The writings of the brothers Goncourt are eclectic to say the least, associated with schools ranging from naturalism to japonisme and with genres ranging from novels and plays to art criticism and biography. As Edmond, the longer-lived half of the duo, explained a year before his death in 1896, what unified these diverse efforts was his and Jules’s zealous “religion de la réalité, de la vérité absolue, appliquée à l’humanité ou à la matière, dans la reproduction littéraire” (Goncourt and Goncourt, L’Italie iii).

But at the outset of their career, the brothers nurtured a different, even antithetical, sensibility. With several decades’ distance Edmond also recalled how, after the failure of their first book, En 18. . . (1851)—a collection of highly precious, loosely connected fictional vignettes that, published on the same day as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s December coup d’état,1 passed unnoticed by Parisian critics—he and Jules entered a period of...

You do not currently have access to this content.