Early in December, 1877, having been notified by my mother that she could find nothing suitable for us in the Marseille area, we moved south, going to L'Estaque instead, where we took up residence at 29 Place d'Arc, in the southern section of the town. It was conveniently near motifs I was interested in and safely away from snoopers who might pass on information to the family about Hortense and the child. For some time now I had been thinking about the excellent views from the hillside overlooking the Bay of Marseilles, the panorama of clustered houses, the quay, and the extended jetties, stretching out like ruled lines on the blue-gray reflections of the water. Even though I felt relatively safe, the proximity of the family remained my greatest anxiety, and concentration, because of this, was difficult. I couldn't relax for a moment because I was conscious of the provincial love of scandal and I knew it would take only one false step to undermine my position. If this did happen, and my father got information about the deceit his errant son was involved in, it would be a crisis far more serious than any I had experienced before. Louis-Auguste was aware that something irregular was going on, that I was not telling the truth, and he was waiting for evidence to turn up which would enable him to put his finger on it. I was a frightened performer walking a fragile tightrope; I feared a disastrous fall; believing it would happen. My sisters, who were as bad as my father, were also waiting to pounce on me if something surfaced which disclosed the secret life I was living, and they were habitually asking questions about my life in Paris. Letters addressed to me at the house on the Rue Boulegon were opened, read by my father, making me terrified about the possibility of one of my friends inadvertently revealing my situation. It appeared inevitable that sooner or later a message from Zola, Alexis, Pissarro, Valabregue, or any one of the people who wrote to me, would provide the damaging facts of misspent and foolish life.
Life went on with the threat of this hanging over my head; I could think of nothing else as I restlessly tossed all night; each day, it seemed to me, became more unbearable, adding to the misery I had brought with me from Paris. When I ate with the family at the Rue Boulegon, I felt most vulnerable; the exchanges remained cool; there were no angry arguments with my father, only tirades of abuse about the life I had chosen; they were long, completely one-sided, and crushing. Louis-Auguste called painting "bourgeois shit," and used every epithet he could think of to denigrate the choices I had made to be a professional painter. "Artists," he growled, "are cretins and scabs who live off the sweat of other people's labor!" His fury peaked when a letter from Chocquet, revealing my liaison with Hortense, was intercepted by him, and read before the family as we were having dinner at the Rue Boulegon.
It brought on the crisis I had anticipated; he pounded the table, sending dishes off unto the floor, and cursed, the day I had been born. The violence of his reaction sent my mother and sisters to their rooms, fearful of what he might do. The two of us sat alone at the half-finished meal, he at one end of the long dinner table, and I at the other. I was silent, head down, as he vented his wrath, his face red with the effort, his fists clenched, and his body poised as if to-attack me. My humiliation and agony was complete; I was destroyed, detached from everything I had clung to over the years. In my distress, I couldn't envision life beyond this terrible moment; there was no place to go, nothing I could do, no statement or action which could alter the hopelessness of my difficult circumstances. I was crushed by my father's power over me, and I sensed, even in my distraught condition, that anything I said to protect my position was useless. I believed he was secretly pleased to have the opportunity to harass me; that it proved he had been correct all along, and that he saw it as an opportunity to rid himself of an obligation that was not acceptable to him. Also, in his mind, it justified any action he decided on, no matter how severe it was, or how it affected my life. It was inevitable that he would turn to his favorite tactic of reducing my allowance, something he did self-righteously, after he had exhausted his condemnation of my failures in life. Walking over to the window which looked out on the Rue Boulegon, Louis-Auguste turned, his face stern and unforgiving, and told me that from this point on, I was on a reduced allowance of one-hundred francs a month, emphasizing this as a generous gesture on his part. "Not a centime more," he shouted, "for whoring!"
The savage scene marked the lowest point I had reached in my relations with the family; it was no longer a question of going on; it seemed unimportant with things in their present state; trivial against the situation I faced in an economic sense when you consider, the obligations of Hortense and the child. The years of struggle were slipping away from me; I had no courage to face what this implied; and I had no answers about what I should do next. Money was the key to my future and it was controlled by a willful parent who had not accepted defeat in the battle of wills which had stretched out over half a lifetime. I retreated into silence in the days that followed, saying little, choosing to wait and deliberate over my problems rather than try some alternate move that could destroy everything I had worked for over the years.
