GONCOURT, Edmond (-Louis-Antoine Huot) de, and Jules (-Alfred) de (LITERATURE)

Edmond de Goncourt: Born: Nancy, France, 26 May 1822. Education: Educated at Pension Goubaux; Lycee Henri IV; College Bourbon; studied law, 1841. Career: Worked for the city finance department. Travelled through France and Algeria with his brother, sketching and noting impressions in their now famous diary, 1848-49; travelled to Switzerland, Belgium, and Normandy, 1850; contributed to the literary daily, Paris, and to Revue de Paris, 1852-53; travelled to Italy, 1855-56, and 1867; important collector and connoisseur of Japanese art. Bequeathed money to found the Academie Goncourt that awards the annual literary prize. Died: 16 July 1896. Jules de Goncourt: Born: Paris, France, 17 December 1830. Education: Educated at Lycee Condorcet and College Bourbon, Paris. Career: Travelled through France and Algeria with his brother, sketching and writing their now famous diary, 1848-49; travelled to Switzerland, Belgium and Normandy, 1850; contracted syphilis, 1850; contributed to the literary daily, Paris, and to Revue de Paris, 1852-53; co-founder, with his brother and their cousin, Pierre-Charles de Villedeuil, L’Eclair, 1850s; travelled to Italy, 1855-56, and 1867. Died: 20 June 1870.



Theatre. 1879.

Bibliotheque des Goncourt. 1897.

Collection des Goncourt. 1897.


En 18. . . 1851.

La Lorette. 1853.

Les Hommes de lettres. 1860; as Charles Demailly, 1896.

Soeur Philomene. 1861; as Sister Philomene, translated by Laura Ensor, 1890; also translated by Madeline Jay, 1989.

Germinie Lacerteux. 1865; as Germinie Lacerteux, translated anonymously, 1887; also translated by John Chestershire, 1897; Leonard Tancock, 1984; as Germinie, translated by Jonathan Griffith, 1955.

Renee Mauperin. 1864; as Renee Mauperin, translated by Alys Hallard, 1902; also translated by James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, 1904.

Manette Salomon. 1867.

Madame Gervaisais. 1869.

Quelques creatures de ce temps (stories). 1876.

Premiere amoureuse (stories). 1896.


La Nuit de la Saint-Sylvestre. 1852.

Henriette Marechal (produced 1865). 1866.

La Patrie en danger. 1873.


Salon de 1852 (criticism). 1852.

Mysteres des theatres, 1852. 1853.

Oeuvres completes. 21 vols., 1854.

La Revolution dans les moeurs. 1854.

Histoire de la societe frangaise pendant la Revolution. 1854.

Histoire de la societe frangaise pendant le Directoire. 1855.

La Peinture a l’exposition de 1855. 1855.

Une voiture de masques. 1856; revised edition, 1990.

Les Actrices. 1856.

Sophie Arnould, d’apres sa correspondance et ses memoires inedits. 1857.

Portraits intimes du dix-huitieme siecle. 2 vols., 1857-58.

Histoire de Marie-Antoinette. 1858; revised edition, 1859; revised, with letters, 1863; revised editions, 2 vols., 1873-74, 2 vols., 1880-82, 3 vols., 1881-82.

Les Saint-Aubin. 1859.

L’Art du dix-huitieme siecle. 11 vols., 1859-75; complete edition, 1875; as French 18th-Century Painters, edited and translated by Robin Ironside, 1948.

Les Hommes de lettres. 1860.

Les Mattresses de Louis XV. 2 vols., 1860; as The Confidantes of a King, translated by Ernest Dowson, 1907.

La Femme au dix-huitieme siecle. 1862; as The Woman of the 18th-century, translated by Jacques Le Clerq and Ralph Roeder, 1927.

Idees et sensations. 1866.

Les Vignettistes. 1868.

Deuxieme mille. 1886.

Gavarni, l’homme et l’oeuvre. 1873.

La Du Barry. 1878; revised edition, 1880; as Madame du Barry, translated anonymously, 1914.

Madame de Pompadour. 1878; revised editions 1881, and 1888.

