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Novels Published Under the Name “Georges Carpentier”

Brothers of the Brown Owl (1922)

It is unlikely that Carpentier played any genuinely substantive role in the composition of the first of the two novels published under his name, Brothers of The Brown Owl: A Story of the Boxing Ring, given the fact that the novel is written in English and gives no indication anywhere that it has been translated from the French (nor does there appear to be even a passing reference that would indicate that a French version ever existed).  While Carpentier did speak some English, it is fairly clear that any real proficiency he had in the language would likely have been acquired after his extended stays in England (1922) and the United States (1928-32). His time in the US in 1921 preparing for the Dempsey fight, for example, was spent to a great extent in his “secret” French-speaking training camp in Manhasset. And of course his 1920 American film, The Wonder Man, was a silent film that didn’t require that he speak at all. So completely aside from the fact that he had no experience as a writer and very little formal education, it is highly improbable that his English was such that he could have written a novel in that foreign language and certainly not as early as 1922, when Brothers of the Brown Owl was published.  

The content of the novel itself gives rather unambiguous indications, which were surely not lost on contemporary readers, that Carpentier could not have written it. Cultural allusions make it clear that the author was, if not British himself, as was almost certainly the case, profoundly familiar with a wide array of nuances about the culture. Carpentier had certainly spent some time in England by 1922 but it is highly unlikely that he could have developed the depth and detail of British cultural literacy that is displayed in the text.

Some readers may have duped by the use of Carpentier’s name on the cover but surely many were not: the power of seduction of that name outweighed any concern about whether or not he had actually written the novel.  The book was simply another product onto which the Carpentier name was affixed. Just as consumers cared little whether Carpentier actually used the line of pots and pans to which he would lend his name somewhat later, neither did they care whether he had written the novel bearing his name. Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize that because this was not a line of pots and pans but rather a novel, with a protagonist eerily evocative of Carpentier, it was not only the Carpentier name being marketed in this instance; it was the Carpentier persona, the Carpentier myth as well.  The newspapers had romanticized Carpentier into a heroic figure; the novel merely took that process one step farther by transforming the character so clearly based on Carpentier into a literal hero, who, by the end of the novel, has done more than his bit to save the world from crime.

It is apparent from the very first scene in which the protagonist, Henri Lamont, appears that he is a stand-in for Carpentier.  Lamont, a French boxer, is first described as “a tall, loosely built young fellow, whose thin, pale face suggested that a few good square meals would do no harm.” (6) He looks like a boy, “little more than that,” (14) and is “drawn and white.” (15) At least one of the illustrations of the book depicts Lamont as looking distinctly like Carpentier; both the pose and the general appearance of the Lamont figure in the illustration specifically bring to mind one of the more widely circulated photographs of him.

Somewhat improbably, Lamont proposes himself as an opponent for Ben Hatch, “one of the best light heavyweights in England.” (10) He assures a skeptical British promoter that he has “only been beaten once, and that was in Paris when [he] was quite a boy.” (9) Lamont has “pluck” and a quiet self-confidence “with no trace of bombast” that impresses the fight promoters.  Most significant, because it prefigures what will become the central theme of the novel, Lamont exudes an air of indefinable “gallantry”:

There was some fine gallant spirit here […] something not made of common stuff.  […] that kind generally fought till they dropped—in the ring and out of it. (16)

To top off this initial portrait, the author (whoever he may have been) does not fail to note Lamont’s Frenchness: “[…] he threw up his head with a little French gesture which was not theatrical because a Frenchman made it natural.” (16)

Thus within the first sixteen pages, any British or American reader who had read a newspaper within the year or two preceding the novel’s publication would easily have recognized Henri Lamont as Georges Carpentier, even without his name on the title page.  All the conventional Carpentier signifiers are in place in the introduction of the character: slimness, whiteness, boyishness, Frenchness, simultaneous confidence and modesty, innate aristocracy and gallantry.  The fact that Lamont began his ring career when he was “quite a boy,” in Paris, provides a bit of “back story” linking Lamont to Carpentier as well.

