Gustave Flaubert / George Sand : Letters from solitude

Dernière mise à jour : juin 9





Extracts form:


The George Sand / Gustave Flaubert Letters


(Translated by A.L. McKensie)




TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT


Nohant, 21 September, 1866


I have just returned from a twelve days trip with my children, and on getting home I find your two letters. (...)


And you my Benedictine, you are quite alone in your ravishing monastery, working and never going out ? That is what it means TO HAVE ALREADY gone out too much. Monsieur craves Syrias, deserts, dead seas, dangers and fatigues! But nevertheless he can make Bovarys in which every little cranny of life is studied and painted with mastery. What an odd person who can also compose the fight between the Sphinx and the Chimaera ! You are a being quite apart, very mysterious, gentle as a lamb with it all.


I have had a great desire to question you, but a too great respect for you has prevented me; for I know how to make light only of my own calamities, while those which a great mind has had to undergo so as to be in a condition to produce, seem to me like sacred things which should not be touched roughly nor thoughtlessly.


Sainte-Beuve, who loves you all the same, claims that you are horribly vicious. But perhaps he may see with somewhat unclean eyes, like this learned botanist who asserts that the germander is of DIRTY yellow color. The observation was so false, that I could not refrain from writing on the margin of his book: IT IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE DIRTY EYES.


I suppose that a man of intelligence may have great curiosity. I have not had it, lacking the courage. I have preferred to leave my mind incomplete, that is my affair, and every one is free to embark either on a great ship in full sail, or on a fisherman's vessel. The artist is an explorer whom nothing ought to stop, and who does neither good nor ill when turning to the right or to the left. His end justifies all. It is for him to know after a little experience, what are the conditions of his soul's health. As for me, I think that yours is in a good condition of grace, since you love to work and to be alone in spite of the rain.


(...)


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TO GEORGE SAND


Croisset, 1866


I "a mysterious being", dear master, nonsense ! I think that I am sickeningly platitudinous, and I am sometimes exceedingly bored with the bourgeois which I have under my skin. Sainte-Beuve, between ourselves, does not know me at all, no matter what he says. I even swear to you (by the smile of your grandchild) that I know few men less vicious than I am. I have dreamed much and have done very little.


What deceives the superficial observer is the lack of harmony between my sentiments and my ideas. If you want my confession, I shall make it freely to you. The sense of the grotesque has restrained me from an inclination towards a disorderly life. I maintain that cynicism borders on chastity. We shall have much to say about it to each other (if your heart prompts you) the first time we see each other.


(...)


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TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT


Palaiseau, 22 November, 1866


I think that it will bring me luck to say good evening to my dear comrade before starting to work. I am QUITE ALONE in my little house. The gardener and his family live in the pavilion in the garden and we are the last house at the end of the village, quite isolated in the country, which is a ravishing oasis.


Fields, woods, appletrees as in Normandy; not a great river with its steam whistles and infernal chain; a little stream which runs silently under the willows; a silence ... ah ! it seems to me that I am in the depths of the virgin forest: nothing speaks except the little jet of the spring which ceaselessly piles up diamonds in the moonlight. The flies sleeping in the corners of my room, awaken at the warmth of my fire. They had installed themselves there to die, they come near the lamp, they are seized with a mad gaiety, they buzz, they jump, they laugh, they even have faint inclinations towards love, but it is the hour of death and paf! in the midst of the dance, they fall stiff. It is over, farewell to dancing !


I am sad here just the same. This absolute solitude, which has always been vacation and recreation for me, is shared now by a dead soul [Alexandre Manceau, a friend of Maurice Sand] who has ended here, like a lamp which is going out, yet which is here still. I do not consider him unhappy in the region where he is dwelling; but the image that he has left near me, which is nothing more than a reflection, seems to complain because of being unable to speak to me any more. Never mind ! Sadness is not unhealthy. It prevents us from drying up.


And you dear friend, what are you doing at this hour ? Grubbing also, alone also; for your mother must be in Rouen. Tonight must be beautiful down there too. Do you sometimes think of the "old troubadour of the Inn clock, who still sings and will continue to sing perfect love ?"


(...)


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TO GEORGE SAND


Croisset, Tuesday


You are alone and sad down there, I am the same here. Whence come these attacks of melancholy that overwhelm one at times ? They rise like a tide, one feels drowned, one has to flee. I lie prostrate. I do nothing and the tide passes. My novel is going very badly for the moment. That fact added to the deaths of which I have heard ; of Cormenin (a friend of twenty-five years' standing), of Gavarni, and then all the rest, but that will pass.


You don't know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word. Ideas come very easily with you, incessantly, like a stream. With me it is a tiny thread of water. Hard labor at art is necessary for me before obtaining a waterfall. Ah ! I certainly know THE AGONIES OF STYLE.


In short I pass my life in wearing away my heart and brain, that is the real TRUTH about your friend.


(...)



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TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT


Paris December, 1866


"Not put one's heart into what one writes ?"


I don't understand at all, oh ! not at all ! As for me, I think that one can not put anything else into it. Can one separate one's mind from one's heart ? Is it something different ? Can sensation itself limit itself ? Can existence divide itself ?


In short, not to give oneself entirely to one's work, seems to me as impossible as to weep with something else than one's eyes, and to think with something else than one's brain. What was it you meant ? You must tell me when you have the time.



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TO GEORGE SAND


Croisset, Saturday night



I have seen Citizen Bouilhet, who had a real ovation in his own country. His compatriots who had absolutelyignored him up to then, from the moment that Paris applauded him, screamed with enthusiasm. He will return here Saturday next, for a banquet that they are giving him,— 80 covers, at least. (...)


