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No evocation of Parisian life in the second half of the nineteenth century can match that found in the journals of the brothers Goncourt
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.
About the Author
EDMOND DE GONCOURT (1822-1896) and JULES DE GONCOURT (1830-1870) spent the majority of their lives in Paris. Having attended the finest schools, the Goncourts formed one of the most famous literary partnerships. After an unsuccessful novel and some attempts at drama, they began publishing books on various aspects of art and society in eighteenth-century France. Between 1860 and 1869 the brothers published six novels which they described as “history which might have taken place” and which were as carefully documented as their historical works.
ROBERT BALDICK was a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, and of the Royal Society of Literature. He wrote a number of histories and biographies, and translated the works of a wide range of French author. He was a joint editor of Penguin Classics and one of Britain's leading French scholars until his death in 1972.
GEOFF DYER is the author of three novels, a critical study of John Berger, and four genre-defying titles. He lives in London.