The contrast between Lamont and his opponent Ben Hatch evokes both Carpentier’s fight with Dempsey and his first fight with Beckett.  Lamont is “slender enough by comparison with Ben Hatch” and his pale complexion contrasts with that of the “swarthy man from the North.” (20) A later Lamont opponent, Jeff Ryan, evokes Dempsey even more clearly.  Not only is he American, he comes from the sort of rough-and-tumble frontier background commonly associated with Dempsey.  Ryan is described as a “simple child of nature,” who “had done a man’s job in the wild, uncultivated spots of the New World.”  Among other things, he “lived and fought in a Canadian lumber camp.” Ryan even looks like Dempsey:

[Jeff Ryan] filled his clothes as a hand fills a kid glove, and he radiated a suggestion of sheer physical power.  His face was the colour of old mahogany, tanned by a thousand suns, whipped by a thousand winds. (162)

The stark contrast between his appearance and Lamont’s is pure Carpentier-Dempsey, a virtual paraphrase of the 1921 newspaper portraits of the combatants.  Ryan is bronzed and wind-burn, a true “bruiser” who looks the part; Lamont is, in comparison, “a pale-faced boy.” (162)

The Lamont-Ryan fight, told over the course of thirteen pages, recalls some of the topoi of Carpentier-Dempsey. The result of the contest is of course the opposite of that of the Jersey City bout. In the fictional version, pugilistic savvy and scientific punching do win out over superior aggression and power--precisely what Carpentier fans would have liked to see happen in real life the previous year.  

Perhaps even more reminiscent of Carpentier-Dempsey is the final fight of the novel, with Jack Rollo, a fight that is characterized as “the one supreme effort of [Lamont’s] life” (271), in which he fights on gallantly despite excruciating pain. Readers in 1922 would have had little difficulty recognizing that Lamont’s pain and valiant refusal to let that pain stop him from giving a “supreme effort” were inspired by the Carpentier-Dempsey fight of the preceding year, in which Carpentier broke the thumb of his right hand in the second and round and fought on despite considerable pain and incapacitation for another two rounds. 

In fact, the entire second round of the fictional Lamont-Rollo fight recalls Carpentier-Dempsey.  In 1922, the dramatic second round, the moment in the fight when Carpentier almost won in Jersey City, would have been common knowledge.  The second round of the fictional Lamont-Rollo fight mirrors what really happened in the ring:

The second round had lasted less than thirty seconds when the fight ceased to be merely clever and became dramatic.  In a flash Lamont had altered his tactics and had gone in to mix it at close quarters, and before Rollo could readjust his ideas his head went rocking back from a heavy uppercut.  The punch had jarred and hurt, and for a moment Rollo had reeled dizzily, and in that same moment Lamont leapt forward and shot out his left.  If that punch had truly landed where it as meant to land the fight might have been won and lost in the second round; but Rollo was no ready victim for such a quick rush as this, and he ducked cleverly and fell into a clinch, getting a few moments’ precious respite before the break was effected. (260)

The phrase “if that punch had truly landed where it was meant to land the fight might have been won and lost in the second round” could have been lifted directly from a newspaper account of Carpentier-Dempsey. Rollo’s clever move of clinching with Lamont in order to get a “few moments’ precious respite” after having been jarred was exactly the response Dempsey had to Carpentier’s famous right hand. The difference is of course that the fictional Lamont is able (thanks to a mysterious gypsy ointment of some kind that temporarily numbs the debilitating pain in his arm) to pull off a truly miraculous victory, while Carpentier suffered the much more probable outcome of a definitive defeat fairly quickly after his second-round injury took place.

Lamont is not merely a skillful, canny and courageous boxer, however. Following his KO of Ryan, he displays his chivalrous side by picking up his fallen opponent and carrying him to his corner:

Lamont helped to carry Ryan to his corner, and stayed with him until those ferrety little eyes opened and Ryan peered up at the man who had knocked him out with an oddly incredulous expression.  But, with all his faults and foibles, there was assuredly something of simple good sportsmanship in Jeff Ryan, for he held out his hand and muttered: “Good for you, sonny. I give you best.”

