She is capricious and fickle. She doesn’t have a single firm conviction. Yesterday she said that money is nothing, that the purpose of life is not money, and today she is giving concerts in four places because there is nothing on earth more important than money. Tomorrow she’ll say what she said yesterday. She doesn’t want to learn anything about her homeland; she has no political heroes, no favorite newspapers, no beloved writers.

She is rich but doesn’t help the poor. In fact, she often shortchanges milliners and hairdressers. She has no heart.

A thoroughly wicked woman!

But look at that virago when she is made-up, corseted and every hair in place as she approaches the footlights to begin her duel with nightingales and larks as they welcome the May dawn. Such dignity and such loveliness in her swan-like walk. Look at her; look carefully, I beg you. When she first raises her hand and opens her mouth, the crevices are transformed into enormous eyes, glimmering with passion… Nowhere else will you find such magnificent eyes. When she, my wife, begins to sing, when the first trills fly through the air, when I begin to feel my tumultuous soul quietening under the influence of those marvelous sounds, then look at my face and you will understand the secret of my love.

“Isn’t she magnificent?” I ask my neighbors.

They say, “yes,” but that is not enough for me. I want to destroy anyone who might think that this extraordinary woman is not my wife. I forget everything that came before, and I live only in the present.

Do you see what an artist she is! How much profound meaning she puts in every one of her gestures! She understands everything: love, hatred, the human soul… It is no wonder that the applause nearly brings the theater down.

After the last act, I escort her from the theater. She is pale, exhausted, having lived an entire life in one evening. I am also pale and fatigued. We get into the carriage and go to the hotel. In the hotel, without a word and fully dressed, she throws herself onto the bed. I silently sit on the edge of the bed and kiss her hand. That evening she doesn’t push me away. Together we fall asleep. We sleep until morning and wake up to curse each another…

Do you know when else I love her? When she is at balls or luncheons.  On those occasions I love the fine actress in her. What an actress she must be to get around and overcome her own nature the way she does! I don’t recognize her at those silly luncheons… she turns a plucked chicken into a peacock.

This letter was written in a drunken, barely legible hand. It was written in German peppered with spelling mistakes.

This is what she wrote:

You ask if I love that boy? Yes, sometimes. Why? God only knows.

He really is not handsome or likeable. Men like him are not born for requited love. Men like him can only buy love; they never get it for free. See for yourself.

He’s drunk as a sailor day and night. His hands shake, which is very unattractive. When he is drunk, he is ill-tempered and gets into fights. He hits even me. When he is sober, he lies on whatever is around and doesn’t say a word.

He always dresses very shabbily although he has plenty of funds for clothing. Half of my earnings slip through his hands, who knows where.

I’ll never check up on him. Accountants are so very expensive for poor married artists. Husbands receive half the box office take for their work.

He doesn’t spend it on women — I know that. He looks down on women.

He is lazy. I have never seen him do anything. He drinks, eats and sleeps. And that’s all.

He never graduated from school. In his first year, he was expelled from the university for insolence.

He is not a nobleman. He is the very worst — a German.

I don’t like the German people. Ninety-nine out of Hundred Germans are idiots and the last one is a genius. I learned that from a prince, a German with some French blood.

He smokes repulsive tobacco.

But he does have some good qualities. He loves my noble art more than he loves me. If they announce before a performance that I can’t sing due to illness  that is, if I’m acting up — he stomps around, clenching his fists and looking like death.   

He is not a coward and is not afraid of people. I love this quality most of all in people. I’ll tell you a little story from my past. It was in Paris, a year after I had graduated from the Conservatory. I was still very young and learning to sing. Every night I caroused as much as my youthful strength would allow. And, of course, I caroused in a group. On one spree, as I was clinking glasses with my distinguished admirers, a very unattractive boy I didn’t know walked up to the table, looked me right in the eye and asked, “Why do you drink?”

We laughed. My boy wasn’t embarrassed.

The second question was more insolent and came straight from the heart.

“Why are you laughing? These blackguards pouring you glass after glass of wine won’t give you a cent when you ruin your voice from drink and lose all your money!”

Such cheek! My guests became very upset. I seated the boy next to me and ordered him wine. It turned out that this worker from the temperance society enjoys wine very much indeed. A propos, I call him a boy only because he has a very small moustache.

I paid for his impudence with marriage.

Most of the time he says nothing. When he speaks, it’s usually just one word. When he uses a chest voice to say this word, it catches in his throat and his cheek twitches. He might say the word when he is sitting with some people at a luncheon or a ball… When someone — it doesn’t matter who — tells a lie, he raises his head, and without a glance and not the least bit ill at ease, he says: “Untrue!”

That’s his favorite word. What woman could resist the glint in his eye when he says that word? I love that word. I love the way his eyes shine and his face twitches. Not just anyone can say that fine, bold word, but my husband says it everywhere and any time. I love him sometimes, and that “sometimes” — as far as I recall — is when he utters that fine word. But really, God only knows why I love him. I’m a bad psychologist, and in this case, I suspect a psychological issue is involved…

That letter is written in French in splendid, almost masculine handwriting — and without a single grammatical error.

1882

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