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Pages from the Goncourt Journals

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  245 ratings  ·  38 reviews
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 pai
Paperback, 472 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by NYRB Classics (first published January 1st 1937)
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Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Hands-down the most entertaining book I've read all year. You need this in your life if you have any interest at all in French literature, the life of the mind, the creative process, or Gallic bitching on a monumental scale. Especially the last one.

Every page, and I mean every page, of this book contains one or more of the following:

1. A perfectly-polished aphorism;
2. An astonishing anecdote about a famous writer, or painter, or member of royalty;
3. A worm's-eye view of some major historical eve
Aug 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: life-writing
People died differently in the nineteenth century, and they took a long time doing it. The appalling deaths described in the Goncourt Journal are enough to make you get down on your knees and thank God and Pasteur for antibiotics. Henri Murger, author of the source novel for La Bohème, contracted something called ‘senile gangrene’ and literally rotted to pieces; when his attendants tried to trim his moustache, his lip came off. The journalist Robert Caze punctured his liver in a duel and spent m ...more
Lynne King
Having rated this book from when I read it years ago, I looked at the book again last night and have rated it upwards. It certainly deserves it.

I was reminded of this book this morning when I saw that Warwick is currently reading it.

I'm looking rather sadly at what was my magnificent Folio Society edition until Jasper, a labrador who loved to chew books unfortunately, decided one day that this was his flavour of the month and ate part of the protective outer covering the Folio Society use. Luck
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This 19thC "journal" hangs like a glittering chandelier over the Paris of 1851-1896, illuminating la comedie humaine that is recorded by, among others, the authors, Zola and later Proust. Of enormous vitality and breadth of interests, the Goncourt brothers Edmond (1822-1896) and Jules (1830-1870), present in remarkable detail a socio-sexual, literary and political document that is living history. Writing as one, until Jules died of syphilis, they stated: "Our minds see alike and we see with the ...more
Oct 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Roger Williams, in The Horror of Life, a book I love to hate and am always close to tossing, argues that of the brothers Goncourt, Jules was more energized by neurosis and misanthropy. After reading this selection of the Journal I'm inclined to agree. It seems that after Jules' slow death from syphilis in 1870, the book loses some of its bite. Initially I was a little bored with Edmond as the sole recorder, but he grew on me, and the entries of those twilight years are probably more memorable th ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french, nyrb
Oh, my dear Edmond, we have grown so close over these pages, and after all your eulogies for your compatriots who've died so tragically along the way, I shudder at the blankness of the page after the words: "Here ends the journal of Edmond de Goncourt, who died twelve days later at Champrosay." Your greatest passion, your driving force, was to be remembered after your death, that your marriage to literature would sustain a legacy, and yet, you died on a blank page.

Few outside of a French Litera
Emma Sea
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvellous book. Just pure enjoyment. I only wish a had a little walled garden and a daybed to lounge on while I read it, and a maidservant to bring me iced sweet tea and petit fours.


Although I have read numerous Prix Goncourt winners, and I goddamn adore Flaubert and Zola, I had never read any of the actual Goncourt journals. Now I wish I could slap my younger self about the face and thrust this book into my hands with an admonition to READ IT!

I can hear Nana's voice in the convers
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, biophilia
I thought this book might slow down a bit after Jules' death and the Commune of 1871 (such striking descriptions of a Paris embattled by the siege!), but it turns out that Edmond was perhaps the more sensitive observer of the two brothers, and his later years are perhaps richer in detail and painterly subtlety than the time when the journal was a product of two minds. I found myself mentally comparing it to Pessoa's Book of Disquiet, in the way that through fragmented recollections, scene-painti ...more
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a re-read for me -- and it came across just as well (and was just as surprising) as the first time I read it some fifteen years ago. I could only wish that the whole work were translated into English.

If you love French literature of the 19th century, this is an indispensable book to read and to keep handy. Fortunately, there is an excellent index in my edition (published by Oxford) which makes it all the more useful.

Reading the Goncourt Journal is like getting together for dinner with F
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Genuinely quite hilarious journal entries covering Parisian literary life for basically the last half of the 19th century, initially cowritten by the brothers Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, carried on by the latter after the death of Jules in 1870. Snobby but also gleefully and wittily intolerant of pretension and humbuggery, the brothers' world is that of Flaubert, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve and Théophile Gautier, who are not treated with excess reverence. This is giving me a lot more context ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic. This book gives you a real insiders view of Belle Epoch Paris. The Goncourts encounter Flaubert, Zola, Baudelaire, Saint Beuve, Degas, Huysmans, Turgenev, Mallarme, Hugo, Dumas and Verlain and mix portray the slums, streets, Theatres, Palaces and brothels of late 19th Century Paris. Wondefully vivid. A must read if you are interested in the history, culture and literature of this era.
Nov 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I became fascinated with the De Goncourt brothers when I was reading up on Impressionist painters and their time period, and the De Goncourts seemed to know everyone. This book allowed me a glimpse into their very strange lives, the bond they held together, and it's a very human look at the violent upheaval of their times, and the arts.
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Even just a few pages in, I'm inclined to rate this compendium of 19 c. Parisian life, as being very entertaining, indeed. The prose quality is rich, first of all. A high order of lucidity and expression for what purports to be a simply 'daily diary' of what-happened-at-lunch and what-happened-at-dinner. Did people really write like this, even in their private journals? Its extremely readable.

Beyond this basic observation--what is supreme about the journal--whether or not bits and pieces of it
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The stars in the firmament of 19th century French literature will lose some of their lustre when you read these very entertaining memoirs. The complaining figure of a pot-bellied Émile Zola, always jealous of others’ success, is completely at odds with my alternate image of him as the fearless champion of the causes of the working classes and of Alfred Dreyfus.

The book is mostly about men talking to men, and it reflects attitudes to women that will seem neolithic to most modern readers. The use
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Miniature portraits of the great French writers of la belle époque, no less wonderful for being ruthlessly satirical, jealous, and petty. The Goncourt brothers were friends with all that age's preeminent realists, and their lack of success in comparison to their famous friends makes them ideal windows into this particular overheated milieu; everybody is always getting better or worse in health and talent, and the terror of death by venereal disease is always mentioned. Particularly notable is th ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
What I knew about the freres Goncourt when I picked up this book is that a literary prize bears their name. Given their distinguished legacy, who could have ever imagined they'd be such a pair of catty gossiping bitches? They turn their condescending attentions on all the leading lights of their age -- Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, Hugo, and more -- and find none of them remotely as talented as themselves. Further disdain extends liberally to the bourgeoisie, those gauche usurpers encroaching on t ...more
David Hammerbeck
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An edited English-language compilation of selected entries from the Goncourt brothers, Edmond and Jules, novelists, playwrights, critics and member of the French literary elite of the mid- to late-19th century. They counted among their friends and confidants Zola, Turgenev, Flaubert, Alphonse Daudet, even Victor Hugo and very early on, Balzac. Their gossip and often sarcastic comments about other writers, their writing habits, and lifestyles are beyond fascinating - funny, scabrous, sentimental, ...more
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the great works of 19th century French literature. Sit at the Goncourt's dinner table with a bunch of syphilitics, who happen to be France's great literary geniuses of the age. Listen to them tear each other apart. Watch as one leaves and as soon as he is out the door and wheezing down the street, observe the others lean in and confess they don't think he's all he's cracked up to be. Nasty, ruthless and funny. The Goncourts manage to be thoroughly obnoxious yet never dull and if y ...more
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
*this review may relate only to this particular edition*

Footnotes, footnotes, where are all the FOOOOTNOOOOTES!

My first thought: Almost everyone has syphilis, or will get it sooner or later – what a time!

I was mentally prepared to find this tome difficult to read on account of unabashed sexism, nationalism, racism, antisemitism et cetera. Well, yes, it has those chancres in abundance (even the modern foreword isn’t free of them), but it’s absolutely worth reading for many reasons, humanity being not the least of them. It’s truly moving in places – particularly when Edmond describes the illness and death
Nov 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: students of Feminism
Recommended to Wayne by: the Fame of the Journals

'OFFENSIVE' ALERT !!!!...but no spoiler....

