My dear Theo.
If I said things in my last letter about her that are rather sombre, it’s because I wanted to point out from the beginning that I’m not living in a bed of roses but in reality. And to protest in advance against sentimental considerations of the kind Pa and Ma wouldn’t fail to suggest, if I were to ask their advice or merely to inform them of the matter. Sentiment and sentimentality are two very different things which they are unable to distinguish from one another. And if I were to speak of it, Pa would most likely think he had to play the part of policeman, which would be completely inappropriate and of little use.
So you’ll excuse me if I don’t breathe a word of this to Pa and Ma, and have no desire for them to interfere. If Pa refused to give his consent, there are legal provisions that guarantee me, as an adult, my independence, but I don’t think that Pa will go so far as to oppose it.
People will say, ‘you’re lowering yourself and you’re too poor’. To which I reply, If I were intending to set up house in style, it would end badly. If I go to live in a house consisting of a studio, 1 room and a little kitchen, a sleeping place in the attic, and, as regards my way of life, go about things very simply, it can be done, and two people living together need less than one alone.
One is certain of sinking separately, only together can one be saved.1 I asked Kee Vos if she would chance it with me. You know how I was refused, the only thing I asked for after that was to be received during my visit to Amsterdam. At that time I was told that I wanted to force the matter – she wouldn’t see me, wouldn’t speak to me, not only upon that one visit but during the 3 days of my stay there.2
If I’m told ‘you want to force the matter’, the only ones who say that, Theo, are those who completely misunderstand me. As proof that at the time I didn’t want to force the matter, I now do something which proves that I wasn’t confronting Kee Vos as one who wanted to force her.
The woman I’m with now understands me better. In a short time she became as gentle as a tame dove, certainly not by force on my part but because she saw that I wasn’t rough.
Anyway, this one understood, and she said to me, I know you don’t have much money, but if you had even less, I’d do anything if only you’d stay with me and let me stay with you, I’m too attached to you to be capable of being alone again.
When someone says this to me and shows in everything that she means it, much more through actions than words, it’s no wonder that in front of her I dropped the mask of coolness, and roughness almost, which I’ve long worn because I didn’t want to cajole.
Now then, is this woman worse off or am I worse off because it turned out this way? I’m amazed at the sight of her getting stronger and more cheerful every day, she’s so changed that she seems like a completely different person from the sick, pale woman I met this winter. And yet, I haven’t done much for her, I only said to her: do this, do that and you’ll get better – and she didn’t disregard it, and when I noticed that she didn’t disregard it, I tried even harder to do my best.
I was perhaps more able than others to understand her, because she has a couple of peculiar habits that many would find repellent.
First of all, her speech, which is ugly and which is the result of her illness, then her temper, which stems from a nervous disposition, causing her to have moods that many would find unbearable. I understand these things, they don’t bother me, and until now I’ve been able to deal with them. And for her part, she understands my own temper, and we have a tacit agreement, as it were, not to carp at each other.
If you know the large drawing from The Graphic by Frank Holl, ‘The deserter’, I’d say she closely resembles the female figure in it.3
She’s learning to pose better every day, and that’s extremely important to me.
She isn’t a burden, a millstone round my neck; instead, she helps and works with me.
She has no pretensions, I’ve got to have things just this way or that, and if there’s nothing but bread and coffee she makes do with that without complaining.
But Theo, I’m longing to see you and talk to you. I’m also very much looking forward to a letter from you. If I knew that you wouldn’t turn away from me for this reason, I’d be as happy as a person can be. It’s true that I’ll need some help in the beginning. If I had to do without it, I’d be badly off and so would she, but that help amounts to no more than is necessary for me alone. And my energy is increasing, and when I’ve done my best to succeed (naturally such a thing is now the case more than ever), and precisely by being able to count on your help and cooperation for a while longer, I’ll succeed to the extent that I’ll earn what’s necessary by selling my work.
The first step I’d like to take is to rent the studio next door, which I wrote to you about. As soon as she returns from Leiden I’ll marry her without telling anyone about it, quietly and without any fuss. And then we’ll be able to manage with that house and are prepared to live as simply as possible.
And if you were able to come and have a look, I believe you’d see that you can rely on both of us doing our best as regards work.
I only wish her confinement were already over. That will be an ordeal for her. But until now everything has been all right, since she’s been to Leiden.
Still, neither she nor I are living on a bed of roses or dreaming in the moonlight, we’re facing hard things – so much the better.
What I sincerely hope is that you won’t take this pessimistically. Obviously if Kee Vos had in any way reciprocated the feelings I had for her this wouldn’t have happened. Well, during my visit to Amsterdam, I was refused so resolutely that I didn’t have the slightest chance of winning her. Unless my financial circumstances were to change quickly and completely. Which won’t happen now, because even though I’ll eventually earn enough for this one to live with me, it won’t be so much that I can afford to occupy a station in life for which, moreover, I feel no calling or desire. You know what I’m seeking, the barest essentials, but anything more rather leaves me cold. What I’d like to have is a weekly wage like any other labourer, for which I’d work with all my might and powers of reason. And being a labourer, I belong to the working class and shall live and put down roots in that sphere more and more. I can’t do anything else and I have no desire to do anything else, I can’t imagine anything else. Adieu, with a handshake.