- Les Goncourt et la collection. De l’objet d’art à l’art d’écrire
This comprehensive volume examines the intellectual disposition of the Goncourts as collectors and writers within the social and historical context of the second half of the nineteenth-century in France. The author analyzes the collection as a sociological and cultural activity to show how, in the case of the Goncourts, it shaped their literary or artistic writing, their well-known and much studied "l'écriture artiste," the primary mark of their individualism as artists. The Goncourts were, as Pety's study makes abundantly clear, serious and reflective collectors. Her aim is to throw some light upon how closely linked their writing is to the concept of the collection as an ensemble rather than a mere accumulation of objects. The connection, in her view, is no mere coincidence because the common aim of all their writing displays an essential concern [End Page 429] to collect and to document their observations on life and art. Pety situates her probe of the relationship between the Goncourts' collection and their writing within the line of research on the collection represented by the sociological and historical work of Krzystof Pomian and Werner Muensterberger's psychoanalytical perspective, and more generally within the framework of current discussions on the status of works of art and the role of museums (Part 1, "La Collection et le musée," Chapters 1 to 3). To emphasize the "collection" as a unifying concept, Pety refers to the Goncourts' "collection," although as her study will make clear, the collection, which was ultimately housed in the brothers museum-like residence at Auteuil, was itself composed of several different major collections, each of which had its own specificity. For in addition to being dedicated collectors of eighteenth-century French prints, the Goncourts' were ardent bibliophiles, and later in life Edmond developed a passionate interest in modern Japanese pottery. The collection as an ensemble was written up by Edmond in his La Maison d'un artiste (1881), a unique and personal tour of his home and the aesthetic arrangement of its contents.
Part 2, entitled the "Le Livre et la bibliothèque," (Chapters 4 to 7) presents a fascinating portrayal of the lengths to which the Goncourts would go to establish themselves as innovators either as writers or collectors. As writers, of course, they had distinguished themselves as initiators of a new kind of literature with their naturalist novel, Germinie Lacerteux. During Jules's lifetime as their Journal shows, the Goncourts were not very interested in being recognized as bibliophiles because it evoked the image of a person who was out of date and out of touch with the modern world. Edmond found this retrograde image of the bibliophile unacceptable, however, and set out to create a new standard with his collection of modern literature. For that purpose, he commissioned a new form of book decoration for a series of works by his friends and the promising young authors who attended the literary salon in his home, the celebrated Grenier. Each book in this special library collection had a binding with a painted portrait of its author executed by a contemporary artist. Edmond thus created a personal model of the bibliophile that was more innovative, one in which old values ("prix de la lecture, culte de l'objet livre") were associated with a modern aesthetic that transformed it into a creative practice (173). Edmond's effort in this respect matched the brothers' efforts to transform the collection into a creative process to displace what they felt to be its inherent sterility.
The third part of Pety's tripartite study ("L'Ecriture artiste") opens with an examination of the collection as a paradigm in the formation of the Goncourts' aesthetics and its influence on the writing of their narrative texts (Chapter 8); it closes with an account of the evolution of Edmond's aesthetics and the final stage of his practice as a collector (Chapter 9). Because the Goncourts well-known...