Journal des Goncourt: Memoires de la vie litteraire. 9 vols., 1887-96; 9 vols., 1935-36; 22 vols., 1956-59; edited by Robert Ricatte, 4 vols., 1956: as The Journal of the Goncourts (selection), translated by Julius West, 1908; as Goncourt Journals 1851-70, edited and translated by Lewis Galantiere, 1937; as Pages from the Goncourt Journal (selection), translated by Robert Baldick, 1962; as Paris Under Siege, 1870-71, edited and translated by George J. Becker, 1969.

Armande, illustrated by Marold, 1892; as Armande, translated by Alfred E. Haserick, 1894.

Pages retrouvees. 1886.

Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (correspondence and journal), edited and translated by M.A. Belloc and M. Shedlock. 2 vols., 1894.

L’Italie d’hier: Notes de voyages 1855-56. 1894.

Selections, edited by Arnold Cameron. 1898.

Paris and the Arts 1851-96, edited and translated by George J. Becker and Edith Philips. 1971

Lettres de jeunesse inedites, edited by Alain Nicolas. 1981.


La Fille Elisa. 1877; as Elisa: The Story of a Prostitute, translated by Margaret Crosland, 1959; as Woman of Paris, translated by Cedric Harrald, 1959.

Les Freres Zemganno. 1879; as The Zemganno Brothers, translated anonymously, 1886; also translated by Leonard Clark and Iris Allam, 1957.

La Faustin. 1882; as La Faustin: A Life Study, translated by John Stirling, 1882; as La Faustin, translated by G.F. Monkshood and Ernest Tristan, 1906.

Cherie. 1884.


L’Amour au dix-huitieme siecle. 1875; as Love in the 18th Century, 1905.

La Duchesse de Chateauroux et ses soeurs. 1879; revised edition, 1892.

LaMaison d’un artiste. 2 vols., 1881; definitive edition, 2 vols., 1931.

Madame Saint-Huberty. 1882; definitive edition, 1925.

Lettres de Jules de Goncourt. 1885.

Prefaces et manifestes litteraires. 1888.

Mademoiselle Clairon. 1890.

L’Art japonais du XVIIIe siecle. 2 vols., 1891-96.

Outamaro, le peintre des maisons vertes. 1891.

A bas le progres!. 1893.

Le Guimard. 1893.

L’Italie d’hier. 1894.

Hokousai. 1896.

Lettres. 1930.

Edmond de Goncourt et Henri Ceard: correspondance inedite 1876-1896. 1965.

Gustave Flaubert-les Goncourt: Correspondance, edited and prefaced by Pierre-Jean Dufief. 1998.

Correspondance, with Alphonse Daudet, edited by Pierre Dufief with Anne-Simone Dufief. 1996.

Critical Studies::

Creation romanesque chez les Goncourt by Robert Ricatte, 1953; The Goncourt Brothers by Andre Billy, translated by M. Shaw, 1960; The Goncourts by Robert Baldick, 1960; Realisme et impressionnisme dans l’oeuvre des freres Goncourt by Enzo Caramaschi, 1971; The Goncourt Brothers by Richard B. Grant, 1972; Les freres Goncourt: Art et ecriture, edited by Jean-Louis Cabanes, 1997.

Edmond and Jules de Goncourt form one of the most remarkable literary partnerships that has ever existed. Jules had the greater literary talent, but died in early middle age of syphilis. His brother continued to write after his death, but generally with less mastery and success than the joint works.

