|Self-portrait of Marie Bashkirtseff|
Only shortly before her death did Maupassant discover the identity of the correspondent who tells him in her first letter that she will always remain anonymous:
I read you almost with happiness. You adore the truths of nature and find a truly great poetry in them, all while stirring us with details of feelings so deeply human that we recognize ourselves in them and love you with a selfish love. Is that a flowery remark? . . . Be forgiving—the essence is sincere.
I’d obviously like to say exquisite and striking things to you, but it’s very hard, just like that, right now. . . . I regret it all the more in that you are exceptional enough for a person to dream very romantically of becoming your beautiful heart’s confidante, if indeed your heart is beautiful.
If your heart isn’t beautiful and if you “aren’t into that sort of thing,” I regret it most of all for you and then I’ll call you a manufacturer of literature and that would be it.
It’s been a year now that I’ve been about to write you, but . . . several times I thought that I was overrating you and that it wasn’t worth it. When, all at once, two days ago, I read in the Gaulois that someone sent you a gracious letter and you ask for this good person’s address to answer him. . . . I got very jealous right away—your literary merits dazzled me again, and here I am.
Now, listen closely to me, I will always remain anonymous (really) and I don’t want even to see you from afar—who knows? I might not like your looks. I know only that you are young and that you aren’t married, two essential points even in the blue of the clouds.
But I’ll have you know that I’m charming—this delightful thought will encourage you to answer me. It seems to me that if I were a man I would want no commerce, not even epistolary, with an old English hag, regardless of what might think
R.D.G. (Bureau de la Madeleine)