I feel compelled to clarify what some readers of this review understandably might see as an Offensive Remark re a Sexual Life. I can appreciate this reaction because the subject is too often seen as 'Private' and a sex-obsessed Church has made it into the Cardinal Sin.
These Monastic Romances, for these relationships were taken very seriously by the participants, were bred from a desperate loneliness and stifiled youthful desire; many left the Monastic L
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
fun little book.
I thought Jules’s narration was more colorful than Edmond’s.
I’ve a certain satisfaction in knowing that Zola was just as obnoxious a person as he was a writer.
Chuck LoPresti
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Goncourt Journals will appeal mostly to those that have read Zola, Flaubert, Daudet, Dumas, Turgenev and many other great writers living in France in the late 19th-C. It will also appeal to those that can tolerate a bit of gossip and a lot of death. Overall the book isn’t so horribly morbid but death does lurk though the majority of the entries. As I read in another review - where I can’t remember - you will be tempted to kiss your nearest doctor or biochemist for the medical advancements th ...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I went into this book thinking the Goncourt brothers’ journal would give me interesting insights into many of the artists of the Belle Epoque in Paris. There were some interesting insights, but for the most part I just got annoyed by the egotism, privileged whining, and character assassination. The younger brother Jules composed the early part of the journal before his death at a relatively young age, whereupon his older brother Edmond continued the journal. I don’t think the older brother was a ...more
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'm certainly a fan of books I can whip through thoughtlessly that don't present a lot of challenges to my known vocabulary or worldview for the sake of leisure. This is not one of those books. Despite that, I enjoyed it tremendously, if only because of the sense of wonder it provided me at each turn of the page at how drastically life has improved over these last 250 years through scientific, social and economic developments. Also it's quite funny in a mordant, Gallic way.
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: and-a-half-stars
I'm reading through a selection of Geoff Dyer's essays and ran into this one on the Goncourts:

It does express well what makes a collection that should be insufferable so compelling. I wouldn't want to hang out with the brothers Goncourt, but reading from the outside is great fun.
Jun 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Great book for a trip, or for the hospital--when you can't read continuously. Dig around in it to find interesting nuggets. Yes, obvious male bias, but of historical interest just because of that. Read between the lines...
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
inside gossip diaries from the two Goncourt brothers,
of the topical (politic) & literary & art world
mid-19th century France (1850 onward)
Coup's, adultery, & vanities of authors such as Flaubert, Baudelaire & Napoleon III, etc.
Lee Paris
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating read ! I can't remember what led me to want to read the journals of the brothers Goncourt - maybe I thought I'd get insight into the Paris of Balzac although it is the last half of nineteenth century in France - the period of the Second Empire (1851-1870) and the Third Republic : that is the world of the brothers Jules and Edmond, albeit after 1870 for Edmond alone and left grieving the death of his younger sibling. The personalities of the cultural and social elite of 19th ce ...more
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paris, in fact, is no longer the Paris of old, but an open city to which all the robbers of the world, after making their fortune in business, come to eat poor food and rub against flesh which calls itself Parisian. - 1889

This one is a feast of a time capsule.

The diary entries about the dinner parties are especially surreal, since the Goncourt brothers kept company with the likes of Flaubert, Dumas, Zola, etc.

To be sure, not everything here is profound. In between the gems (like above) you’ll fi
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Edmond de Goncourt was a French writer, literary critic, art critic, book publisher and the founder of the Académie Goncourt. He was born Edmond Louis Antoine Huot de Goncourt in Nancy.

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  Tami Charles is a former teacher and the author of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, and nonfiction. As a teacher, she made...
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“A sign of the times: there are no longer any chairs in the bookshops along the embankments. [Noël] France was the last bookseller who provided chairs where you could sit down and chat and waste a little time between sales. Nowadays books are bought standing. A request for a book and the naming of the price: that is the sort of transaction to which the all-devouring activity of modern trade has reduced bookselling, which used to be a matter for dawdling, idling, and chatty, friendly browsing.” 12 likes
“[He] went on to say that during all those years he had done nothing at all, that all he had felt had been a need to live, to live actively, violently, noisily, a need to sing, to make music, to roam the woods, to drink a little too much and get involved in a brawl.” 5 likes
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