The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters

CCXLV. To George Sand Wednesday, 4th December, 1872

Dear master,

I notice a phrase in your last letter: “The publisher would have taste if the public had it . . . or if the public forced him to have it.” But that is asking the impossible. They have LITERARY IDEAS, rest assured, and so have messieurs the managers of the theatre. Both insist that they are JUDGES IN THAT RESPECT, and their estheticism mingling with their commercialism makes a pretty result.

According to the publishers, one’s last book is always inferior to the preceding one. May I be hung if that is not true. Why does Levy admire Ponsard and Octave Feuillet more than father Dumas and you? Levy is academic. I have made more money for him than Cuvillier-Fleury has, haven’t I? Well, draw a parallel between us two, and you will see how you will be received. You know that he did not want to sell more than 1200 copies of the Dernieres Chansons, and the 800 which were left over, are in my niece’s garret, rue de Clichy! That is very narrow of me, I agree to that; but I confess that the proceeding has simply enraged me. It seems to me that my prose might have been more respected by a man for whom I have turned a penny or two.

Why publish, in these abominable times? Is it to get money? What mockery! As if money were the recompense for work, or could be! That will be when one has destroyed speculation, till then, no! And then how measure work, how estimate the effort? The commercial value of the work remains. For that one would be obliged to suppress all intermediaries between the producer and the purchaser, and even then, that question in itself permits of no solution. For I write (I speak of an author who respects himself) not for the reader of today, but for all the readers who can present themselves as long as the language lives. My merchandise, therefore, cannot be consumed, for it is not made exclusively for my contemporaries. My service remains therefore indefinite, and in consequence, unpayable.

Why publish then? Is it to be understood, applauded? But yourself, YOU, great George Sand, you confess your solitude. Is there at this time, I don’t say, admiration or sympathy, but the appearance of a little attention to works of art? Who is the critic who reads the book that he has to criticise? In ten years they won’t know, perhaps, how to make a pair of shoes, they are becoming so frightfully stupid! All that is to tell you that, until better times (in which I do not believe), I shall keep Saint-Antoine in the bottom of a closet.

If I publish it, I would rather that it should be at the same time as another entirely different book. I am working now on one which will go with it. Conclusion: the wisest thing is to keep calm.

Why does not Duquesnel go to find General Ladmirault, Jules Simon, Thiers? I think that the proceeding concerns him. What a fine thing the censorship is! Let us be reassured, it will always exist, for it always has! Our friend Alexandre Dumas fils, to make an agreeable paradox, has boasted of its advantages in the preface to the Dame aux Camelias, hasn’t he?

And you want me not to be sad! I think that we shall soon see abominable things, thanks to the inept stubbornness of the Right. The good Normans, who are the most conservative people in the world, incline towards the Left very strongly.

If they consulted the bourgeoisie now, it would make father Thiers king of France. If Thiers were taken away, it would throw itself in the arms of Gambetta, and I am afraid it will do that soon! I console myself by thinking that Thursday next I shall be fifty-one years old.

If you are not to come to Paris in February, I shall go to see you at the end of January, before going back to the Pan Monceau; I promise.

The princess has written me to ask if you were at Nohant. She wants to write to you.

My niece Caroline, to whom I have just given Nanon to read, is enchanted with it. What struck her was the “youth” of the book. The criticism seems true to me. It is a real BOOK while Francia, although more simple, is perhaps more finished; more irreproachable as a work.

I read last week the Illustre Docteur Matheus, by Erckmann-Chatrian. How very boorish! There are two nuts, who have very plebeian souls.

Adieu, dear good master. Your old troubadour embraces you,

I am always thinking of Theo. I am not consoled for his loss.

Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50