En 18. . . , the first of their novels, is a slight work, recounting its hero’s disappointments in love. Les Hommes de lettres, later entitled Charles Demailly, is both a story of marital discord culminating in the husband’s madness and also a roman a clef vehemently denouncing unprincipled literary journalism. Soeur Philomene (Sister Philomene), a far less episodic novel, is notable for its bleak evocation of a hospital environment. Renee Mauperin, describing the shallow conventional life of a wealthy middle-class family, is marred by legal and historical inaccuracies which deny it any claim to narrow ”realism” in the sense in which that term is applied to Balzac’s work. Renee, seeking to prevent her brother’s marriage, involves him in a duel in which he is killed; grief-stricken, she falls into a lengthy decline (admirably described by the Goncourts) and dies. Germinie Lacerteux, modelled on the hidden life of the brothers’ own maid, resembles Sister Philomene and Renee Mauperin in that it concerns degradation and death; it tells of the heroine’s two secret love-affairs, the second more squalid that the first, and both unsuspected by her employer. Manette Salomon, a novel of artistic life, contrasts four types of artist and explores the (generally destructive) influence exerted by women upon artists’ lives. Madame Gervaisais, a study in religious mania, shows the destructive influence of Catholicism upon the lives of the heroine and her young son. Each of these works, so different in their ambience and subject-matter, was considered by the Goncourt brothers to be a venture into a new field of human experience; each was a challenge. Each was carefully documented, as when the two brothers spent six weeks in Rome gathering material for Madame Gervaisais. Whether actively seeking out such researched material or else modelling Germinie on the secret life of their maid, they looked upon the subject matter of their novels as ”history which might have taken place.” But this documentary aspect of their work was as far as their ”naturalism” went.

Their method of writing was unusual even by the standards of literary partnerships. So closely attuned were their ways of viewing and writing about the world that it is impossible to make precise attributions of particular passages; Edmond went so far as to write of their ”twin mind.” Jules, however, had a better ear for dialogue, where Edmond’s gifts lay more in the direction of scene-setting and background detail. Nevertheless, each chapter of each novel was separately drafted out by both novelists, who (living under the same roof and working in adjacent rooms) would then meet to compare and conflate their two versions: thus, one novel was made out of the best elements of each. But both wrote to a storyline that had been mapped out initially in fine detail by the two brothers working in concert.

Like Musset, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt were men of essentially artistic temperament: artistic in their leanings towards the visual arts, in which they took a keen interest. They even evolved a literary style peculiarly adapted to their purposes. This was the ecriture artiste, full of neologisms and the specialized vocabularies of medicine, art criticism, and other disciplines; its contorted syntax was meant to convey all the complexities and obscurities of contemporary life. Unjustly maligned by many critics, this ecriture artiste was a sort of literary mannerism in which all too often the manner of saying a thing seemed to predominate over the thing said. The very tortuous-ness of the Goncourts’ writing, febrile, hypersensitive, and so hard to translate, suggests inner torments: they claimed that the whole of their writing was based upon neurosis. Yet the sheer technical virtuosity of that writing must surely be deemed a literary quality in itself, and they strove to avoid preciosity at all times.

The brothers’ interest in the visual arts also found expression in the sharp focus of individual scenes. While the prevalence of dialogue suggests their desire to emulate the theatre, they foreshadow cinematic techniques in the way in which they move into the very centre and heart of the action as each brief chapter opens. These chapters are sometimes so visually concentrated as to resemble tableaux. In their rapid juxtaposition of colourful details the Goncourt brothers achieve a sort of impressionism, though Gautier’s influence upon them is also evident—not only in their literary practice but also (to a lesser extent) in their theory of the fine arts.

The Journal des Goncourt (Goncourt Journals), kept by the two brothers from 1851 until Jules’s death and afterwards by Edmond alone, is a store of information about such writers as Flaubert, Gautier, Zola, Daudet, Hugo, and Turgenev and about marginal historical figures such as Princess Mathilde Bonaparte. The very reverse of a confessional diary, it is crammed with anecdotes and has the deft touch of the gossip column, of which it is a main forerunner. A vivid impression is given of Paris at the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune. That part of the Journal for which Edmond was solely responsible (from March 1870 until July 1896) outshines even the joint diary; however, the four novels written by him alone— even La Fille Elisa (Woman of Paris) and Les Freres Zemganno (The Zemganno Brothers)—are but pale reflections of the brilliance of the joint novels.

Together with Zola, the Goncourt brothers are generally considered to be the founders of the French school of Naturalism. Earlier than Zola, they described sordid—sometimes pathological—subject matter, but always in brilliant painterly terms. They did much to pioneer novels of working-class life. They took great care to see, seek, verify, and investigate the facts, by which they generally meant the physical settings. The term ”naturalist” was not, however, a distinction they ever claimed for themselves. In Zola’s own words, ”the analysis of things artistic, plastic, and neurotic” was the heart of their achievement.

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