My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter, thanks for the enclosure. Now listen here.
What you write is all very well and good, and as far as fuss is concerned I’m beginning to be a bit better prepared to forestall it than before. No fear that Pa and Ma will leave, for instance. Although a call came just now.1 On the contrary, if they set about it the right way, Pa and Ma will be able to consolidate their position here.
Now there are people who say to me, ‘what were you doing getting involved with her?’ — that’s one fact. Now there are people who say to her, ‘what were you doing getting involved with him?’ — that’s a second fact. Apart from that, both she and I have sorrow enough and trouble enough — but regret — neither of us. Look here —
certainly  believe  or  know  for  sure  that  she  loves  me,
that has been sincere — has it also been crazy — etc.? Perhaps it has, if you like, but the wise people who never do anything that’s crazy, aren’t they even crazier in my eyes than I in theirs?
That can be said against your argument and other arguments.
I say all this simply by way of explanation, not hostilely or nastily.  1v:2
You say you like Octave Mouret, you said you’re like him. Since last year I’ve also read the second volume, in which he pleases me much more than in the first.2
I recently heard it said that ‘Au bonheur des dames’ wouldn’t add particularly to Zola’s reputation. I find some of the greatest and best things in it. I’ve just looked it up, and I’m copying out a few of Octave Mouret’s words for you.
You — haven’t you gone to the Bourdoncle side over the last 1 1/2 years or so?3 Would have done better to stick with Mouret; that was and still is my opinion. Aside from an enormous difference in circumstances, indeed diametrically opposed circumstances, I tend more towards the Mouret direction than you might think — as regards my belief in women and that one needs them, must love them. (Mouret says, ‘in our establishment, we love the customers’.)4
Think about this — and remember my sorrow about your saying that you had ‘cooled’.5  1v:3
I repeat more forcefully than ever everything I said by way of bitter warning against the influence of Guizot-ness, as I called it. Why? It leads to mediocrity. And I don’t want to see you among the mediocrities because I have loved you, indeed still love you, too much to be able to bear seeing you numbed.
I know it’s difficult, I know that I don’t know enough about you, I know that I may perhaps be mistaken. But anyway — just read your Mouret again.
I mentioned a difference between Mouret and what I should want, and yet the parallels. Look here. Mouret worships the modern Parisian woman — very well.
But Millet, Breton, worship the peasant woman with the same passion.
These two passions are one and the same.
Read Zola’s description of women in a room at dusk — women often already past 30, up to 50 — such a sombre, mysterious little corner.6
I find it magnificent, indeed sublime.
But equally sublime to my mind is — Millet’s Angelus,7 that same dusk, that same infinite emotion — or that solitary figure by Breton in the Luxembourg,8 or his Spring.9  1r:4
You’ll say that I’m not successful. I don’t care, vanquish or be vanquished,10 in all events one has emotion and motion, and they’re more similar than they appear and are said to be.
As regards this woman in question, how it must end remains a mystery to me, but neither she nor I will do anything crazy.
I fear for her that the old religion will numb and freeze her again11 with that damned icy coldness that has already shattered her once in the distant past to the point of death, long years ago. Oh — I’m no friend of present-day Christianity, even though the founder was sublime — I’ve seen through present-day Christianity only too well. It mesmerized me, that icy coldness in my youth — but I’ve had my revenge since then. How? By worshipping the love that they — the theologians — call sin, by respecting a whore etc., and not many would-be respectable, religious ladies.
To the one party, woman is always heresy and diabolical. To me, the opposite. Regards.

Yours truly,

Look at this from Octave Mouret12

Mouret says: ‘If you believe yourself strong, because you refuse to be foolish and to suffer! Ah, well — then you are nothing but a dupe, no more!’13

‘Are you enjoying yourself?’
Mouret seemed not to understand immediately. But, when he recalled their old conversations about empty foolishness and the pointless torment of life, he replied:
‘No doubt — never have I lived so much... Ah! old chap — don’t mock! Those are the shortest hours in which one dies of suffering!