Lamont gripped the hand, and because he was a Frenchman, who could feel the drama of things, there were tears in his eyes just then.

“I wish we both could have won,” he said impulsively. (197-98)

Admirers of Carpentier (and it is logical to assume that they constituted the quasi-totality of readers of Brothers of the Brown Owl) recognized their hero in this poignant scene of fraternal concern, Gallic sensitivity and extreme sportsmanship their hero. The real Carpentier may or may not have actually been quite so gallant, but the mythical Carpentier created by hyperbolic newspaper writers of 1920 and 1921 certainly was.  Henri Lamont is not so much a fictional version of the real Carpentier as he is a fictional version of the mythical figure Carpentier as constructed by newspaper writers. In fact, the novel itself at least touches on this question, when it points out the “drama” of Lamont’s career as represented at length in the British press:

The fight itself had been so full of drama that there was sufficient in that to fill every column of every London daily, and Lamont was lauded to the skies as much for his pluck as his skill. (141)

In the novel, as in real life, British fans and non-fans alike begin to respond to the tales of the stalwart young Frenchman in the ongoing serial written by the newspapermen:

All sporting England was talking of the match for the championship between Jack Rollo and Henri Lamont.  For there was something of romance about the young Frenchman’s career which appealed to men not ordinarily interested in the great game of the ring. (215)

“Romance” was a word often used in reference to Carpentier’s story and, as is the case here for the fictional Lamont, it was indeed that “romance” that won him many fans who would otherwise have never taken any interest in boxing.  Theirs was less an athletic than a literary interest. In the novel, there are a series of incidents outside the ring in which Lamont plays the role of melodramatic hero to the hilt: he saves the life of a wealthy young boxing fan/man-about-town; he pulls a little girl from the fireplace into which she has fallen (and burns his own arm, on the eve of one of his biggest fights—in a scene that is straight from a silent-film melodrama); and he provides the information that eventually leads to the downfall of the dastardly international crime organization known as The Brothers of the Brown Owl.

Furthermore, the sheer charm Lamont exercises on spectators is extreme and far exceeds the bounds of admiration for his pugilistic prowess or even his heroism.  As was the case for real-life Carpentier fans, fans at ringside are literally awe-struck by the sight of him.  Promoter Frank Herrick is actually “moved” on seeing Lamont in action for the first time, because he recognizes not only his money-making potential but a distinct yet ineffable quality of “gallantry” in him:

Frank Herrick sat alone, and his face had gone quite white.  This was a wonderful thing for himself, but just then he was not thinking of himself; he was oddly moved by what he had seen, oddly moved by the fine gallantry of this pale-faced boy who was so splendidly justifying himself in that roped ring.  This was more than mere fighting. (22)

Herrick has a similar reaction to a later bout, in which Lamont performs with particular courage against all odds:

Herrick watched that fifth round with a tense excitement, not because a wager was at stake, but because he realized the drama of this thing at which he was looking.  He realized the splendid gallantry of this white-faced boy, who just went on, fired by his own white heat of spirit when […] he was very nearly at the end of his tether. (121)

The bout makes a lasting impression of Herrick.  As a fight promoter, he has witnessed countless boxing matches but feels as if this particular one was something more than just an athletic contest:

Of the hour which followed [the Lamont-Crane bout] Herrick always carried a vivid memory.  It was an hour of extraordinary elation for him, for he felt that he had been present at something which stood for much more than a boxing match.  He had seen in operation an unconquerable and very gallant spirit and the experience had strongly exhilarated him. (127)

The very though of Lamont comes to conjure up images of gallantry and virtue for Herrick:

He realized how fond he had come to be of this young Frenchman who had so strangely entered his life; there was something in Lamont, something of fineness and gallant spirit which had appealed to all the was best in Frank Herrick […] (103)

Later, when Lamont insists on going through with a bout with Jack Rollo in spite of the fact that his life is being threatened by shadowy underworld figures, Herrick marvels at Lamont’s sang-froid. When Lamont knocks Rollo out, thereby becoming the heavyweight champion of England, and then stoops to pick the fallen man up from the canvas, Herrick is “[m]ore deeply moved by what he had seen than he had ever been in his life […]” (273).

