The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters

CCCIX. To George Sand Sunday evening . . . 1876

You OUGHT to call me inwardly, dear master, “a confounded pig,”— for I have not answered your last letter, and I have said nothing to you about your two volumes, not to mention a third that I received this morning from you. But I have been, for the last two weeks, entirely taken up by my little tale which will be finished soon. I have had several errands to do, various readings to finish up with, and a thing more serious than all that, the health of my poor niece worries me extremely and, at times, disturbs my brain, so that I do not know at all what I am doing! You see that my cup is bitter! That young woman is anemic to the last degree. She is wasting away. She has been obliged to leave off painting, which is her sole distraction. All the usual tonics do no good. Three days ago, by the orders of another physician, who seems to me more learned than the others, she began hydrotherapy. Will he succeed in making her digest and sleep? in building up her strength? Your poor Cruchard takes less and less pleasure in life, and he even has too much of it, infinitely too much. Let us speak of your books, that will be better.

They have amused me, and the proof is that I have devoured with one gulp and one after another, Flamarande and the Deux Freres. What a charming woman is Madame Flamarande, and what a man is M. Salcede. The narrative of the kidnapping of the child, the trip in the carriage, and the story of Zamora are perfect passages. Everywhere the interest is sustained and at the same time progressive. In short, what strikes me the most in these two novels (as in all yours, moreover), is the natural order of the ideas, the talent, or rather the genius for narrative. But what an abominable wretch is your M. Flamarande! As for the servant who tells the story and who is evidently in love with Madame, I wonder why you did not show more plainly his personal jealousy.

Except for the count, all are virtuous persons in that story, even extraordinarily virtuous. But do you think them really true to life? Are there many like them? It is true that while reading, one accepts them because of the cleverness of the execution; but afterwards?

Well, dear master, and this is to answer your last letter, this is, I think what separates us essentially. You, on the first bound, in everything, mount to heaven, and from there you descend to the earth. You start from a priori, from the theory, from the ideal. Thence your pity for life, your serenity, and to speak truly, your greatness. — I, poor wretch, I am stuck on the earth as with soles of lead; everything disturbs me, tears me to pieces, ravages me, and I make efforts to rise. If I should take your manner of looking at the whole of life I should become laughable, that is all. For you preach to me in vain. I cannot have another temperament than my own; nor another esthetics than what is the consequence of it. You accuse me of not letting myself go, according to nature. Well, and that discipline? that virtue? what shall we do with it? I admire M. Buffon putting on cuffs when he wrote. This luxury is a symbol. In short I am trying simply to be as comprehensive as possible. What more can one exact?

As for letting my personal opinion be known about the people I put on the stage: no, no, a thousand times no! I do not recognize the right to that. If the reader does not draw from a book the moral that should be found there, the reader is an imbecile or the book is false from the point of view of accuracy. For, the moment that a thing is true, it is good. Obscene books likewise are immoral only because they lack truth. Things are not “like that” in life.

And observe that I curse what they agree to call realism, although they make me one of its high priests; reconcile all that.

As for the public, its taste disgusts me more and more. Yesterday, for instance, I was present at the first night of the Prix Martin, a piece of buffoonery that, for my part, I think full of wit. Not one of the witty things in the play produced a laugh, and the denouement, which seems out of the ordinary, passed unperceived. Then to look for what can please seems to me the most chimerical of undertakings. For I defy anyone to tell me by what means one pleases. Success is a consequence and must not be an end. I have never sought it (although I desire it) and I seek it less and less.

After my little story, I shall do another — for I am too deeply shaken to start on a great work. I had thought first of publishing Saint-Julien in a periodical, but I have given the plan up.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08