I want her, I’ll have her!.... and — if she escapes me you’ll see the things that I’ll do to cure myself of it. You don’t understand this language, old chap; otherwise, you’d know that action contains its reward within itself — to act — to create — to struggle against facts, vanquish them or be vanquished by them, all human joy and health are there!’  2v:6
Just a way of deadening oneself — the other muttered.
‘Ah, well! I prefer to deaden myself. To die for the sake of dying — i prefer to die of passion than to die of boredom!

it isn’t only I who say this last,  after  all,
but she too, instinctively
that’s why I saw something grand in her from the outset, and it’s just a damned shame for her that when she was young she allowed herself to be overwhelmed by disappointments.
Overwhelmed in the sense that the Begemann family of the old religion believed it had to suppress the active, indeed brilliant principle in her, and made her passive for ever and ever.
If only they hadn’t broken her when she was young! Or if they’d left it at that and not driven her to distraction again!, this time with 5 or 6 or even more women fighting against her alone.
Do read L’evangeliste by Daudet about these female intrigues, which were different here but still of the same kind.14  3r:7
Oh Theo, why should I change? In the past I was very passive and very gentle and quiet — not any more, but I’m not a child any more either — sometimes I feel myself.
Take Mauve — why is he irascible and by no means always mild? I’m not yet as far as he is, but still I’ll get further than I am. I tell you, if one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie, and you said yourself in the past that it was a lie. That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.
You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.  3v:8
Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t’.
Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.
But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’ — they say.
Let them talk, those cold theologians.
Theo, I feel such damned pity for this woman, precisely because her age and just possibly a liver and gall bladder disorder are hanging so fatally over her head. And this is made worse by the emotions. Still, we’ll see what can be done or what’s made impossible by fate. I’ll do nothing, though, without a very good doctor, so I shan’t do her any harm.

Yet it was at precisely this time that it happened that I was asked to make a drawing or painted sketch for 20 guilders. Which I duly acceded to, but because I suspected, and on investigation found my suspicion was correct, that Margot Begemann was behind it and would have given me the money indirectly, I most decidedly refused the payment but not the drawing, which I sent.15 It’s not easy to refuse it, though, when one is sorely in need of money. But it would have been a bridge of asses — so —
Instead of bridges of asses — is there something better to do? I very definitely believe so. For your sake and mine and for many others, I wish that we could get Mourets in the art trade who knew how to create a broader, new buying public.
You’ll say, isn’t Tersteeg, for instance, a Mouret. Perhaps he is, after all.
But be that as it may, there are still new careers to be made, simply because the public that buys paintings could be multiplied tenfold, and this is becoming more necessary by the day.  4v:10
Were a few Mourets to emerge, who bought and sold other than according to the old routine, good, then there would be more and more work to be done.
But if no Mourets come — then — perhaps the trade should change utterly because the painters themselves revived it and started their own permanent exhibitions without the old intermediary. I wish you knew and felt how young you still are if you would only act young and be daring.
If you aren’t an artist in painting, be an artist as a dealer, just like Mouret.
For my part — at times like these, when I get completely stuck — I still feel that in a few years’ time I’ll happily dare take on a great many larger bills for paint and other things. I want to have a lot of work — believe me — I have no intention of being bored — do a great deal or die.16


Br. 1990: 467 | CL: 378
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, Thursday, 2 October 1884

