Vincent van Gogh, Letters to Theo, November 10, 1881

…someone who lacks courage, or uses a won’t-commit-myself approach, or doesn’t dare stake his life with a smile, would be better off not even trying to win a real woman’s heart. From the very beginning of this love I have felt that unless I threw myself into it sans arrière pensée, committing myself totally and with all my heart, utterly and for ever, I had absolutely no chance, and that even if I do throw myself into it in this way the chance is very slight. But what do I care if my chance is great or small?

I mean, should I, can I, take that into account when I am in love? No, no reckoning up, one loves because one loves.

…Imagine what a real woman would think if she found that someone was courting her with reservations; wouldn’t she say something worse to him than “never, no, never!”? Oh, Theo, don’t let’s talk about it, if you and I are in love then we are in love, voilà tout. And we keep a clear head and do not becloud our mind, nor curb our feelings, nor douse the fire and the light, but simply say, “Thank God, I am in love.”

Again, imagine what a real woman would think of a lover who came to her confident of success. I wouldn’t give tuppence for his chances with someone like Kee Vos, and not for a hundred thousand guilders would I swap his chances for that “no, never, ever.”

…And that “never, no, never” is not as balmy as spring air but bitter, bitter, bitter as the biting frost of winter. “This is no flattery,” as Shakespeare would say. However Samson said something else: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.” And the question is very much whether Samson was not much wiser than I am. Proudly he seized hold of a lion and overpowered him, but could we do the same? “You must be able to,” Samson would have said, and rightly so.

…Still, that “never, no, never” has taught me things I did not know: 1. It has brought home to me the enormity of my ignorance, and 2. women have a world of their own, and much more. Also that there are such things as means of existence.


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