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La Tristessa Durera

As readers of my Tumblr will have worked out, I have been reading The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I bought the book after I watched the stunning BBC drama Painted with Words. I read it on and off for a few months but in the last fortnight I've really committed to it and flown through the remaining 250 pages.

Throughout the letters, spanning 17 years, I found the most beautiful and honest descriptions of depression and mania I think I have ever read.  And I was moved by the sameness - the oneness - of human experience in this respect.  Vincent himself acknowledges, whilst in the asylum, that seeing others illnesses helps him understand his own and allows his fear of it to be calmed.  In this respect, and many others, I felt a deep affinity and emotional connection to him.  

I particularly enjoyed looking up paintings as he spoke about them to Theo and examining them through his eyes, instead of my own.  In particular I found the contrast between Entrance to a Quarry and The Reaper to be extraordinary; they were painted within a few weeks of each other and either side of, as VIncent terms it, 'an attack'.

The clarity of expression is astonishing and, appropriately enough, Vincent even provides a description for how I feel about reading his letters some 122 years later, when describing his reading of Shakespeare he says the following;

I read without wondering if the ideas of the people of those times were different from our own, or what would become of them if you set them over against republican and socialist beliefs and so on. But what touches me...is that the voices of these people, which in Shakespeare's case reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you know them and see the thing.

As I turned each page ever quicker as Vincent's quiet desperation and hopelessness begin to overwhelm him in the last 30 or so pages, I suddenly became aware what I was speeding towards; his end. It was at this point I began to cry. And then, as I read his last letter to his mother, wishing her 'happy days' with his brother Theo, Theo's wife Jo and their son, Vincent and speaking of his 'calmness' I cried more. Finally I read his business like final letter to Theo (to whom almost all the letters in this collection are addressed) which thanks him once again for some money sent and states that which he hints at in many letters - that Theo is also the creator of the paintings he has to his name and should also call himself an artist - I began to sob.

The postscript very nearly broke my heart as it stated what I knew of the circumstances of his death and told me something of Theo - whom I had come to 'know' through Vincent's warmth and love for him;

On 27th July 1890, Vincent went into the cornfields close by the chateau and shot himself with a revolver. Severely wounded he struggled back to the inn. At first it looked as though he might rally, although he was in dreadful pain. Theo was summoned from Paris. No attempt was made to remove the bullet. Vincent lay suffering for two days and finally fell into a coma and died in his brother's arms on 29th July.
Not long afterwards, Theo, in poor health and 'broken by grief', began to have hallucinations and violent headaches. He resigned from his job and had a complete breakdown. He died only six months after Vincent on 25th January 1891

The love between Vincent and Theo is absolutely beautiful - that Theo died so soon after Vincent is both terrible and inevitable.  At the end of the collection I feel his loss as keenly as I feel the loss of Vincent.


The other day I was reading the letters in the conservatory in the late afternoon sunshine.  Without meaning to, I drifted off to sleep for about an hour and a half.  The last thing I had read was a particularly vivid description of the colours in the landscape around Vincent's house and for that hour and a half I slept lightly, dreaming not in words or sounds or solid objects, but in colours.

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this entry was beautiful ♥
yes, this entry was indeed beautiful.