My style continues to give me no small annoyance. I hope, however, in a month, to have crossed the most barren tract. But at the moment I am lost in a desert; well, by the grace of God, so much the worse for me ! How gladly I shall abandon this sort of thing, never to return to it to my dying day ! Depicting the modern French bourgeois is a stench in my nostrils ! And then won't it be time perhaps to enjoy oneself a bit in life, and to choose subjects pleasant to the author ?


I expressed myself badly when I said to you that "one should not write from the heart." I meant to say: not put one's personality into the picture. I think that great art is scientific and impersonal. One should, by an effort of mind, put oneself into one's characters and not create them after oneself. That is the method at least; a method which amounts to this: try to have a great deal of talent and even of genius if you can. How vain are all the poetic theories and criticisms ! — and the nerve of the gentlemen who compose them sickens me. Oh ! nothing restrains them, those bone heads !


(...)


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TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT


Paris, 9 January, 1867


Dear comrade,


(...) I have not worked for two weeks; so my task has not progressed very much, and as I don't know if I am going to be in shape very soon, I have given the Odeon a vacation. They will take me when I am ready. I think of going a little to the south when I have seen my children. The plants of the coast are running through my head. I am prodigiously uninterested in anything which is not my little ideal of peaceful work, country life, and of tender and pure friendship.


I really think that I am not going to live a long time, although I am quite cured and well. I get this warning from the great calm, CONTINUALLY CALMER, which exists in my formerly agitated soul. My brain only works from synthesis to analysis, and formerly it was the contrary. Now, what presents itself to my eyes when I awaken is the planet; I have considerable trouble in finding again there the MOI which interested me formerly, and which I begin to call YOU in the plural. It is charming, the planet, very interesting, very curious but rather backward, and as yet somewhat unpractical; I hope to pass into an oasis with better highways and possible to all.


One needs so much money and resources in order to travel here ! and the time lost in order to procure these necessaries is lost to study and to contemplation. It seems to me that there is due me something less complicated, less civilized, more naturally luxurious, and more easily good than this feverish halting-place. Will you come into the land, of my dreams, if I succeed in finding the road ? Ah! who can know?


And the novel, is it getting on ? Your courage has not declined ? Solitude does not weigh on you ? I really think that it is not absolute, and that somewhere there is a sweetheart who comes and goes, or who lives near there. But there is something of the anchorite in your life just the same, and if envy your situation. As for me, I am too alone at Palaiseau, with a dead soul ; not alone enough at Nohant, with the children whom I love too much to belong to myself, — and at Paris, one does not know what one is, one forgets oneself entirely for a thousand things which are not worth any more than oneself. I embrace you with all my heart, dear friend; remember me to your mother, to your dear family, and write me at Nohant, that will do me good.



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TO GEORGE SAND


Croisset, Saturday night


No, dear master, you are not near your end. So much the worse for you perhaps. But you will live to be old, very old, as giants live, since you are of that race: only you MUST rest. One thing astonishes me and that is that you have not died twenty times over, having thought so much, written so much and suffered so much. Do go then, since you have the desire, to the Mediterranean. Its azure sky quiets and invigorates. There are the Countries of Youth, such as the Bay of Naples. Do they make one sadder sometimes ? I do not know.


Life is not easy ! What a complicated and extravagant affair ! I know something about that. One must have money for everything ! So that with a modest revenue and an unproductive profession one has to make up one's mind to have but little. So I do ! The habit is formed, but the days that work does not go well are not amusing. Yes indeed ! I would love to follow you into another planet.


And a propos of money, it is that which will make our planet uninhabitable in the near future, for it will be impossible to live here, even for the rich, without looking after one's property; one will have to spend several hours a day fussing over one's INCOME. Charming ! I continue to fuss over my novel, and I shall go to Paris when I reach the end of my chapter, towards the middle of next month.


And whatever you suspect, no "lovely lady" comes to see me. Lovely ladies have occupied my mind a good deal, but have taken up very little of my time. Applying the term anchorite to me is perhaps a juster comparison than you think. I pass entire weeks without exchanging a word with a human being, and at the end of the week it is not possible for me to recall a single day nor any event whatsoever. I see my mother and my niece on Sundays, and that is all.


My only company consists of a band of rats in the garret, which make an infernal racket above my head, when the water does not roar or the wind blow. The nights are black as ink, and a silence surrounds me comparable to that of the desert. Sensitiveness is increased immeasurably in such a setting. I have palpitations of the heart for nothing. All that results from our charming profession. That is what it means to torment the soul and the body. But perhaps this torment is our proper lot here below ?


(...)



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TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT


Nohant, 17 January, 1869


The individual named George Sand is well: he is enjoying the marvelous winter which reigns in Berry, gathering flowers, noting interesting botanical anomalies, making dresses and mantles for his daughter-in-law, costumes for the marionettes, cutting out scenery, dressing dolls, reading music, but above all spending hours with the little Aurore who is a marvelous child.


There is not a more tranquil or a happier individual in his domestic life than this old troubadour retired from business, who sings from time to time his little song to the

moon, without caring much whether he sings well or ill, provided he sings the motif that runs in his head, and who, the rest of the time, idles deliciously. It has not always been as nice as this. He had the folly to be young; but as he did no evil nor knew evil passions, nor lived for vanity, he is happy enough to be peaceful and to amuse himself with everything.


This pale character has the great pleasure of loving you with all his heart, and of not passing a day without thinking of the other old troubadour, confined in his solitude of a frenzied artist, disdainful of all the pleasures of this world, enemy of the magnifying glass and of its attractions. We are, I think, the two most different workers that exist; but since we like each other that way, it is all right. The reason each of us thinks of the other at the same hour, is because each of us has a need of his opposite; we complete ourselves, in identifying ourselves at times with what is not ourselves.


(...)



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Source

The George Sand−Gustave Flaubert Letters
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