French writer Edmond Huot de Goncourt was born on May 26, 1822. He and his brother Jules were part of a circle of friends that included such luminaries of realism as Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, August Rodin, and Gustave Flaubert. Together, Jules and Edmond published several books and a journal. The books have largely passed into obscurity, but the Journal remains of interest for its pithy commentaries on life in Paris during the Seconde Empire. After Jules’ death in 1870, Edmond did publish several more books of his own. He died in 1896.
Their names are synonymous with the Prix Goncourt, awarded annually to a work of prose fiction. The most prestigious literary prize in France was founded by Edmond’s will in honor of Jules. The ten members of the Académie Goncourt meet on the first Monday of each month at the Drouant restaurant to discuss the latest literary works and develop their list of potential winners. The Goncourt winner is announced each year in early November. Now the Académie Goncourt also awards an annual prize for poetry, first novels, biography, children’s literature, and there is a Goncourt des Lycéensin which high school students and their teachers propose a list of exceptional literature. The monetary award is a symbolic ten Euros, but the winner also gets dinner for life at Drouant. What really makes a difference, however, is the boost in sales that comes with the prize. Book stores in France prominently feature a red strip around the binding of a book that marks it as a Goncourt winner. With that imprimatur, sales generally skyrocket. Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, and Marguerite Duras are some of the more illustrious past winners.
Today’s saying, Dieu a fait le coït, l’homme a fait l’amour (dyuh ah feh luh coE, lum ah feh lamoor) is a Goncourt brothers quotation from their Journal. It means “God made intercourse, but man made love.” You can see why they Journal was, and is, popular reading!