Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (aka The Intimate Journals of Paul Gauguin) [Amazon (Routledge), Amazon (Art/Books), Amazon (Dover), Bookshop (Dover), Bookshop (Art/Books), Bookshop (Routledge), Publisher (Dover), Publisher (Art/Books), Publisher (Routledge), Local Library] by Paul Gauguin.
Paul Gauguin’s second prose work was called by him Avant et Aprés, and saw its first publication posthumously as a bound facsimile of the manuscript in 1918. These so-called Intimate Journals are the English translation, first published in 1921 with a preface by Gauguin’s son Emil. It would be reasonable to suspect that the shorter Noa Noa, subtitled The Tahitian Journal, was an excerpt from this Intimate Journals work, but they are entirely distinct. Emil Gauguin writes that this later work better captured his father’s spirit than did the more heavily edited Noa Noa; I certainly found it a livelier and more entertaining read.
The English title doesn’t really do justice to the text, the last of which was written in the last year of Gauguin’s life, while he was living in the Marquesas. To call it digressive would suggest a central course that is missing from a work that is “not a book,” as Gauguin declares at the outset and repeats many times. “I could exist without writing this; but then, why should I not write it?–since I have no other aim than to amuse myself” (161). The book wanders through reminiscences and anecdotes, offers opinions, philosophizes, and cracks wise by turns. Gauguin recounts high points from his personal experiences with Vincent van Gogh, he vituperates against the Catholic Church, he discusses fencing and boxing, he gives vent to his animus against Denmark, he tells stories of his youth and family, he criticizes the colonial police of French Polynesia, and he praises the lost arts of the Marquesans.
The book includes drawings and sketches reproduced from the manuscript, along with a variety of black-and-white reproductions of Gauguin paintings from the holdings of various museums. Inserted by Gauguin into the flow of the text are various letters and articles: one from August Strindberg declining to contribute to an exhibit catalog for Gauguin (42-49), one by Achille Delaroche “Concerning the painter Paul Gauguin, from an aesthetic point of view” (49-55), and several letters by Gauguin himself to the colonial authorities.
“I believe that life has no meaning unless one lives it with a will, at least to the limit of one’s will. … No one is good; no one is evil; everyone is both, in the same way and in different ways. It would be needless to point this out if the unscrupulous were not always saying the opposite.” (240)