It is important to note that Herrick is a scion of the upper- (or at least upper-middle) class and a product of one of England’s most exclusive public schools.  This pedigree is made clear on the very first page of the novel and readers are reminded of it periodically throughout the narrative.  Although boxing was a much-favored spectator sport among the members of Britain’s élite in the first quarter of the twentieth century (fights, even some important ones, were regularly held in London gentleman’s clubs like the National Sporting Club, before an audience of bluebloods and captains of industry in evening clothes), “gentlemen” like Frank Herrick did not become boxing promoters. The novel underscores the improbability of his chosen profession:

Standing there under the blinding white light of big arc lights, he looked queerly different from the average promoter of boxing contests.  Flushed a little with excitement, he made a pleasing figure of youth and good looks, and a young fellow in the stalls who had fagged for Herrick at Charterhurst nudged his neighbor and remarked that it was “a dashed funny way for a chap like Herrick to earn a living—what?”  And perhaps it was. (18)

Significantly, John Burton, the Scotland Yard detective who ultimately cracks the Brothers of the Brown Owl case and exonerates Lamont, is also an upper-class type who finds his unlikely calling in a profession that would conventionally be considered beneath his station.  

The analogy with his friend Herrick is explicit:

[…] these two men, still young, found much in common, and not the least strong link between them was the fact that John Burton, like Herrick, had gone into one of the byways of life when he had chosen a career.  He had come down from Oxford with a first-class degree and had read for the Bar.  But a stronger enchantment than that of the Bar had claimed him, and he had capitulated to an interest in criminology which had been his since he was almost a boy, and the result was that at thirty-five John Burton had figured as the man behind the scenes in some of the most celebrated “cases” of modern times. (36)

So the two principal protagonists in the story, aside from Lamont himself, are both more-or-less upper-class gentlemen, each exercising a profession deemed too rough for a gentleman. The ultimate bond between Herrick and Burton, however, is their shared respect and affection for Lamont and their desire to protect him.  The final scene of the novel underscores the importance of the bond.  After having beat the formidable Jack Rollo, in the “supreme effort of his life,” Lamont returns to his dressing room, while Herrick, Burton and another Scotland Yard inspector discuss his impending arrest for having been at one time a member of the Brothers of the Brown Owl.  Burton makes the dramatic announcement that the Brown Owl has “ceased to exist as a criminal organization” as of about two hours earlier (in other words, nearly simultaneously with Lamont’s fight). He goes on to explain what the implications of this turn of events are for Lamont:

So far from him being implicated in these infamous doings, it was his story which helped me more than anything else to get on the right trail.  He has been simply invaluable to me all the way through.  He has suffered much at the hands of the Brown Owl—you shall know the full story, Inspector—but he has reached the end of his troubles to-night.  He has won the proudest title in boxing, and he has finally escaped from the toils of the most ruthless criminal society which ever existed in England […] (275-76)

Clearly, the plot of the novel has reached its conclusion at this point.  There is only one last gesture to be accomplished, a gesture with which the story concludes:

[…] that being so, gentlemen, I think there is one thing we shall all three find pleasure in doing before I return with you to the Yard, Inspector.

And what is that? Herrick asked eagerly.

