Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Goncourt Journal

I'm reading Pages from the Goncourt Journal. It's wonderful stuff – racy, prurient, snobbish, vindictive, funny, profound, etc etc. The range of tone and purpose is breathtaking. I want to quote at length – there's a beautiful passage early on in which the brothers comfort their cousin, who is in unrequited love, while looking after a vomiting prostitute in a hotel room at 4am – but the whole book, which is already a selection by the translator Robert Baldick, is worth quoting, and all I have time for now is these two nuggets on Napoleon, which manage to be both inane and deadly serious:

Charpentier told me today that according to Constant Napoleon was in the habit of rolling his excrement into balls between his fingers: a habit which bears a curious and horrifying resemblance to the similar cases, symptomatic of insanity, noted by Dr. Trelat.

Sainte-Beuve saw the first Emperor once: it was at Boulogne and he was urinating. It is, so to speak, in that posture that he has seen and judged all great men ever since.


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