In the second half of the nineteenth century, intellectual analysis became the driving force behind the art of fiction in France. In reaction to Romanticism, the new generation produced the realism of Gustave Flaubert and of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. Although no novel by the Goncourts can be compared to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857; English translation, 1886), the Goncourt brothers are credited with producing the precursors of the great works of naturalism byÉmile Zola. For these writers, the novel became a kind of critical commentary on human society and especially on the social structure of the Second Empire. The Goncourts tended to focus on the plight of a single individual, analyzing the hereditary and environmental factors that contribute to the particular conflict at the heart of each novel.
Charles Demailly, written nearly a decade after En 18, was the first of the Goncourts’ novels to receive serious critical attention. The hero, Charles Demailly, is a journalist for a newspaper called Le Scandale. Attempting to keep his personal integrity intact, he isolates himself from his cronies and writes a serious novel. At the same time, he marries an actor, Marthe, who turns out to be stupid and cruel and who destroys him with the help of a colleague in journalism who is envious of Charles’s literary success. Marthe’s betrayal causes Charles to go mad, and he ends up in...
(The entire section is 2887 words.)
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