On the Île Bourbon off the coast of Madagascar, Indiana is miserable in her marriage to the cold Colonel Delmare. Although she has a friendly companion in the ever-present Englishman Sir Ralph, she yearns to feel passion and desire.
When she catches the interest of the handsome young Raymon de Ramiere, Indiana is willing to take any risk, including running away to France as the July Revolution rages in Paris. But after she falls ill, she will begin a transformation that could bring about her happiness—or her downfall.
The first novel Amantine Aurore Dupin published under the pseudonym George Sand, Indiana was an auspicious debut from one of the most fascinating and daring women of the early nineteenth century, a rebellious artist who defied societal expectations and went on to become one of the major names in French literature.
The quatrain in old French written below one of Holbein's pictures is profoundly sad in its simplicity. The engraving represents a ploughman driving his plough through a field. A vast expanse of country stretches away in the distance, with some poor cabins here and there; the sun is setting behind the hill. It is the close of a hard day's work. The peasant is a short, thick-set man, old, and clothed in rags. The four horses that he urges forward are thin and gaunt; the ploughshare is buried in rough, unyielding soil. A single figure is joyous and alert in that scene of sweat and toil. It is a fantastic personage, a skeleton armed with a whip, who runs in the furrow beside the terrified horses and belabors them, thus serving the old husbandman as ploughboy. This spectre, which Holbein has introduced allegorically in the succession of philosophical and religious subjects, at once lugubrious and burlesque, entitled the Dance of Death, is Death itself.
In that collection, or rather in that great book, in which Death, playing his part on every page, is the connecting link and the dominant thought, Holbein has marshalled sovereigns, pontiffs, lovers, gamblers, drunkards, nuns, courtesans, brigands, paupers, soldiers, monks, Jews, travellers, the whole world of his day and of ours; and everywhere the spectre of Death mocks and threatens and triumphs. From a single picture only, is it absent. It is that one in which Lazarus, the poor man, lying on a dunghill at the rich man's door, declares that he does not fear Death, doubtless because he has nothing to lose and his life is premature death.
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Sand's heroine moves through a mid-eighteenth-century Europe where absolute rulers mingle with Enlightenment philosophers and gender-bending members of secret societies plot moral and political revolution. As the old order breaks down, she undergoes a series of grueling initiations into radically redefined notions of marriage and social organization. In a novel by equal measures philosophical and lurid, nothing is what it seems. Written some fifty years after the French Revolution, the book taps into many of the political and religious currents that contributed to that social upheaval—and aims to channel their potential for future change.
Fed by Sand's rich imagination and bold aspirations for social reform, The Countess von Rudolstadt is a sinuous novel of initiation, continuing the coming of age tale of the titular heroine of Sand's earlier Consuelo and drawing on such diverse models as Ann Radcliffe's Gothic tales and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister.