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DE GONCOURT

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Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 232 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DE GONCOURT, a name famous in French literary history. EDMOND LOUIS ANTOINE HUOT DE GONCOURT was born at Nancy on the 26th of May 1822, and died at Champrosay on the 16th of July 1896. JULES ALFRED HUOT DE GONCOURT, his brother, was born in Paris on the 17th of December 1830, and died in Paris on the loth of June 1870. Writing always in collaboration, until the death of the younger, it was their ambition to be not merely novelists, inventing a new kind of novel, but historians; not merely historians, but the historians of a particular century, and of what was intimate and what is unknown in it; to be also discriminating, indeed innovating, critics of art, but of a certain section of art, the 18th century, in France and Japan; and also to collect pictures and bibelots, always of the French and Japanese 18th century. Their histories (Portraits intimes du X VIII' siecle (1857) , La Femme au X VIII siecle (1862), La du Barry (1878), &c.) are made entirely out of documents, autograph letters, scraps of costume, engravings, songs, the unconscious self-revelations of the time; their three volumes on L' Art du X VIII siecle (1859—1875) deal with Watteau and his followers in the same scrupulous, minutely enlightening way, with all the detail of unpublished documents; and when they came to write novels, it was with a similar attempt to give the inner, undiscovered, minute truths of contemporary existence, the inedil of life. The same morbidly sensitive noting of the inedit, of whatever came to them from their own sensations of things and people around them, gives its curious quality to the nine volumes of the Journal, 1887-1896, which will remain, perhaps, the truest and most poignant chapter of human history that they have written. Their novels, Swur Philomene (1861), Renee Mauperin (1864), Germinie Lacerteux (1865), Manette Salomon (1865), Madame Gervaisais (1869), and, by Edmond alone, La Fille Elisa (1878), Les Freres Zemganno (1879), La Faustin (1882), Cherie (1884), are, however, the work by which they will live as artists. Learning something from Flaubert, and teaching almost everything to Zola, they invented a new kind of novel, and their novels are the result of a new vision of the world, in which the very element of sight is decomposed, as in a picture of Monet. Seen through the nerves, in this conscious abandonment to the tricks of the eyesight, the world becomes a thing of broken patterns and conflicting colours, and uneasy movement. A novel of the Goncourts is made up of an infinite number of details, set side by side, every detail equally prominent. While a novel of Flaubert, for all its detail, gives above all things an impression of unity, a novel of the Goncourts deliberately dispenses with unity in order to give the sense of the passing of life, the heat and form of its moments as they pass. It is written in little chapters, sometimes no longer than a page, and each chapter is a separate notation of some significant event, some emotion or sensation which seems to throw sudden light on the picture of a soul. To the Goncourts humanity is as pictorial a thing as the world it moves in; they do not search further than " the physical basis of life," and they find everything that can be known of that unknown force written visibly upon the sudden faces of little incidents, little expressive moments. The soul, to them, is a series of moods, which succeed one another, certainly without any of the too arbitrary logic of the novelist who has conceived of character as a solid or consistent thing. Their novels are hardly stories at all, but picture-galleries, hung with pictures of the momentary aspects of the world. French critics have complained that the language of the Goncourts is no longer French, no longer the French of the past; and this is true. It is their distinction—the finest of their inventions—that, in order to render new sensations, a new vision of things, they .invented a new language. (A. Sr.) In his will Edmond de Goncourt left his estate for the endowment' of an academy, the formation of which was entrusted to MM. Alphonse Daudet and Leon Hennique. The society was to consist of ten members, each of whom was to receive an annuity of 6000 francs, and a yearly prize of 5000 francs was to be awarded to the author of some work of fiction. Eight of the members of the new academy were nominated in the will. They were: Alphonse Daudet, J. K. Huysmans, ,Leon Hennique, Octave Mirbeau, the two brothers J. H. Rosny, Gustave Geffroy and Paul Margueritte. On the 19th of January 1903, after much litigation, the academy was constituted, that of the Negus Yesu II. This was erected about 1736, at which time Gondar appears to have been at the height of its prosperity. Thereafter it suffered greatly from the civil wars which raged in Abyssinia, and was more than once sacked. In 1868 it was much injured by the emperor Theodore, who did not spare either the castle or the churches. After the defeat of the Abyssinians at Debra Sin in August 1887 Gondar was looted and fired by the dervishes under Abu Anga. Although they held the town but a short time they inflicted very great damage, destroying many churches, further damaging the castles and carrying off much treasure. The population, estimated by James Bruce in 1770 at ro,000 families, had dwindled in 1905 to about 7000. Since the pacification of the Sudan by the British (1886-1889) there has been some revival of trade between Gondar and the regions of the' Blue Nile. Among the inhabitants are numbers of Mahommedans, and there is a settlement of Falashas. Cotton, cloth, gold and silver ornaments, copper wares, fancy articles in bone and ivory, excellent saddles and shoes are among the products of the local industry. Unlike any other buildings in Abyssinia, the castles and palaces of Gondar resemble, with some modifications, the medieval fortresses of Europe, the style of architecture being the result of the presence in the country of numbers of Portuguese. The Portuguese were expelled by Fasilidas, but his castle was built, by Indian workmen, under the superintendence of Abyssinians who had learned something of architecture from the Portuguese adventurers, helped possibly by Portuguese still in the country. The castle has two storeys, is 90 ft. by 84 ft., has a square tower and circular domed towers at the corners. The most extensive ruins are a group of royal buildings enclosed in a wall. These ruins include the palace of Yesu II., which has several fine chambers. Christian Levantines were employed in its construction and it was decorated in part with Venetian mirrors, &c. In the same enclosure is a small castle attributed to Yesu I. The exterior walls of the castles and palaces named are little damaged and give to Gondar a unique character among African towns. Of the forty-four churches, all in the circular Abyssinian style, which are said to have formerly existed in Gondar or its immediate neighbourhood, Major Powell-Cotton found only one intact in 1900. This church contained some well-executed native paintings of St George and the Dragon, The Last Supper, &c. Among the religious observances of the Christians of Gondar is that of bathing in large crowds in the Gaha on the Feast of the Baptist, and again, though in more .orderly fashion, on Christmas day. See E. Rtippell, Reise in Abyssinien (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1838-184o); T. von Heuglin, Reise nach Abessinien (Jena, 1868) ; G. Lejean, Voyage en Abyssinie (Paris, 1872); Achille Raffray, Afrique orientate; Abyssinie (Paris, 1876); P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia, chaps. 27-30 (London, 1902); and Boll. Soc. Geog. Italiana for 1909. Views of the castle are given by Heuglin, Raffray and Powell-Cotton.
End of Article: DE GONCOURT
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