In going to Lamont’s dressing-room and shaking hands with a very fine gentleman. (276)

This final gesture is highly significant.  The two English gentlemen Herrick and Burton ultimately convey honorary “gentleman” status on the French boxer Lamont, with the handshake and the use of the term “a very fine gentleman” (the last words of the book).  Throughout the book, Lamont has displayed the gentlemanly virtues: honesty, courtesy, modesty, loyalty, hard work, clean living, sportsmanship, courage, and all-around “manliness.”  Despite Herrick’s deep and unambiguous affection for the man he considers to be “almost a younger brother” (104), Lamont’s profession as a prizefighter has nonetheless excluded him, from the ranks of true gentlemen. It’s one thing for a gentleman like Herrick to become involved in the business end of the seedy world of prizefighting, but quite another for a product of the ring itself to be considered worthy of elevation to the status of gentleman.  

Throughout the novel, the figure of Lamont poses the question of the extent to which the limits of gentlemanliness can be extended beyond class boundaries, in much the same way Carpentier did. Like Lamont, Carpentier incarnated (or was perceived to incarnate) the gentlemanly virtues. Like Lamont, Carpentier was a handsome, well-groomed, pale-skinned young man, who wore none of the unsightly physical marks of his profession on his face.  Like Lamont, Carpentier not only had fans but personal friends among the members of the most elite social circles in England. But could Carpentier, a boxer and a Frenchman to boot, really be considered a “gentleman?”

Brothers of the Brown Owl answers this question definitively, with its final sentence. Yes, Lamont/Carpentier is a gentleman and a “very fine” one at that.[1] The fact that this is the final act represented in the text conveys a privileged, even central status to Lamont’s elevation to the status of gentleman and mirrors the centrality of the theme in the novel and in Carpentier’s own story, especially in England, where the iconic myths of the working class “hard man” and the “gentleman” were equally potent.  A figure like Lamont/Carpentier, who manages to pull of the unlikely feat of merging the two, was destined to become a cult figure and an ideal canvas onto which all sorts of fantasies, including The Brothers of the Brown Owl, could be projected.

The novel ends with the total shutting down of the Brothers of the Brown Owl crime organization, a feat that would have been impossible without Lamont’s cooperation.  The world is literally, at the close of the novel, a safer place because of Henri Lamont.  Just as the outcomes of at least two of the fights in the book are wish-fulfillment fantasy versions of Carpentier-Dempsey, so too is Lamont’s heroism a kind of literalization of the vivid fantasies of Carpentier as a knight in shining armor evoked and created by the newspapers in 1921.  Cleverly aimed at British fans who had not yet had their fill of Carpentier-worship a year later, Brothers of the Brown Owl provided the opportunity to revisit and revivify the Carpentier myth.  The fact that the desire to do so still existed a year after Carpentier-Dempsey is proof of Carpentier’s enduring mythic status in England.

Doublé au coeur (1934)

Beginning on December 17, 1935 and continuing in weekly installments until February 25, 1936 (thirteen installments in all), Doublé au coeur: Roman d’aventure et de sport is ostensibly the creation of Georges Carpentier himself, with no ghost-writer mentioned.  The serialized novel appears to have been intended as, among other things, a means of promotion for Carpentier’s upcoming film comeback, Toboggan.  The first installment appeared in an issue of L’Intran-Match, the weekly sports-themed supplement to the daily newspaper L’Intransigeant, the cover of which is a very large photograph of a handsome but visibly middle-aged  (and visibly made-up) Carpentier in one of his classic pugilistic poses.  The caption reads: “This handsome photo of Georges Carpentier in training is taken from the film Toboggan. (Read, on pages 8 and 9, the beginning of the compelling novel of love and sport Doublé au coeur, by Georges Carpentier.)”

Doublé au coeur is the story of Claude Armet, the middleweight champion of Europe, who of bears more than a passing resemblance to Carpentier himself. In a scene in which Claude Armet recounts the story of his early life, the reader discovers, not surprisingly, that the story has significant parallels with Carpentier’s. Armet’s parents expected that, after some basic schooling, he would go to work in a big brewery, like all his father and grandfather.  While working at the brewery, the young Armet also worked out regularly at a local gym.  There he learned how to box and “loved [the sport] with a passion.”  After winning regional amateur championships, he moved to Paris, where he won the French national amateur championship.  His professional debut was made possible by his manager Moumoute, who has taken on the status of father figure and to whom he will remain loyal. The obvious parallels with Carpentier’s “backstory” would not have been lost on contemporary readers.

