Letter to Zdenka Braunerová, 19 July 1902

Zdenka Braunerová, one of the first Czech modern women painters, passed through artistic generations as an ageless, sympathetic figure but also a distinctive artist in her own right. She openly voiced her views on both older and newer art, inspired young artists, and collaborated with many local and foreign figures, including Paul Claudel and Auguste Rodin. Her influence on many artists is evident from the numerous surviving letters in which writers, artists, and critics alike tell her of their plans, artistic experiences, and life's adventures, and emphasise her influence in transforming their worldview.

Bolehradice u Klobouk, 19 July 02

Dear Madam,
I received your letter yesterday, shortly before travelling to a place you may remember from the time when the remarkable landscape type of these parts moved you so, and when you tasted the strange, lithographic tenderness of the local colours and perspectives. As soon as I arrived, I went on one of those nocturnal walks that had once been a source of great artistic pleasure for me, and I returned, at a very late hour, somewhat puzzled by myself. Let me tell you why. My nerves registered the same sensations that had made me ecstatic a year before and whose unique charm had been my mirage and the colour undertone of all my moods and landscape lyricisms; but (and this is the curious part) the enchantment and warm excitation did not come this time.
Not perhaps as a result of some anaesthesia or repetition fatigue on my part. The impressions were the same, and the same degree of perceived beauty in them; but the sensation, that deeper inner impact, the emotional turbulence – I ask, in vain, where have they gone? I feel within me a kind of vast silence, impassivity, and terrible indifference which destroys all emotion. Indifference (you know it, perhaps – that emotionless indifference of those who have been severely afflicted and now must face the last evil blow...) – that is the only word that comes anywhere near to describing my condition. And not only in relation to feelings. My whole life, the crisis whose violent shock has recently struck me, the suffering that has come to an end, and the longing that has begun to grow – strange how I see it all now through the eyes of an uninvolved and completely disinterested outsider! As if it were not even my own self that is moving here... But the point is not to give you a precise description of my state and bore you with psychology. I don’t know what I would say in reply if someone asked me if I was alive. A few days ago, I threw away the possibility of diverting the flow of my life into another channel, where I would have undergone sterilization, though it would have helped me get better and enjoy some degree of real happiness. And it does not even seem to me that by rejecting that option
I actually made a decision about something as important (supposedly...) as life, my own life. That is how... irrelevant, how worthless it all seems to me –
And despite this lethargy and indifference, I plunged into work with a surprising, headlong intensity. I must, as quickly as possible, in a hurry, within a short period of which I do not know the endpoint, use up all my energies and mental capacities that have not yet been utilised. How I laugh at the advice people are giving me not to destroy my health that has already been damaged by an excessive workload! Today, more than ever, I stand by my only maxim: that the value of life lies in the intensity with which it has been lived, and that two or three months in which I consume all my energies at a hectic, breakneck pace are worth twenty or thirty years of slow, ordinary life! I feel that I have to say some words and say them in the shortest possible time. Because later – but what do I know about what may happen later? Every moment of life reveals its own purpose... Oh, I must work, hard and fast, so that nothing
that wants to live is left unborn!
But I am spending a long time telling you things that are confused and certainly dark – and that was not the aim of my letter. In fact, I am coming to you with a request, dear Madam. Based on my memories of that night, which You allowed me to experience so differently from the practice of everyday life that I hardly believe in its actuality anymore and begin to think of it as a fiction – a fiction of utmost beauty that made me drunk... Anyway, based on these memories, which have absorbed me exclusively ever since, I created a “fairy play”. It is in the style of my “Together Through Space” short story, which, if I may so hope, has some stylistic details which you have found intriguing. I shall finish this work in the next few days.
It is absolutely not intended for the public. That would be sacrilege. But like d'Annunzio, I dream of “one copy dedicated to one woman” – and I ask you to accept this honour.
You may turn me down. But I picture you reading it one night, on a similar night, in your Prague apartment – you alone, for I myself will not get more out of it than I already have, apart from a few unsettled, fragmentary, hurriedly and roughly styled preliminary remarks.
If you agree to read this “Conversation of a Night” – you will not find accurate realities in it. Life, typically very lacking in art, demands many concessions, and one moment of fragrant, warm content has to be compensated for by countless banalities. To cleanse memories of their accumulated dross and to convey in a lasting form the essence of past moments (with a glimpse of the emerging future, the seeds of which are contained in all our feelings, eternal by nature) – that is the law of art. But perhaps what I am offering you is not even a work of art; my intention was to capture the inner truth – that which should have been said and wanted to be said rather than what was eventually said...”
If you turn me down, naturally this work will cease to exist. No one can read it but you.
Awaiting your reply,
Utterly yours,
Subject: Others
Author: Marten, Miloš
Title: Letter to Zdenka Braunerová, 19 July 1902
Origin: Zdenka Braunerová collection
Licence: Free license

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