My dear Theo,
I’m dropping you another line about it, to tell you that I do have hopes that the patient will get over it — although I do foresee that the consequences in the form of nervous problems could prove both serious and prolonged. Much — very much, depends on onlookers and family — who could actually do her no greater service than to treat her kindly as if nothing had happened or, if they can’t do that, just keep silent. I’ve had a long message from her today, and her brother1 tells me he’s heard too.
There are dangers from two sides here, Theo — on the one hand that a nervous crisis develops and flares up as, say, a nervous breakdown or brain fever. On the other hand there’s a danger of melancholia or religious mania. Now, though, because the patient was treated immediately after the first symptom, while furthermore she’s in a setting that couldn’t be more suitable for bringing a person in her condition back to her senses — as a guest — in private — with a doctor she’s known for a long time, him and his wife — for these reasons there’s hope  1r:2 that a crisis in one form or another can be forestalled or averted or neutralized by timely opposition — that it will blow over in the end, blow over in the form of continuing with this treatment for a while and then returning, calmed, to her normal life.
You will understand that this greatly agitates me, though, this whole episode, when I tell you how, in the very letter I received today, she says ‘that no one in her family understands her real mental struggle, that she’s trying to distract herself but that she can’t, and most of the time sits in her room with a book or something or other that she has got from me’.
I really don’t know how to deal with the B. family — they were very unkind to her at first — and even on the day she left by no means all of them were affectionate or even just good — although they didn’t actually know the truth. I then let her sisters2 know through her brother that I absolutely had to advise them to give their  1v:3 sister satisfaction for unfounded mistrust and certain unfounded suspicions, expressing which was firstly premature, secondly wide of the mark, thirdly nails in the patient’s coffin. This worked in so far as in the first place her sister-in-law, Louis’ wife,3 and in the last place her sisters, have sent a letter to the patient, which was a good deal more sympathetic in tone and a good deal gentler and better than their first utterance. Louis B. himself, who’s the only one in the family who knows all the ins and outs of the poison — although others suspect — but are contradicted by me and by Louis — who know rather more — from the outset Louis B. himself has acted resolutely and sympathetically towards her. As for you, if anyone who suspects were ever to question you as to whether you know anything about an attempted suicide, just stay cool. But anyway, no one will, except possibly Pa or Ma sometime.  1v:4
You do understand that when I wrote to you that it reminded me of a passage from Mme Bovary — this has nothing to do with the second Mme B., whom the book is actually about — but only the first Mme Bovary, about whom there is virtually nothing except that one thing, how and why she died — upon hearing bad news about her fortune.4 here the cause of desperation wasn’t bad news about her fortune, but the way they accused her of being too old5 and that sort of thing. Anyway — in a relatively short time, in about a fortnight or 3 weeks, it will become clear whether or not a dangerous nervous disease will manifest itself.
Regards, I’m still very upset by this. You’d better not mention it to Pa and Ma.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 459 | CL: 376
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Tuesday, 16 September 1884

a. Means: ‘Godsdienstwaanzin’ (religious mania).
b. Read: ‘Om iemand’ (for bringing someone).
2. The unmarried sisters who lived with Margot Begemann in the house called ‘Nune Ville’ at no. 24 Berg – the house next door to the Van Goghs’ parsonage – were Lutgera Wilhelmina, Wilhelmina Johanna and Amalia Polixena Rosina Begemann.
c. Means: ‘doe dan maar net of je van niets weet’ (just pretend you know nothing).
4. See for the ‘first Madame Bovary’ in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Moeurs de province: letter 456, n. 7. By ‘the second’ Van Gogh means Emma Bovary, the protagonist of the novel. She was Charles Bovary’s second wife. Emma finds no satisfaction in her dull, stifling marriage and embarks on intimate relationships, firstly with Rodolphe, later with Léon, but these only provide short-lived solutions. Dream and reality are irreconcilable. Eventually Emma gets into debt, sees her life as hopeless and commits suicide by taking arsenic.