There is also the inevitable retelling of Armet/Carpentier’s extreme popularity and fame. Armet is, of course, greeted with thunderous applause by the adoring crowd:

Suddenly, waves of applause began to ripple through the crowd.  They began at the back of the arena and, growing louder and louder like a raging torrent, accompanied Claude Armet, in his black robe piped in red, preceded by Moumoute.  When the champion climbed into the ring, the magnificent ovation exploded, deafening.  Claude Armet responded with a smile.   […] (XIII, 14)

And there is another fictional retelling of Carpentier-Dempsey, including the de rigueur dramatic moment in the second round and the requisite wish-fulfillment conclusion in which Armet/Carpentier emerges triumphant. [2] 

There is also a physical likeness.  Armet is described as a “tall boy […] not at all disfigured [by boxing]” and his eyes as “gray, so light and so loyal.”(I, 9)[3]  It is pointed out that “ […] he didn’t look like a killer! Not even like a boxer!  He looked more like a kid.” (IV, 10)

He is, in short, a “young and pretty boy.” (III, 5)

And, as is always the case in stories about Carpentier, pretty is as pretty does: “[…] a lad as handsome as that; and so sweet, so gentle too!” (XI, 12).  Those who know him well are in awe of his personal qualities, his “purity” and his courage.  When he is falsely accused of murder, they know without any hesitation that a mistake has been made:

[…] [the events of] recent days had shattered his friends, the people who were close to him, those who not only admired him as a great athlete but who loved with a special fondness the man, the man of pure sentiments, whose soul was noble and who had never faltered, even in the face of the worst ordeals […] (V, 4)

Armet is indeed, the text points out several lines later, a “courageous boy, who had never feared for his life […] and would stand up to any opponent that came his way […] (V, 4) Armet’s lawyer sums up his sterling character to the judge: “In private life, as in the ring, he is a gentleman.” (V, 4).  A friend describes him in similar terms:

Claude is man like any man, but with extraordinary qualities.  He is upstanding; he is sensitive…  […] he is more capable of fondness and tenderness than any man I know.  His heart is a priceless gift… when he has given the wonderful gift of his love, he doesn’t take it back. (X, 16)

Awoman to whom the friend is singing Armet’s praises responds, significantly: “That sounds like something from a novel […].”

Clearly alluding to Carpentier’s beloved and recently deceased manager François Descamps, who had died the previous year, and to the deep and abiding affection between the two men, Armet’s manager Moumorguet (nicknamed "Moumoute") says of his fighter:

[…] I love Claude like my own son.  He’s the sweetest, kindest, most gentle, most loving boy in the world. (VI, 16)

It is above all a love triangle sub-plot that demonstrates Armet’s gentlemanly virtue. Armet’s wife is Lily de Valdeneige, a small-time cabaret singer.  Ambitious, ruthless, selfish and vain, she is the stereotypical gold-digger  (her obviously phony stage-name is the first clue to her character; her real name, Emilienne Pecuchot, is considerably more prosaic).  Her character is exposed with complete clarity on the first page of the second installment of the serialized novel:

Lily de Valdeneige was pretty, not very well known and more ambitious than talented.  She was modestly successful, because people responded to her frightened doe eyes and her come-hither smile.  […] Before singing love-songs, she had worked in the garment industry.  An elderly gentleman, with a fat belly and a fat bank account, had persuaded her to abandon commerce and cultivate her voice, so that the masses enjoy it.  He set her up in an apartment in Montmartre.  Lily had of course demanded that the apartment be hers alone and, just a short time before she married Claude, she had gotten rid of her protector, while keeping a “love-friend,” as she called him. While Claude had nothing specific for which to reproach her during the first years of their marriage, he figured out one day that she was still secretly seeing her love-friend. (II, 6)

