But I don’t write satires: I am ignorant even of the meaning of the word. I don’t write portraits either; it is not my style. I invent. The public, who does not know in what invention consists, thinks it sees everywhere models. It is mistaken and it degrades art.
This is my sincere answer, I have only enough time to mail it.
CLVII. To MADAME HORTENSE CORNU
Your devotion was alarmed wrongly, dear madame, I was sure of it! Here is the answer that came to me by return mail.
People in society, I reiterate, see allusions where there are none. When I did Madame Bovary I was asked many times: “Is it Madame X. whom you meant to depict?” and I received letters from perfectly unknown people, among others one from a gentleman in Rheims who congratulated me on having avenged him! (against a faithless one).
Every pharmacist in Seine-Inferieure recognizing himself in Homais, wanted to come to my house to box my ears. But the best (I discovered it five years later) is that there was then in Africa the wife of an army doctor named Madame Bovaries who was like Madame Bovary, a name I had invented by altering that of Bouvaret.
The first sentence of our friend Maury in talking to me about l’Education sentimentale was this: “Did you know X, an Italian, a professor of mathematics? Your Senecal is his physical and moral portrait! Everything is exact even to the cut of his hair!”
Others assert that I meant to depict in Arnoux, Bernard Latte (the former editor), whom I have never seen, etc., etc.
All that is to tell you, dear madame, that the public is mistaken in attributing to us intentions which we do not have.
I was very sure that Madame Sand had not intended to make any portrait; (1) because of her loftiness of mind, her taste, her reverence for art, and (2) because of her character, her feeling for the conventions—and also for justice. I even think, between ourselves, that this accusation has hurt her a little. The papers roll us in the dirt every day without our ever answering them, we whose business it is, however, to wield the pen, and they think that in order to make an effect, to be applauded, we are going to attack such and such a one.
Oh! no! not so humble! our ambition is higher, and our courtesy greater.—When one thinks highly of one’s mind one does not choose the necessary means to please the crowd. You understand me, don’t you?
But enough of this. I shall come to see you one of these days. Looking forward to that with pleasure, dear madame, I kiss your hands and am entirely yours,