Alphonse Daudet, Autobiographical and Social Essays, Autobiography, Biography, Diary, Edmond de Goncourt, Emile Zola, French History, Gustave Flaubert, Journal, Jules de Goncourt, Pages from the Goncourt Journal, Robert Baldick
“I have drunk my fill, I have had my mistress. I am in that condition in which the monstrosities one has committed seem like children’s games. I am left with a craving which, in drunkenness outlasts love and copulation, a craving which shows all over a man’s face, in his mouth and in his flaring nostrils. How utterly futile debauchery seems once it has been accomplished, and what ashes of disgust it leaves in the soul! The pity of it is that the soul outlives the body, or in other words that impression judges sensation and that one thinks about and finds fault with the pleasure one has taken.
And these are the thoughts which occur to me.
The facts: nothing matters but the facts: worship of the facts leads to everything, to happiness first of all and then to wealth… Bonald’s maxim needs to be reversed: man is mind betrayed, not served, by his organs.
There are moments when, faced with our lack of success, I wonder whether we are failures, proud but impotent. One thing reassures me as to our value: the boredom that afflicts us. It is the hall-mark of quality in modern men. Chateaubriand died of it, long before his death. Byron was stillborn with it. The essence of bourgeois talent is to be gay. Voltaire spent his life taking an interest in something: himself.
There are moments of discouragement when glory seems as insignificant as the office of mayor of a little market-town.
Debauchery is perhaps an act of despair in the face of infinity.”
Leafed from the Pages from the Goncourt Journals, in an entry from July 30th, 1861.
While I’m a fan of the Goncourt brothers’ journals — with their lush descriptions of Parisian haut monde, their cameos from Zola, Flaubert, and Daudet — I’m never quite hooked enough to read more than a year’s long log in one sitting. Though usually sharp, their musings often stoop to ground level gossip. Two speakers capable of bold and intricate philosophizing about the everyday turn into whisperers about the Parisian upperclass.
The Goncourt brothers were a bit of a case: they wrote all their books together and never spent more than a day apart in their entire adult lives. Despite this apparent eccentricity, they seem to’ve met everyone, maintained many friendships, and been generally free of insecurities about their sibling issues. Their voices are entirely self-confident, even self-flagellating at times, and clear. It’s just that I don’t care about what went down at the spring 1889 revival of Henriette Marechal at the Théâtre-Français.
(By the way: I Googled “Chateaubriand bored” and found his truly heart-lifting remark, offered to friends while on the way to a popular theater production in Paris, “I am boring myself so as to relieve my boredom.” This reflects Schopenhaur: that boredom is the reflexive condition of mankind, that existence is a process of oscillating between discomfort and boredom. Flaubert wasn’t much better. He’s on the record as saying, at the ripened age of twenty-five, “I was born bored; it is my leprosy, which eats away at me. I tire of life, of people, of myself, of everything.”)
More from the great journals:
- My favorite journal (and one of my favorite books) of all time: the brilliant, unread journals of Jules Renard
- 29-year-old Charles Darwin’s diary entry about whether he should get married
- From Kierkegaard’s journals: life’s two paths to disappointment
- German theologian Rudolph Otto offers an arresting take on how age shapes how we see God in nature
- 23-year-old George Kennan uses his journal to lament that, even in the 1920s, the world is moving too fast
- The most devastating reflection in all the Goncourt journals: Edmond reflects on the afterlife in the wake of Jules’s death