Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (gohn-KOOR) began their writing careers with minutely detailed studies of the eighteenth century on such diverse subjects as the French Revolution, art, and women. They wrote several plays, although without achieving any great success on the stage. Their talent for documentation and observation can best be seen in their famous Journal: Mémoires de la vie littéraire (1887-1896, 1956-1959), which preserves an unparalleled view of social and literary life in nineteenth century France. After his brother’s death, Edmond continued the Journal by himself and also published studies on Japanese art.
The Goncourt brothers excelled at depicting the manners and morals of contemporary French society, both in their Journal and in their novels, which, at times, resemble sociological studies. They were among the first to describe realistically the unfortunate lives of the lower classes of society. The realism of the Goncourts was an important precursor of Émile Zola’s naturalism.
As historians, the Goncourts produced studies of eighteenth century painting that are still read by students of art history. In their Journal is preserved an irreplaceable chronicle of their own period in French history. Their most concrete achievement was the establishment of the Goncourt Academy, whose members still award an annual prize for literary excellence.
Baldick, Robert. The Goncourts. New York: Hillary House, 1960. A short critical assessment.
Billy, Andre. The Goncourt Brothers, translated by Margaret Shaw. New York: Horizon Press, 1960. A biography.
Grant, Richard B. The Goncourt Brothers. New York: Twayne, 1972. Contains biography, literary assessment, and bibliography.
Heil, Elissa. The Conflicting Discourses of the Drawing Room: Anthony Trollope and Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. A comparative study.
Ullmann, Stephen. Style in the French Novel. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1964. The Goncourts’ significance is assessed.