A selection from
THE LETTERS OF GEORGE SAND TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
Narrated by Kimberly Schraf
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running time is 11 minutes
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Let us ask ourselves in making an
abstract of our tendencies or of our experiences, if the
human being can receive and seek its own full physical development
without intellectual suffering. Yes, in an ideal and rational
society that would be so. But, in that in which we live and with
which we must be content, do not enjoyment and excess go hand in
hand, and can one separate them or limit them, unless one is a sage
of the first class? And if one is a sage, farewell temptation which
is the father of real joys.
The question for us artists, is to know if abstinence strengthens us
or if it exalts us too much, which state would degenerate into
weakness,—You will say, "There is time for everything and power
enough for every dissipation of strength." Then you make a
distinction and you place limits, there is no way of doing
otherwise. Nature, you think, places them herself and prevents us
from abusing her. Ah! but no, she is not wiser than we who are also
Our excesses of work, as our excesses of pleasure, kill us
certainly, and the more we are great natures, the more we pass
beyond bounds and extend the limits of our powers.
No, I have no theories. I spend my life in asking questions and in
hearing them answered in one way or another without any victoriously
conclusive reply ever being given me. I await the brilliance of a
new state of my intellect and of my organs in a new life; for, in
this one, whosoever reflects, embraces up to their last
consequences, the limits of pro and con. It is Plato, I
think, who asked for and thought he held the bond. He had it no more
than we. However, this bond exists, since the universe subsists
without the pro and con, which constitute it, reciprocally
destroying each other. What shall one call it in material nature?
EQUILIBRIUM, that will do, and for spiritual nature? MODERATION,
relative chastity, abstinence from excess, whatever you want, but
that is translated by EQUILIBRIUM; am I wrong, my master?
Consider it, for in our novels, what our characters do or do not do,
rests only on that. Will they or will they not possess the object of
their ardent desires? Whether it is love or glory, fortune or
pleasure, ever since they existed, they have aspired to one end. If
we have a philosophy in us, they walk right according to us; if we
have not, they walk by chance, and are too much dominated by the
events which we put in the way of their legs. Imbued by our own
ideas and ruled by fatality, they do not always appear logical.
Should we put much or little of ourselves in them? Shouldn't we put
what society puts in each one of us?
For my part, I follow my old inclination, I put myself in the skin
of my good people. People scold me for it, that makes no difference.
You, I don't really know if by method or by instinct, take another
course. What you do, you succeed in; that is why I ask you if we
differ on the question of internal struggles, if the hero ought to
have any or if he ought not to know them.
You always astonish me with your painstaking work; is it a coquetry?
It does not seem labored. What I find difficult is to choose out of
the thousand combinations of scenic action which can vary
infinitely, the clear and striking situation which is not brutal nor
forced. As for style, I attach less importance to it than you do.
The wind plays my old harp as it lists. It has its HIGH NOTES, its
LOW NOTES, its heavy notes—and its faltering notes, in the end it
is all the same to me provided the emotion comes, but I can find
nothing in myself. It is THE OTHER who sings as he likes, well or
ill, and when I try to think about it, I am afraid and tell myself
that I am nothing, nothing at all. But a great wisdom saves us; we
know how to say to ourselves, "Well, even if we are absolutely
nothing but instruments, it is still a charming state and like no
other, this feeling oneself vibrate."
Now, let the wind blow a little over your strings. I think that you
take more trouble than you need, and that you ought to let THE OTHER
do it oftener. That would go just as well and with less fatigue.
The instrument might sound weak at certain moments, but the breeze
in continuing would increase its strength. You would do afterwards
what I don't do, what I should do. You would raise the tone of the
whole picture and would cut out what is too uniformly in the light.
There is an equilibrium which Nature, our ruler, herself puts in our
instincts, and she sets the limit to our appetites. Great natures
are not the most robust. We are not developed in all our senses by a
very logical education. We are compressed in every way, and we
thrust out our roots and branches when and how we can. Great artists
are often weak also, and many are impotent. Some too strong in
desire are quickly exhausted. In general I think that we have too
intense joys and sorrows, we who work with our brains. The laborer
who works his land and his wife hard by day and night is not a
forceful nature. His brain is very feeble. You say to develop one's
self in every direction? Come, not all at the same time, not without
Those who brag of that, are bluffing a bit, or IF THEY DO
everything, do everything ill. If love for them is a little bread-
and-butter and art a little pot-boiler, all right; but if their
pleasure is great, verging on the infinite, and their work eager,
verging on enthusiasm, they do not alternate these as in sleeping
As for me, I don't believe in these Don Juans who are Byrons at the
same time. Don Juan did not make poems and Byron made, so they say,
very poor love. He must have had sometimes—one can count such
emotions in one's life—a complete ecstasy of heart, mind and
senses. He knew enough about them to be one of the poets of love.
Nothing else is necessary for the instrument of our vibration. The
continual wind of little appetites breaks them.
Try some day to write a novel in which the artist (the real artist)
is the hero, you will see what great, but delicate and restrained,
vigor is in it, how he will see everything with an attentive eye,
curious and tranquil, and how his infatuations with the things he
examines and delves into, will be rare and serious. You will see
also how he fears himself, how he knows that he can not surrender
himself without exhaustion, and how a profound modesty in regard to
the treasures of his soul prevents him from scattering and wasting
The artist is such a fine type to do, that I have never dared really
to do him. I do not consider myself worthy to touch that beautiful
and very complicated figure; that is aiming too high for a mere
woman. But if it could certainly tempt you some day, it would be
Where is the model? I don't know, I have never REALLY known any one
who did not show some spot in the sunlight, I mean some side where
the artist verged on the Philistine. Perhaps you have not that spot;
you ought to paint yourself. As for me I have it. I love
classifications, I verge on the pedagogue. I love to sew and to care
for children, I verge on the servant. I am easily distracted and
verge on the idiot. And then I should not like perfection; I feel it
but I shouldn't know how to show it.
But one could give him some faults in his nature. What ones? We
shall hunt for them some day. That is not really what you are
working on now and I ought not to distract you from it.
Be less cruel to yourself. Go ahead and when the afflatus shall have
produced everything you must elevate the general tone and cut out
what ought not to come down front stage. Can't that be done? It
seems to me that it can. What you do appears so easy, so abundant!
It is a perpetual overflow, I do not understand your anguish. Good
night, dear brother, my love to all yours. I have returned to my
solitude at Palaiseau, I love it. I leave it for Paris, Monday. I
embrace you warmly. Good luck to your work.
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