In keeping with a popular misogynist stereotype of the boxer’s wife, she is a flashy, disreputable woman who is only along for the fame and fortune her man attracts.  This is made clear by the circumstances in which Claude and Lily met:

He had just won the championship of France.  All the newspapers had started talking about him.  Numerous offers were coming in from abroad.  His picture was more or less everywhere.  Although he led an exemplary life at his manager Moumoute’s house, cared for like a son by Moumoute’s wife, Claude met Lily de Valdeniege in a cabaret, the night of one of his victories in the ring. (II, 6)

In the grand gold-digger tradition, Lily sets her cap for the rising young pugilistic star, more or less openly pursuing him: “Lily appeared to have a genuine crush on Claude.  She showed up at his fights.  She managed to cross paths with him and lost no time in seducing him.” (II, 6) Also in keeping with the formulaic gold-digger plot, Claude is easy prey:

Claude was young.  While neither naïve nor foolish, he had little experience talking to women.  Besides, he thought he was in love with Lily.  Moumoute, with his robust common sense, tried in vain to make Claude see the light, to stop the marriage from taking place.  But Claude, who was stubborn, willful and full of good faith, stood up with Lily in front of the mayor nonetheless, bursting with pride and vanity.  (II, 6)

Predictably, the honeymoon is soon destroyed by Lily’s greed and selfishness.  Claude recounts the sad tale of how and why the marriage fell apart:

We were not happy for very long […] a year, maybe. And then she lied to me. She was foolishly spending every cent Moumoute grudgingly handed over to her.  She heaped insults and reproaches on me.  She was consumed by delusions of grandeur and a hunger for the high life.  She wanted me to buy her a nightclub that would be named after her, where she could sing every night.  She wanted to leave Montmartre too, to live in a chic neighborhood and drive a Hispano—the whole nine yards.  (II. 6)

Unfortunately for them both, Claude’s earning power is not nearly what Lily had thought it was and the material reality of their life together is quite a bit more modest than her daydreams would have it:

I’m not as rich as all that.  I make a good living, but there are expenses too.  Moumoute, who is the soul of honesty, invests my money and keeps an eye on my spending.  He allowed me to buy a car and a little house near Vaucresson. (II, 6)

When Lily get a real measure of the financial realities and takes a good look at the modest car and small suburban house, things go from bad to worse.

Later, when Lily is called to testify in her husband’s arraignment on a murder charge, she predictably makes a spectacle of herself.  Worse still, she makes clear not only her hatred for Claude but also her disdain for all boxers (a detail surely added to the text just to make sure that the boxing fans/readers of the story would not lose sight of her evil nature):

Lily de Valdeneige made her appearance.  In a inadvertently comical gesture, she had put on widow’s outfit, livened up by a sparkly brooch clipped to her hat.  She wore a worthy and long-suffering expression on her face and heaved a great sigh.  

“You are Mme. Claude Armet, born Emilienne Pecuchot?”

“I am Lily de Valdeneige.”

“Then we’ve got the wrong person,” said the judge, consulting the bailiff, who shook his head in denial.

“I am Lily de Valdeneige,” repeated the young woman.  “That is the name under which I am famous.  But I am also—alas! —the wife of that wretched man, Claude Armet.”

“[…] You seem to me, Madame, to be convinced of you husband’s guilt!”

“It’s an frightful scandal, Monsieur!  I never imagined by marrying that individual I would be subject to such dishonor, such atrocious humiliation!  I should have thrown myself in the Seine or joined a convent or become a street-sweeper rather than marry that boxer.  A boxer!  What a world that is!  Such people!  Such language! … (V, 4)

It is important to note the context in which Claude recounts the sad and sordid story of his marriage.  He is talking to Claire, a young woman he first saw out of the corner of his eye, among the spectators at ringside at one of his fights, and happened to meet on the street afterwards.  The aptly named Claire is of course the anti-Lily: young, fresh, innocent, and modest.  When the boxer asks her to have lunch with him in a restaurant alongside the Marne, she replies (albeit with a “frown of regret”): “Who do you take me for, Monsieur Claude?  I am a young girl; I live at home with my parents.  I can only meet you after lunch.” (I, 8)