It was a period of depression and passivity interspersed with panic, anxiety, terrifying in its implications. What could I do? I was powerless to help myself and I lacked the confidence to go it on my own; I was still a child standing before a dominant parent; I couldn't believe, befuddled by the desperation of my position, that I was dealing with an old man not fully in control of what he was doing. For me, he remained the powerful personality I had always known, just as I conceived of myself as the perpetual child, awed and obedient, head bowed, ready to accept guilt for my behavior. Facing the crisis of disobedience, particularly with my complete dependence on Louis-Auguste's money to continue on, drained my courage. No matter what I did, my fate was in the capricious hands of someone who hated what I represented and bore a grudge because he believed I had let him down.
He enjoyed the role, seizing every opportunity to harangue me for the mess I had made of my life, omitting nothing. There is no question that he had plenty of ammunition; he thought he had been right; and most people agreed with him. The long trail of failure behind me, my total inability to support myself, my disobedience, my long stays away from the family, and my silent resistance to his autocratic character, were the root cause of his hatred of what I had become. Louis-Auguste saw all facets of life in direct relationship to money, the making and spending of it, and he had no patience for anything else. "Art," he repeated again and again, "is for scoundrels who tremble at the mention of real work!" The terrible rages he developed in the weeks following his discovery of my liaison with Hortense were gone through over and over again, gaining momentum, and increasing in vehemence as the days ground on. "Show me an artist," he shouted, loud enough to bring neighbors to their windows, "who wouldn't starve without an honest soul to support him! They are all pimps and bloodsuckers, criminals who sponge on their families, parasites, who bite the hand that feeds them!" The brutal litany had become a dagger in my heart, going on with dreadful persistence, devastating me, making my existence a living hell. As I expected, Louis-Auguste reduced my allowance to one-hundred francs a month, and he forced me to humble myself by having to ask for it. Even the problems of the past, the lack of being able to buy essential items, the bitter, prolonged arguments with Hortense over the allotment of cash on hand, became insignificant in the face the present situation. In desperation I turned to Zola asking for a loan of sixty francs to get me through the month. I told him to send it directly to Hortense at Maison de Girard, Place de l'Eglise, Banlienne de Marseilles, where we had moved in panic when the family had learned of their existence.
In bad times like this, Zola had always been a lifesaver, the plank I which supported me when there was no other place to turn, when my problems pressed in on every side. This was no exception; he stood by me; a generous friend, and did so both financially and psychologically. The small sums of money he provided now were absolutely critical to being able to function. The help, moreover, was tendered without hesitation or condescension of superiority, simply handed over, and for once, without advice or moralizing. Beyond the communication with Zola, I had, no contact with other people, having no desire for casual conversation, and I had even lost interest in the news from Paris about the prospects for the fall Salon d'Automne. I felt humiliated by events; I drifted outside the social exchanges doing only what was necessary in this respect, a lost soul incapable of controlling the twists and turns of my life. I tried to seclude myself by spending most of my time far out in the field, not really concentrating on my painting, but seeking solace in the quiet distances of land, sky, trees.
I found a fragile peace this way, although the pain and humilation remained, haunting my thoughts, and with my mind frantically trying to arrive at a solution to my dilemma. When I was forced to return home, my father's tirades continued; degrading me in front of the family, and breaking my heart. My appearance was enough to set him off; he ranted, raved, cursed, until sheer exhaustion made him stop. His aim, it was clear, was to crush my spirit, to impress others in the family that disobedience to his will had dire consequences. My two sisters, in their way, were just as cruel, but the tactics they used were less blatant, more subtle, sharp in meaning, and oblique. Marie, in particular, with Louis-Auguste's character, made her points with coolness, sarcasm, disdainful silence, and sometimes, laughter, done in way to ridicule me. I was an outcast within the group; we were antagonists; both sides puzzled by the confrontation, and they had no idea of how to deal with me, nor I with them. I was a stranger they were compelled to live with, an alienated soul, powerless to assert myself. None of them would ever understand the choices I had made in life; I was trapped, I was tied to them, with no means of escape. Withdrawal from the mental pain of dependency was available in my work, but the neurosis brought on by the antagonism on every side stole this from me.