1. On 2 October 1884 Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo at length about what had been going on. His account contains some interesting information: ‘We have had difficult days with Vincent again. Apparently he wanted to arrange a marriage with Margot, who proved not entirely averse, but it came up against insuperable objections, on the part of her family too. After news of the business started to leak out, Margot went to Utrecht, where she still is.
It’s said that the relationship has been broken off, but the friendship will continue. They still correspond constantly. The Dr she’s staying with also appears to have told V. that there are physical obstacles that make the affair impossible. At first V. seemed to be taking it calmly and I therefore ventured to be away from home for some days, while Wil was home. But this calm gave way to aggression and Wil was very worried by the feeling that he sometimes seemed to have been drinking.
She found drink in a field flask of his and this agitated her greatly and she wrote to Anna about it so that she could tell you. Still it turned out on investigation that it was more appearances than fact. But it gave Ma and me a reason to talk to him about it. You know that there’s really no talking to him because of the unpleasant tone he adopts. That was the case this time, too, but in the main that last objection was not, in our view, so serious.
Apparently he gives his models a drink when he’s out in the fields with them, and he said himself that he therefore occasionally has one too. That could be the case. According to what V. says, he sometimes takes a drink in the evening on the Dr’s advice because he has such sleepless nights. That remedy seems very unsuitable to us.
But the business with Margot continues to occupy him very much and he is rather depressed at the moment. We are doing our best to restore him to calm, which is the most important thing. But his outlook on life and his ways are so different from ours, that it’s questionable whether living together in the same place can continue in the long run. However we don’t want a real separation and are willing to tolerate and attempt everything to the utmost, if only he could become a bit normal. We do expect something to come of that in time.
There is also a plan that Van Rappard should come to see him and stay with us. We have even urged this; it could provide him with a distraction.
V. just received your registered letter. He told us that you advised him to do everything he could not to make our staying here impossible. We are hoping for the best.
Meanwhile he has noticed that we could leave here if we want to; the day before yesterday I received a call to go to Baardwijk, a village in the Langstraat, close to Waalwijk ... We have so much that is good here that it would be difficult for us to leave. Only if our relations with people were to become difficult because of circumstances, then it could come to it. There’s risk enough of that at the moment’ (FR b2257).
Mr van Gogh intended to discuss this call to the village of Baardwijk (North Brabant), on Tuesday, 8 October.
2. Octave Mouret is a character in Zola’s novels Pot-bouille (1882) and Au bonheur des dames (1883), which Van Gogh described as ‘the second volume’ (cf. letters 283 ff.). Van Gogh repeatedly refers to this owner of the department store ‘Au bonheur des dames’. Mouret is ambitious and competitive, and forces the small draper’s shops in his neighbourhood out of business so that he can build a large department store. Van Gogh values his modern and single-minded approach, which responds to the demand and focuses on expanding the clientele.
3. Bourdoncle is one of the managers in the department store ‘Au bonheur des dames’; he has a narrow, mediocre mind. When there is a temporary minor downturn, he fires staff for the smallest thing.
4. This passage was added later; the italics and emphasis are not in Zola. Unlike Bourdoncle, Mouret has a sensual nature and seeks as far as possible to meet the needs of Parisian women in the stock he sells in the store. At the end of Au bonheur des dames he marries one of his former shop assistants, Denise. Bourdoncle represents the businesslike, impersonal side, whereas Mouret is much more likely to be led by what his heart tells him. See for the quotation (originally with ‘les clientes’ rather than ‘la clientèle’): Zola 1960-1967, vol. 3, chapter 11, p. 699.
5. This term ‘cooled’ does not occur in the letters; Theo probably said it during his visit to Nuenen in August.
6. Van Gogh is referring to the description of a gathering in the salon of Octave Mouret’s mistress Henriette Desforges (Au bonheur des dames, chapter 3). Cf. Sund 1992, p. 278 (n. 20).
8. See for Jules Breton, Evening [1716]: letter 34, n. 11; and cf. Sund 1992 p. 278 (n. 19).
9. Jules Breton, La source (The spring) (present whereabouts unknown). Known as a photograph in the series ‘Musée Goupil’, no. 1000 (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 30 [30].
10. Taken from the quotation from Zola written out later in the letter. See l. 121.
11. It had previously been suggested that Margot might suffer from religious mania (letter 457). Margot’s involvement with the church must have been very considerable: she left the churchwardens 750 guilders so that the interest on it could be used to supplement the minister’s stipend. See Tralbaut 1974, p. 82.
12. The passages Van Gogh quotes are taken from a conversation between Octave Mouret and Paul de Vallagnosc in Au bonheur des dames. See Zola 1960-1967, vol. 3, chapter 11, pp. 696-699.
13. Van Gogh had already alluded to these sentences at the end of letter 458.
14. In Alphonse Daudet, L’évangéliste – Roman parisien (1883) the simple crochet worker Mme Ebsen seeks help from the Protestant community after her mother’s death. She is given moral and financial support by Mme d’Autheman who, however, holds extreme religious convictions. She abuses her position and embroils Eline, Mme Ebsen’s daughter, in her fanaticism. Through hypocrisy and deceit, Mme d’Autheman succeeds in taking Eline away from her mother.
15. Instead of ‘which I sent’, Van Gogh originally said: ‘which appeared to be satisfactory’ (die naar genoegen scheen te wezen). Drawings known to have once belonged to Margot Begemann are the watercolours Scheveningen woman sewing (F 869 / JH 83 [3031]) and Bleaching ground (F 946r / JH 158 [2379]) with Scheveningen woman (F 946v / JH 95 [3013]) on the verso. However, these are drawings that Van Gogh made in The Hague.
[3031] [2379] [3013]
16. A reference back to the quotation from Zola (ll. 125-127).