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Germinie Lacerteux

Edmond de Goncourt

Jules de Goncourt


Germinie Lacerteux had a rough childhood in the French countryside, but when she finds employment as a maidservant in Paris her life seems to be taking a turn for the better. Her mistress Mademoiselle de Varandeuil treats her fairly, and in Jupillon, son of a local dairy-shop owner, she finds a secret lover. But her generous nature and self-sacrificial spirit make her vulnerable to his abuse and depravity. Her boundless love and loyalty will ultimately plunge her into debt, alcoholism, nymphomania, and depression—and a never-ending struggle to hide the dark side of her life from her mistress.

In this, their fourth novel, the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, took inspiration from events close to home: the passing of their maidservant Rose revealed her sordid hidden life, much like Germinie’s. They called the novel that arose from their shock and surprise at Rose’s secrets their clinic of love—and it was met with high praise and utter disgust alike. A young Émile Zola adored the novel, and Vincent van Gogh called it “life as it is,” making the book one of the subjects of a still life. Other contemporary writers were less enthusiastic, calling it “putrid” and “chiseled mire.” This could hardly have been a surprise to the Goncourt brothers, for they already warned in the preface: “this book furnishes entertainment of a melancholy, violent sort calculated to disarrange the habits and injure the health of the public.”

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