The massive, gossipy Journal of the Goncourt brothers is one of the longest, most absorbing, and perhaps the most enlightening diary in European literature. It is the brilliantly observed, vividly recorded details that make the essential merit of the Goncourt Journal. It is a vivid and pungent piece of writing and an unforgettable thing to read. …
(see link at end) Edmond wrote many of his books in collaboration with his younger brother, Jules, including – extraordinarily – their diary. This is considered to be one of the finest of French diaries, for its entertaining and gossipy record of Paris’s social and literary life in the second half of the 1800s….Jules, the more highly strung and delicate of the two, suffered a nervous breakdown and died in 1870, possibly from a syphilis-related condition. Edmond continued sporadically to write further books on his own; he also hosted a literary salon. The brothers’ literary style is said to have been influential in the development of naturalism and impressionism….Today, the Goncourt brothers are remembered largely for their gossipy and informative diary. They began keeping a journal in December 1851.
Astonishingly, the brothers wrote the journal together, as one: astonishingly, for co-authorship of books is one thing, co-authorship of a diary is another. Robert Baldick, who edited and translated an English version of the diary in the 1960s (see below), described the co-authorship process as follows: ‘Jules usually acted as the scribe, with Edmond standing behind him and leaning over his shoulder, so that, as with their novels, it is impossible to attribute any entry to one or other: even when an anecdote clearly refers to the experiences of one brother, the recording of it may well have been modified by the other, in the process of what Edmond called their ‘dual dictation’.’…Read More:http://thediaryjunction.blogspot.ca/2012/05/journal-des-goncourt.html
There are other examples that come to mind that show the Goncourt’s had precedent. William Hickey was a middle-class Englishman who wasted his youth in delightfully riotous living, had an unexpected but not unmerited success as a British official in the East, and in his old age wrote , largely for his own and his friends’ diversion, a memoir of his life. Rakish, sometimes vulgar in a jolly damn-your-eyes sort of way, sometimes immensely funny, it is a contribution to the history of British India, and a mirror of English manners in the time of George III.
Ranke said that the historian’s job was to describe “how it really happened” ; but he did not explain what “it” was. And “it” can be either the majestic movement of diplomacy and war or the bewildering confusion of of immediate experience. Read a few chapters of something like Cambridge Modern History and you get a sober, balanced view of the reign of Charles II; but read Samuel Pepys and his diary , and you will be far morel likely to see how it really happened, how it looked, how it felt.
Pepys saw the fire of London as it burned; he suffered through the plague; he watched the scandalous behavior of Charles and his paramours, and was disgusted. Better than any historian, he makes us see the blaze , share the terror , gag with the disgust. The German scholar Aby Warburg was quoted as saying, “the dear God is found in details” ; the reason why the Goncourt Journal is such a precious piece of literature.
(see link at end)…9 March 1882
‘Dinner at Zola’s. A gourmet’s dinner, flavoured by an original conversation on matters pertaining to food and to the imagination of the stomach, at the end
which Turgenev undertakes to provide us with Russian snipe, the finest game-bird in the world.
From the food the conversation passes on to wines, and Turgenev, with that pretty art of description, with the artistic little touches which he alone of us all possesses, tells us about a draught of an extraordinary Rhenish wine drunk in a certain German inn.
First, the introduction into a room at the back of the hotel, putting distance between himself and the noise of the street and the rolling of carriages; then the grave entrance of the old innkeeper coming to be present, as a serious witness of the operation, at the same time as the arrival of the innkeeper’s daughter, a true Gretchen, with her hands an honest red, and marked with little white freckles, like the hands of every German school-teacher . . . and the religious uncorking of the bottle, spreading an odour of violet through the room; then, finally, the scene in all its details, described with the minute observation of a poet.
This conversation and the succulent food are from time to time interrupted by moans and complaints on our “beastly trade,” on the little happiness which good luck brings us, on the profound indifference which overcomes us for our successes, and on the annoyances which the least things opposed to our life can cause us.’