sits cross legged on the park bench, etc. Still, the space each occupies in this dichotomy is not enough to explain their relationship. I think it’s more than a topic of masculine and feminine.
What I find most interesting is Sand’s role as “mother” which, in many ways is more like both father and mother. Her own children live with her and are even brought with her to visit the Dutchess in the country when she could have left them with Mallefille, the male tutor who acts more like a mistress. At the same time, Sand is their sole bread winner, which explains the need for Mallefille in times when Sand can’t supervise the children herself. When she visits Marie, she always takes up the babies in a loving motherly fashion, gently coddling them and kissing their heads, yet she is dressed in men’s clothing and spends only brief stints in their presence, promptly handing them back to Marie. Marie, by contrast, is the epitome of womanhood, house bound with her breasts continuously unbound for nursing. Sand is always both, complete, the whole of a societal division.
This theme exists throughout Sand’s interactions with Chopin as well. The struggle of courtship in which Sand acts like a man in pursuit of a women is a complete failure, a ruse set in motion by Marie. It isn’t until Sand comes to Chopin as herself, vulnerable and yet brave to share that vulnerability, that the two connect. Only in this moment does Chopin “see” Sand. Once the relationship begins, Sand resumes the complete mother /father role. She protects him physically during the duel like a father, saves his pride like a mother, and then awkwardly gives him his milk. Rather than bringing out Chopin’s masculine side, Sand seems to be more in the market of raising the boy into manhood, to nurture him as a mother and father would, to help strengthen him into the mature and perfect love.
Sand is not looking for two halves to form one whole, but two complete people who join in one relationship. A perfect lover nurtures, gently guides, holds the hurts of her lover’s heart and has hers held in return. Gender divisions create a divide prohibiting this type connection, but Sand bridges that divide by being all things to Chopin. In doing so, Sand attempts to create her equal in all matters of the heart. When the couple rides off into the grey light of an overcast day, one not purely sunny nor stormy, one can hope this is the path to the perfect love Sand wished for in childhood.