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Nuenen, 2nd half September 1884
I must write you again to tell you that I have fair hopes
the patient will recover, though I expect the consequences, in
the form of nervous trouble, will prove serious and of long
Much, much depends here on her surroundings and her family,
who, in fact, cannot do her a better turn than to treat her
kindly, as if nothing had happened, or if they cannot do that,
just keep silent. Today I have had a long letter from herself,
and her brother tells me he had also heard from her.
Dangers are threatening from two sides, Theo - on the one
hand there may be the formation of a critical nerve disease,
which may burst out in the form of multiple neuritis or
encephalitis for instance. On the other hand there is the
danger of melancholia or religious mania. But now, considering
that the patient was treated immediately after the first
symptoms, and that she is in an environment that is on ne peut
plus suited to bringing a person in her condition around - she
is the guest, private, of a doctor whom she has known for a
long time, and his wife - for all these reasons there is reason
to hope that a crisis in one form or another may be cut short
or diverted or neutralized by timely intervention - in short,
that the affair will fizzle out - which fizzling out would take
the form of her remaining under the present treatment for a
certain time and then returning, after having calmed down, to
the usual way of life.
You will understand that the whole thing upsets me greatly
when I tell you how, in that very letter I received today, she
says that “not one of her family understands her real
anguish of mind, that she tries to find distraction, but that
she hardly succeeds in this, and that most of the time sits
quietly in her room with a book or something or other that she
has got from me.”
I am blessed if I know what to do about the B. family - at
first they were extremely unkind to her - and even on the day
of her departure they did not act lovingly or even
good-naturedly, although in point of fact they did not know
what it was all about. Through her brother I have let her
sisters know that I was forced to advise them urgently to
apologize to their sister for their groundless and malicious
distrust and certain equally unfounded suspicions, which in the
first place it was untimely for them to express and in the
second place utterly erroneous and in the third place meant so
many nails in the patient's coffin. This has been
efficacious in that first her sister-in-law, Louis's wife, and
second her sisters sent the patient a letter, the tone of which
was a great deal more sympathetic and considerably gentler and
kinder than their first communication. Louis B. himself - the
only member of the family who knows all the ins and outs of
that poisoning - although the others have their suspicions, but
are regularly contradicted by me and Louis, who should know
more about it - Louis B. on his part has from the first behaved
practically, manfully and sympathetically toward her.
And as for you, if it should happen that one of the
suspicious ones should try to pump you about the suicide
attempt, well, don't let on that you have the slightest idea of
it. But for that matter, I don't think anybody will - except
perhaps Father and Mother.
You do understand, don't you, that, although I wrote you it
reminded me of a passage in Madame Bovary, there is nothing
here that had anything to do with the second Mme.
Bovary, who is really the heroine of the book, but only of the
first Mme. Bovary, of whom there is little more than how
and why she died on hearing bad news about her fortune.
Here the cause of the desperation was not bad news
concerning her fortune, but the way in which they reproached
her, telling her that she was too old and that sort of
thing. Well, within a short time, probably in a fortnight or
three weeks, it will be decided whether or not a dangerous
nerve disease will break out.
Goodbye, I am still quite upset by it. Don't speak about it
to Father and Mother.
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 2nd half September 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 376.
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