My dear Theo,
You’re quite right to ask why I haven’t replied to you yet. I did indeed receive your letter with 150 francs enclosed.1 I began a letter to you, chiefly to thank you because you seemed to have understood my letter,2 and also to tell you that I only count on 100 francs, but actually find it hard to manage on it as long as things don’t progress. But nevertheless, if it’s 150 francs, there’s a 50 francs windfall extra in so far as our very first agreement before The Hague was only 100 francs, and if we’re only half good friends I wouldn’t want to accept more.3
However, I couldn’t finish that letter, and since then I’ve wanted to write to you but I haven’t been able to find the right words. Something has happened, Theo, which most of the people here know or suspect nothing about — nor may ever know, so keep as silent as the grave about it — but which is terrible. To tell you everything I’d have to write a book — I can’t do that. Miss Begemann has taken poison4 — in a moment of despair, when she’d spoken to her family and people spoke ill of her and me, and she became so upset that she did it, in my view, in a moment of definite mania. Theo, I had already consulted a doctor once about certain symptoms she had. 3 days before I’d warned her brother5 in confidence that I was afraid she would have a nervous breakdown, and that to my  1v:2 regret I had to state that I believed that the B. family had acted extremely imprudently by speaking to her as they did.
Well, this didn’t help, to the extent that the people put me off for two years, and I most definitely wouldn’t accept this since I said, if there’s a question of marriage here it would have to be very soon or not at all.6
Well Theo, you’ve read Mme Bovary; do you remember the FIRST Mme Bovary, who died of a nervous fit?7 It was something like that here, but complicated here by taking poison. She had often said to me when we were taking a quiet walk or something, ‘I wish I could die now’ — I’d never paid attention to it.
One morning, though, she fell to the ground. I still only thought it was a little weakness. But it got worse and worse. Cramps, she lost the power of speech and mumbled all sorts of only half-comprehensible things, collapsed with all sorts of convulsions, cramps etc. It was different from a nervous fit although it was very like one, and I was suddenly suspicious and said — have you taken something by any chance? She screamed ‘Yes!’ Well, I acted boldly. She wanted me to swear I’d never tell anyone about it — I said, fine, I’ll swear anything you want, but on  1v:3 condition that you vomit that stuff up straightaway — stick your finger down your throat until you vomit, otherwise I’ll call the others. Anyway, you understand the rest. The vomiting only half worked and I went with her to her brother Louis, and told Louis, and got him to give her an emetic, and I went straight to Eindhoven, to Dr van de Loo.8 It was strychnine that she took, but the dose must have been too small, or she may have taken chloroform or laudanum with it to numb herself, which would actually be an antidote to strychnine. But, in short, she then quickly took the antidote that Van de Loo prescribed. No one knows except her herself, Louis B., you, Dr van de Loo and me — and she was rushed straight to a doctor in Utrecht,9 and it’s been put about that she’s on a trip for the firm,10 which she was about to embark on anyway. I believe it’s probable that she’ll make a full recovery, but in my view there will certainly be a long period of nervous trouble, and in what form this will manifest itself — more serious or less serious – is very much the question. But she’s in good hands now. Still, you’ll understand how depressed I am because of this event.  1r:4
It was such a dreadful fright, old chap; we were alone in the field when I heard that. But fortunately at least the poison has worn off now.
But what sort of a position is it, then, and what sort of a religion is it that these respectable people subscribe to? Oh, they’re simply absurd things and they make society into a sort of madhouse, into an upside-down, wrong world. Oh, that mysticism.11
You understand that in these last few days everything, everything passed through my mind, and I was absorbed in this sad story. Now she’s tried this and it has not succeeded, I think she’s had such a shock that she won’t lightly try for the second time — a failed suicide is the best remedy for suicide in the future. But if she has a nervous breakdown or brain fever or something, then — — — Still, everything’s gone fairly well with her these first few days — only I fear there’ll be repercussions. Theo — old chap — I’m so upset by it. Regards, do drop me a line, because I’m speaking to no one here.


Do you remember that first Mme Bovary?


Br. 1990: 458 | CL: 375
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Tuesday, 16 September 1884

1. Theo’s remittance of 150 francs must have been the allowance for September.
2. During Theo’s visit the brothers had fallen out about Vincent’s behaviour: Vincent apparently lashed out ‘furiously’ at his brother one evening (see letter 458).
The fact that this was an eventful time, and that there were other things going on too, emerges in a letter Mr van Gogh wrote Theo on 22 August 1884. He had a feeling that there was something wrong, but didn’t know the details of it: ‘[Vincent] is overwrought, whether it is related to other things – I should almost think it is’ (FR b2256; quoted at greater length in the notes to letter 455, n. 3).
3. Op 2 April 1881 Vincent wrote to Theo: ‘I heard from Pa that you’ve already been sending me money without my knowing it ... in this way I’m learning a handicraft, and although I’ll certainly not grow rich by it, at least I’ll earn the 100 francs a month necessary to support myself once I’m surer of myself as a draughtsman and find steady work’ (letter 164).
4. Margot Begemann, who lived next door to the Van Goghs. Ill. 2124 [2124]. Mrs van Gogh ran a sewing class at home. When she was recovering from her broken leg, Margot took it over for her; that was in July 1884 (FR b2255). It was while his mother was laid up that the relationship between Margot and Vincent developed, as he himself says in letter 469. The suicide attempt must have happened a few days before Van Gogh wrote this letter.
5. Margot’s brother Jacobus Lodewijk (Louis) Begemann. He had a linen mill at no. 65 Berg, in other words close to the Van Goghs’ house.
a. Means: ‘mij heenzonden om het aanzoek twee jaar later opnieuw te doen’ (sent me away and told me to propose again in two years’ time).
6. Mr van Gogh did not tell Theo what he knew about the incident until 2 October 1884: ‘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’ (FR b2257). The rest of this letter is quoted in the notes to letter 464, n. 1.
7. In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Moeurs de province (1857) the provincial doctor Charles Bovary carries out his mother’s plan that he should marry the 45-year-old widow Heloïse Dubuc for her money. This ‘first’ Madame Bovary died from coughing up blood (see also letter 457) a week after Charles’s parents had demanded that she account for the fact that she had lied about her wealth. See Gustave Flaubert, Oeuvres. La tentation de Saint Antoine. Madame Bovary. Salammbô. Ed. A. Thibaudet and R. Dumesnil. Paris 1951, pp. 342-343.
b. Variant of ‘korte metten maken’.
8. Arnold van de Loo was a physician, surgeon and accoucheur. He set up in practice in Willemstraat in Eindhoven and was the Van Gogh family doctor, see also letter 423.
9. Margot may have stayed with Dr Petrus Johannes Idenburg and his wife Rosine Alexandrine Frederike van der Hegge Spies. They had lived at 238 Hamburgerstraat in Utrecht since 1 August 1883. The schoolboy Aart Begemann, Margot’s nephew, was also registered at the same address (GAU).
10. Margot was a partner in her brother Louis’s linen mill. Letter 469 tells us that when her brother went bankrupt she put her own money into the business. See also Tralbaut 1974, pp. 73-84.
11. In letter 457 there is a suggestion that Margot might be suffering from religious mania. See also letter 464, n. 11.