Mad, like Flaubert?

November 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sometimes as I work on fiction that neither literary agents nor judges of writing competitions are interested in, I do question what I am doing.  How long should I go on doing this? How long am I willing to be a failure?

I am not a misunderstood genius. No one slanders me or mocks me. And although Flaubert’s letter makes me smile, it does not make me laugh. Of course, the thought has popped into my mind: “I must be mad to continue with all this writing that no one wants.”

The other day I learned that a young man I knew at school had been interned at Saint-Yon (the Rouen insane asylum). A year ago I read a book of stupid poems by him; but I was moved by the sincerity, enthusiasm, and faith expressed in the preface. I was told that like me he lived in the country, secluded and working as hard as he could. The bourgeois had the greatest contempt for him. He complained of being constantly slandered and insulted; he suffered the common ordeal of unrecognised geniuses. Eventually he lost his mind, and now he is raving and screaming and treated with cold baths. Who can assure me that I am not on the same path?

Extract from Flaubert’s letter to Louise Colet, October, 1-2 1852



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