The Letters of Vincent van Gogh
A Critical Study
When he died at the age of thirty-seven, Vincent van Gogh left alegacy of over two thousand artworks, for which he is justly famous.But Van Gogh was also a prodigious writer of letters—more thaneight hundred of them, addressed to his parents, to friends such asPaul Gauguin and, above all, to his brother Theo. His letters have longbeen admired for their exceptional literary quality, and art historianshave occasionally drawn on some of the letters in their analysis of thepaintings. And yet, to date, no one has undertaken a criticalassessment of this remarkable body of writing, not as a footnote to thepaintings but as a highly sophisticated literary achievement in its ownright. Patrick Grant’s long-awaited study provides such anassessment and, as such, redresses a significant omission in the fieldof Van Gogh studies.
As Grant demonstrates, quite apart from furnishing a highlyrevealing self-portrait of their author, the letters are compellingboth for their imaginative and expressive power and for the perceptivecommentary they offer on universal human themes. Through a subtleexploration of Van Gogh’s contrastive style of thinking and hisfascination with the notion of imperfection, Grant illuminates gradualshifts in Van Gogh's ideas on religion, ethics, and art. Byanalyzing the metaphorical significance of a number of key images inthe letters, he draws out unexpected psychological and conceptualconnections, while also probing the relationships that become visiblewhen the letters are viewed together, as a cohesive literary product.The result is a wealth of new insights into Van Gogh’s innerlandscape.
A mature scholar and established literary critic, PatrickGrant is professor emeritus of English at the University ofVictoria. He is the author of Imperfection (nominated for the CanadaPrize), Literature, Rhetoric, and Violence in Northern Ireland, andPersonalism and the Politics of Culture among other works.
Preface and Acknowledgements
Introduction: Letters as Literature
Part I Vincent Agonistes: Religion, Morality, Art
Religious Convictions, Moral Imperatives
The Artistic Life and Its Limits
Part II Thinking in Images
Birds’ Nests: Art and Nature, Exile and Return
The Mistral: Creativity and Adversity
Cab Horses: Despair and Optimism
Part III Exploring with Ideas
By Heart: The Creative Unconscious
AHandshake Till Your Fingers Hurt: Autonomy and Dependency
Something New Without a Name: Beyond Religion, Morality, Art
Conclusion: “My Own Portrait in Writing”
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