The journal of the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt is one of the masterpieces of nineteenth-century French literature, a work that in its richness of color, variety, and seemingly casual perfection bears comparison with the great paintings of their friends and contemporaries the Impressionists.
Born nearly ten years apart into a French aristocratic family, the two brothers formed an extraordinarily productive and enduring literary partnership, collaborating on novels, criticism, and plays that pioneered the new aesthetic of naturalism. But the brothers’ talents found their most memorable outlet in their journal, which is at once a chronicle of an era, an intimate glimpse into their lives, and the purest expression of a nascent modern sensibility preoccupied with sex and art, celebrity and self-exposure. The Goncourts visit slums, brothels, balls, department stores, and imperial receptions; they argue over art and politics and trade merciless gossip with and about Hugo, Baudelaire, Degas, Flaubert, Zola, Rodin, and many others. And in 1871, Edmond maintains a vigil as his brother dies a slow and agonizing death from syphilis, recording every detail in the journal that he would continue to maintain alone for another two decades.
The Goncourt brothers were pioneers in the realm of realistic, almost clinical fiction. But Zola, Daudet, Maupassant reaped the fame which the Goncourts considered as their due…They were pioneers also as historians of eighteenth-century society…Mr. Baldick…has written a terse and suggestive introduction for this handsome book.
— The New York Times
Not just a vivid, intimate chronicle of a thrilling time, it’s also full of moments of casual, withering brilliance…Geoff Dyer provides a suitably awestruck foreword.
— Evening Standard (UK)
A splendid record of the literary and artistic scene in the France of the time (Jules died in 1870, Edmond in 1896), with wonderful pen-portraits of famous contemporaries. This selection by the late Robert Baldick allows us to enjoy again such things as Edmund’s carefully-observed picture of his friend Flaubert, alone on stage after one of his plays had flopped.
— Sunday Telegraph (UK)
My favorite literary diaries are French: The Goncourt Journals—gossip about Flaubert, Zola etc. and Paris in the late 19th century.
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
It surely ranks as the most entertaining work of literary gossip of the nineteenth century.