Living was a mystery, a weird happening, a form of torture imposed by a power beyond my control; I considered it strange that someone like myself with a grave reverence for the natural order of things, was incapable of dealing with adversities which beset me. The doubts about going on with my art fluctuated with each day: sometimes optimism returned but at other times the deep depression dominated blacking out everything else. Living had degenerated into fearful days and steepness nights punctuated by stomach aches and chronic muscle spasms which were extremely painful. When I did paint, I found concentration impossible; my mind was dominated by my troubles; by the terrifying possibility of losing the financial support of my father. It was a miracle, I believed, that a person so lacking in the skills of survival could even function at all.
In moments of unrelieved gloom, I turned toward religion, attending mass at Saint-Sauveur, but I found the monotony of the service with its Latin mumbling, uninspiring. The ingratiating attitude of the priests who knew my father was a rich man, making me a channel to the Cezanne bank account, was disgusting. The Church was the same as all the other unpleasant realities of life, I refelected, another useless appendage to a decadent social system which thrived on greed and hypocracy. This made me conscious of why I had gotten into so much trouble without committing a crime, being hurtful to other people, or doing anything which justifiably singled me out for the agony I was going through. My only transgression was to choose a profession in life in disobedience to my father, persisting in this despite enormous obstacles placed in my path, and in doing so, creating a situation that appeared to have no solution except the bending of my will to those who wished to control my life. The same was true in Paris where my painting was not judged on its merits, but on whether or not it conformed to the rules established by the Academie.
Often, as I pondered the long trail of anguish behind me, I asked myself if I could have been wrong; if the people who had criticized me were right in their estimates of the truth; that I had grossly interpreted my own talent; that I had willfully denied those who had my best interests at heart, and that I had followed my own ideas both arrogantly and without consideration of what the results would be. There was no way, obviously, to answer these questions; my degree of culpability had to be judged, if anyone was interested, by what I accomplished; unless, of course, you measure my degree of sin by considering the calamitous nature of my affairs. From my viewpoint, as far as painting was concerned, I had a vision of the future. Perhaps, as Zola had predicted, I had an exaggerated importance of myself in the scheme of things; that it would always be impossible to accept adverse opinions as long as I felt I was correct in my thinking. God only knows how much I've suffered from my bullheadedness; the discovery of the relationship with Hortense indicated there were more unpleasant surprises to come. The burdens I carried were the result of my own folly and nothing else; I hated the disastrous nature of everything I touched; I yearned for order; a situation where I could work without harassment.
Zola, in the crisis, was a tower of strength, my only resource, the one person who retained faith in me. The painting went on at Les Pinchinats, Vauvenargues, L'Estaque, and at the Bibemus Quarry, a kind of therapy which helped get my mind off my troubles. It was a phase of detachment, of lack of concentration, but I painted, and that was the important thing. I went through the motions of setting up at these various places, but after doing so, I usually sat down next to my portable easel and stared off into the distance, my eyes unseeing, my mind meditating. A kaleidescope of ideas preoccupied me, I thought of the events of my life, going over the details again and again. Decisions over what to do always came down to patience; my old reliable way of confronting insoluble problems; to wait and see what was going to happen. I knew Louis-Auguste couldn't maintain his hostile attitude forever, that he was bound to lose interest in disciplining me when something else came along to attract his attention. He had proved his point; he had shown everyone he was right, that I had been wrong. It was my hope that the tensions he had created for effect would eventually become boring to him as well as the others in the family.
I believed the tactic of waiting for the cooling-off was a practical way to deal with Louis-Auguste; it was apparent that any other approach would only provide further incentive for prolonging the encounter between us. The game went on with my being a civil as possible, never answering back when he denounced me; and waiting patiently for his mood to change. Gradually, almost imperceptively, there were less fireworks and even attempts on his part to be agreeable. As conditions improved, I made plans to bring up the subject of my allowance, seeking a propitious time to do so. If this was settled, I could take up my life where I had left off, return to Paris as a first step, and restore a reasonable balance to my routines. Nothing was certain with my father, however, a fact which rang warning bells in my head. Assuming that his change of attitude was permanent, that he would give in to my wishes, was wishful thinking on a broad scale. I was careful then in considering the wild swings of his moods, not to get my hopes up too high. Much depended on events in the forthcoming weeks; how other aspects of his life affected him, and, of course, whether he would relent after all the bitterness we had experienced between us. If everything went well: I prayed that it would; maybe things would work out in my favor after all ....
from Pour Moi, Cezanne