The Goncourt brothers may have been Proust’s favorite authors to parody, but that may be because they are such fun to read. Take these two journal entries, on the death of their beloved servant Rose.
It was this woman, this admirable nurse, whose hands our dying mother put into ours. She had the keys to everything she decided and did everything for us. For as long as we could remember we had made the same old jokes about her ugliness and her ungainly body, and for twenty-five years she had given us a kiss every night. She shared everything with us, our sorrows and our joys. Hers was one of those devotions which one hopes will be there to close one’s eyes when death comes…
Thursday, 21 August
Yesterday I learnt things about poor Rose, only lately dead and practically still warm, which astonished me more than anything else in the whole of my life; things which completely took away my appetite, filling me with a stupefaction from which I have not yet recovered and which has left me positively dazed. All of a sudden, within a matter of minutes, I was brought face to face with an unknown, dreadful, horrible side of the poor woman’s life.
Those bills she signed, those debts she left with all the tradesmen, all had an unbelievable, horrifying explanation.. She had lovers whom she paid. One of them was the son of our dairywoman, who fleeced her and for whom she furnished a room. Another was given our wine and chickens. A secret life of dreadful orgies, nights out, sensual frenzies that prompted one of her lovers to say: ‘It’s going to kill one of us, me or her!’ A passion, a sum of passions, of head, heart, and senses, in which all the unfortunate woman’s ailments played their part: consumption, making her desperate for satisfaction, hysteria, and madness. She had two children by the dairywoman’s son, one of which lived six months. When, a few years ago, she told us she was going into hospital, it was to have a child. And her love for all these men was so sickly, excessive, and overwhelming that she, who was the very soul of honesty, robbed us, yes, robbed us of a twenty-franc piece out of every hundred francs, and all in order to keep her lovers and pay for their sprees.
Then, after these involuntary offences, committed in violent contradiction to her upright nature, she would sink into such despondency, such remorse, such self-reproach, that in this inferno in which she went from one lapse to another without ever finding satisfaction, she started drinking in order to escape from herself, to postpone the future, to flee the present, to sink and drown for a few hours in one of those slumbers, those torpors which used to lay her out for a whole day on a bed on to which she had collapsed while making it.
And what did the unfortunate woman die of? Of having gone to Montmartre one night eight months ago, during the winter, unable to repress her curiosity, in order to spy on the dairywoman’s son, who had thrown her out; a night spent standing at a ground-floor window, trying to see who the woman was who had replaced her; a night from which she had returned soaked to the skin and mortally sick with pleurisy.
Poor woman! We forgive her. Indeed, seeing something of what she must have suffered at the hands of those working-class pimps, we pity her. We are filled with a deep commiseration for her, but also with a great bitterness at this astounding revelation. Remembering our mother, who was so pure and to whom we were everything, and then thinking of Rose’s heart, which we believe belonged to us, we feel something of a disappointment at the discovery that there was great part of it which we did not occupy. Suspicion of the entire female sex has entered into our minds for the rest of our lives: a horror of the duplicity of woman’s soul, of her prodigious gift, her consummate genius for mendacity. (75-76)