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The brothers Edmond de Goncourt (born May 26, 1822, in Nancy; died July 16, 1896, in Champrosay) and Jules (born Dec. 17, 1830, in Paris; died there June 20, 1870). French writers.
The creative cooperation of the Goncourt brothers is unique in world literature. In the 1850’s and the 1860’s the Goncourts created—with a remarkable integration of two different literary personalities—novels, plays, studies of the history and art of the 18th century, and, finally, the Diary. Realistic and naturalistic principles of the artistic reflection of reality are interwoven in their works. Their interest in the depiction of contemporary life and their attempt to study it in detail and to convey it in their works is connected with the tradition of critical realism. The novel Charles Demailly (1860) shows the ruin of a talented man in the world of the corrupted press; in Renée Mauperin (1864) psychological analysis aids the exposure of bourgeois morals. In Soeur Philomène (1861) and in Germinie Lacerteux (1865), their best novel, the Goncourt brothers introduced the life of the “lower classes” into the sphere of artistic representation and pictured the spiritual world of the people of the “poor classes.” In the program introduction to Germinie Lacerteux the authors demanded the right to depict the tragedy of the common man. However, in proclaiming the slogan “a precise, documentary reproduction of life” in the novel, they arrived at passive observation and a naturalistic subordination to fact. Social pessimism and aristocratic indifference to politics led them away from the social conflicts of the epoch. Also inherent in the novels of the Goncourt brothers were a substitution of the typical by the everyday and of the social by the physiological, as well as an interest in pathology, all of which were characteristic of the naturalistic method. The naturalistic features were especially objectionable in their last cooperative novels, Manette Salomon (1867) and Madame Gervaisais (1869).
The main artistic achievement of the Goncourt brothers was the creation of an impressionistic manner of literature that conveyed the most subtle spiritual states and subjective sensations. By the mastery of their picturesque delineation and the expressiveness of their style the Goncourt brothers enriched the tradition of French prose. However, in their impressionistic descriptions people and objects often became only elements of a visual impression.
A retreat from the principles of realism is especially evident in the work of Edmond Goncourt after the death of his brother Jules. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, in addition to works on Japanese art (Outamaro, 1891; Hokusai, 1896), he wrote several novels, such as Chérie (1884), that revealed such features of decadence as asociality, character disintegration, and mannerism of style. His best work, the novel Les Frères Zemganno (1879; Russian translations, 1936 and 1959), is devoted to the fate of brothers who are circus artists.
The Goncourt brothers kept the Diary, which Edmond continued down to 1895; it was published in full from 1956 to 1958. The Diary contains an often subjective reflection of the literary life of the epoch and the aesthetic opinions of the Goncourt brothers and of their contemporaries.
The will of Edmond Goncourt provided that his wealth be given to the fund of an annual literary prize, which the Academy of the Goncourts awards to this day. The Goncourt Prize is one of the esteemed literary awards in France.
WORKSIn Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–3, 6. With an introduction by V. Gofman. Moscow, 1911–12.
Zhermini Laserte—Aktrisa: Otryvki iz dnevnika. Edited and with an introduction by N. Rykova. Leningrad, 1961.
Dnevnik . . . lzbrannye stranitsy, vols. 1–2. [Introduction by V. Shor.] Moscow, 1964.
Goncourt, Edmond. Aktrisa (La Faustin). Introduction by A. Efros. Moscow, 1933; Penza, 1957.
REFERENCESIstoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959.
Zola, E. Les Romanciers naturalistes, 2nd ed. Paris, 1881.
Billy, A. Les Frères Goncourt. Paris, 1954.
Baldick, R. The Goncourts. London, 1960. (With bibliography.)
Z. M. POTAPOVA