This book had to be retrieved from the 3rd floor page desk of the library, and the clerk clutched it to his chest, proclaiming, “It’s over 100 years old! We shouldn’t be circulating it.” Um, yep. I promised I’d take good care of the 1890 edition of Marie Bashkirtseff’s journals and zipped away before he could stop me. Oddly, I also picked up Van Gogh’s Dear Theo autobiography in the same trip, so found myself curled up with two vastly different introspections from nineteenth-century artists. Bashkirtseff (In The Studio, and The Meeting are two of her most well-known pieces) starts her journal from age 12 (scandal later hit when revealed that her birth date–1860? no, 1858– had been fudged by a few years to make her seem more of a prodigy) and undulates with tiresome teenage love drama. Thus I skimmed it with interest, and can’t really chalk it up into the “read” column, but want to record some of the bits.
Highly aware of her life and legacy, she writes a preface to the journals (sidenote– she dies of consumption at age 24/26):
When I am dead people will read my life, which to me seems very remarkable. Were it not so it would be the climax of misery… To live, to have so much ambition, to suffer, weep, struggle – and then oblivion! … oblivion… as if I had never been. Should I not live long enough to become famous, this Journal will be of interest to naturalists; for the life of a woman must always be curious, told thus day by day, without any attempt at posing; as if no one in the world would ever read it, yet written with the intention of being read…
After pages and pages of talking about how pretty she is:
It’s perhaps silly to praise myself so much; but authors always describe their heroine, and I am my own heroine. And it would be ridiculous to humble and abase myself owing to a false modesty. We may abase ourselves in speaking when we are sure of being lifted up; but in writing, everybody will think I am speaking the truth, and so they would think me plain and stupid – too absurd.
Perhaps I snapped the covers shut on this too soon because I’m also a journal-keeper, and her truth exposes my own weaknesses as well.
This Journal contains my whole life, my quietest moments are those when I am writing… I believe that there’s no photograph as yet of a woman’s entire existence, of all her thoughts, yes, all, all. It will be interesting.
I skipped ahead 400 pages to get a sense of her life in Paris as a painter. She’s battling sickness and hearing loss:
It is raining; it is cold, a sharp biting cold; it is dark. What is more, I feel like the weather, and cough incessantly.
Ah! what misery and what an atrocious existence! At half-past three it is no longer light enough to paint, and if I read at night my eyes are tired for painting in the morning. The few people whom I might see I avoid for fear of not hearing what they say. On some days I can hear very well, and not on others, and then it is a torment I cannot describe.
Her solitary ways flow into viewing art as well, something I wholeheartedly agree with:
I went to the Louvre. I always go there alone, knowing I shall not meet any acquaintances there on Sunday morning. One only sees properly when alone.
And that’s it. There’s 700 pages of this stuff, and I don’t have the stomach for it. Frankly, Van Gogh’s letters to Theo are drawing my attention right now, very hard to compare this against that. Not due to quality of art produced (i.e. fame) but more for the sentiment expressed in VG that seems hard to come by in Marie’s journal.
Discovered via Jane Marcus’s essay Art & Anger via Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing