17 June (1845): Gustave Flaubert to Alfred LePoittevin

Having given up his law studies to care for his epilepsy and focus on his writing, Gustave Flaubert reflects optimistically on his reduced circumstances and confides anxieties about his love life.

Croisset, Tuesday night, half-past 10.

Back in my cave!

Back in my solitude! By dint of being in a bad way, I’m in a good way. I shan’t be wanting any change in my circumstances for a long time. What do I need, after all? Liberty and leisure, isn’t it so? I have deliberately weaned myself from so many things that I feel rich in the midst of the most absolute destitution. I still have some way to go. My sentimental education isn’t finished, but I may graduate soon. Have you sometimes thought, dear sweet friend, how many tears the horrible word “happiness” is responsible for? If that word didn’t exist we would sleep more serenely and live in greater peace. I am still prey, sometimes, to strange yearnings for love, although I am disgusted by it down to my very entrails. They would perhaps pass unnoticed if I could pay less attention to them; but I’m forever on the watch, spying on the workings of my heart.

I have had no return of the depression of five years ago. Do you remember the state I was in one whole winter, when I used to come to you Thursday afternoons after leaving Chéruel’s class, in my big blue overcoat? My feet would be soaked from the snow, and I’d warm them at your fire.

My youth has really been a bitter one, and I would not care to relive it. But now my life seems to be arranged in a regular way. Its horizons are less wide, alas!—less varied, especially; but perhaps it is the more intense for being restricted. My books are here on the table before me, everything is calm, the rain is dropping softly on the leaves, and the moon is passing behind the great tulip tree, a black silhouette against the deep blue sky.

I have thought about Pradier’s advice. It is good: but how to follow it? And where would I stop? If I were to take it seriously, and really throw myself into physical pleasure, I’d be humiliated. But that is what I would have to do, and what I will not do. Normal, regular, rich, hearty copulation would take me too much out of myself, disturb my peace. I would be re-entering active life in the physical sense, and that is what has been detrimental to me each time I’ve tried it. Besides, if it were destined to be, it would be.

… Adieu, carissimo—answer me soon, as you promised …



Read a review of Frederick Brown’s biography of Gustave Flaubert here.

Flaubert’s account of his close friend Alfred LePoittevin’s death can be found here.