I recently submitted a book chapter for a volume on sports and French literature edited by my colleagues Roxanna Curto (University of Iowa) and Rebecca Wines (Cornell College). Though it has a lot of editing to still go through, here is a sneak peek of one of the paragraphs discussing Mérimée’s narrative La Vénus d’Ille:
While much has been made of those in the story who fall under the spell of the Venus, little has been written about the mystifying power of sport over both the narrator and the locals. Upon the conclusion of his victorious match over the Spaniard, Alphonse must leave for his wedding in a neighboring town. “Tous les joueurs de paume de la ville et grand nombre de spectateurs nous suivirent avec des cris de joie. A peine les chevaux vigoureux qui nous traînaient pouvaient-ils maintenir leur avance sur ces intrépides Catalans” (2: 108). Michel Serres sees Alphonse’s victory as confirmation of his deification making him a worthy spouse of the sculpture of the goddess. But Serres, like the Catalans, are caught up in the thrill of winning and fail to realize that Alphonse’s victory is a circus that masks the real event of the day, the marriage between Alphonse and Mlle de Puygarrig and the consolidation of the wealth in the region. Alphonse had described his fiancée to the narrator in these terms, “Le bon, c’est qu’elle est fort riche. Sa tante de Prades lui a laissé son bien. Oh! je vais être fort heureux” (2: 103), leading the narrator to remark, “Quel dommage . . . qu’une si amiable personne soit riche, et que sa dot la fasse rechercher par un home indigne d’elle!” (2: 104). But once he sees Alphonse’s athleticism, even the cynical narrator cannot help but join in: “Je ne sais quelle sottise je lui dis pour me mettre à l’unisson des convives” (2: 110). While the Roman “bread and circus” is here replaced with Catalan wine and tennis, Alphonse’s sporting exploits successfully cover a multitude of sins while mystifying villagers, the narrator, and even critics. They cannot imagine that a sporting hero could be anything but heroic in his other endeavors.
I’ll update you here as we make our way through the editorial process. I’m looking forward to reading a good volume from two excellent editors and a host of good contributors.