Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert writes letter to Ivan Turgenev

      November 13, 1872

      My dear Turgenev,

      Your last letter touched me deeply. Thank you for your exhortations. But alas! My ailment is incurable, I fear. Besides my personal reasons for grief (the death during the last three years of almost everyone I loved), I am appalled by the state of society. Yes, such is the case. Stupid, perhaps, but there it is. The stupidity of the public overwhelms me. Since 1870 I've become a patriot. Watching my country die, I feel that I loved her. Prussia may lay down her arms: we can destroy ourselves perfectly well without her help.

      The bourgeoisie is so bewildered that is has lost all instinct to defend itself; and what will succeed it will be worse. I'm filled with the sadness that afflicted the Roman patricians of the fourth century: I feel irredeemable barbarism rising from the bowels of the earth. I hope to be gone before it carries everything away. But meanwhile it's not very gay. Never have things of the spirit counted for so little. Never has hatred for everything great been so manifest - disdain for Beauty, execration of literature.

      I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it. It's not a question of politics but of the mental state of France. Have you seen [Jules] Simon's circular, with its plan for the reform of public education? [Simon was at this time the Minister of Public Instruction.] The paragraph about physical training is longer than the one about French literature. There's a significant little symptom!

      In short, my dear friend, if you weren't living in Paris I'd promptly surrender my flat to my landlord. The hope of seeing you there occasionally is my only reason for keeping it on.

      I can no longer talk with anyone at all without becoming furious, and everything I read by my contemporaries makes me quiver with indignation. A fine state to be in! Not that it's preventing me from preparing a book in which I'll try to spew out my bile. I'd like to talk with you about it. So, as you see, I'm not letting myself be disheartened. If I didn't work, my only course would be to jump in the river with a stone around my neck. 1870 drove many insane, made imbeciles of others, and left others in a permanent state of rage. I'm in the last category. It's the right one.

      Meanwhile, take care of your gout, my poor friend, and know full well that I love you.


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