Claire politely but firmly rebuffs Armet’s romantic advances, thereby making it clear that she is a respectable young lady (in contrast to Lily).  When he puts his arm around her waist, she “disengages herself, but without being brusque about it.” (I, 9)  She “maintained such reserve, disengaging herself with such subtle and delicate vivacity that Claude did not dare push his timid attempts any farther.” (I, 9)  Their first rendezvous does not end in any sort of erotic encounter but rather in a mutual declaration of love:

“Can’t I tell you that I love you?” Claude risked saying.

[…]

“Yes, you can,” she said with infinite sweetness, “You can tell me that you love me because I believe that you do.  And because I love you too…”

He suddenly let go of her hand and started doing a wild little dance and shouting.  Seeing him express his joy in such a childlike way made her laugh. Then, when he came back to her, she put her hand up to his mouth, offering it up to his greedy kisses. (I, 9)

There are of course obstacles: Claude is still a married man and Claire herself is engaged.  But true love will find a way, at least according to the wide-eyed Claire and her sentimental mother:

It’s true that we know only one thing for sure, which is that we like each other, even love each other. So we shouldn’t despair, right?  As my mother says, love is the insurance for the future. (I, 9)

As if it were necessary, Claude asks more-or-less point-blank if Claire is a virgin.  The answer is of course a clear-cut yes. Her fiancée, she reveals to Claude, is not a man she has chosen but who has been chosen for her by her parents because of his “important position” in life.  She promises to do everything she can to break off the engagement, but she explains that there’s nothing she can do in the short term, since her mother is sick and must not be upset.

As the far-fetched story unfolds, it turns out that Claire is not in fact the modest little bank secretary she has pretended to be, but rather Paulette Petit-Magnard, the daughter of the bank owner of whose murder Claude Armet has been accused.  The revelation of this fact is what begins the dénouement of the mystery, which ends with Claire/Paulette’s fiancé’s confessing he is in fact her father’s murderer.  Claude Armet first came under suspicion for the murder of the bank president Petit-Magnard because of the cause of his death was in fact a punch to the heart, the very doublé au coeur that made Armet famous and with which his name was widely associated.  What the improbable ending reveals is that the shady businessman Hector Girardot, Claire/Paulette’s fiancé, had secretly taken boxing lessons specifically in order to learn how to execute Armet’s famous doublé au coeur, as his trainer attests:

The rumors currently swirling around the Petit-Magnard case have reminded me of certain facts that at the time seemed unimportant.  I remember receiving a visit, just about a year ago, from M. Girardot, from Paris, who wanted to take boxing lessons.  I was a bit surprised that someone would want to take the trouble to come all the way from Paris, where there are plenty of boxing gyms […] What strikes me most now, thinking back on it, is the fact that my pupil had a curiously strong admiration for Claude Armet and asked me to teach him the art of the famous doublé au coeur that had made the reputation of our national champion. Maybe that was completely normal.  I do, however, want to bring it to your attention for what it’s worth […] (XII, 14)

This piece of improbable information reverses all previous assumptions of Armet’s guilt.  Significantly, it not only exonerates Armet but the sport of boxing as a whole, implying as it does that professional fighters have the capacity of kill with their fights but, as sportsmen, do not do so, while those same skills, acquired by someone less reputable, like a businessman, are criminal tools.  In this story, the boxer is the upstanding gentleman and the supposedly upstanding gentleman is a dangerous thug. This reversal of social roles plays itself out even farther when the boxer Armet replaces, in the final scene, Girardot as Mlle. Petit-Magnard’s officially sanctioned fiancé.  Boxers, the story clearly implies, are considerably more respectable than many of those who consider themselves socially superior: the bourgeois are more brutal than the brutes.

The novel indeed ends with the boxer and the heiress gazing into each other’s eyes with a “look of infinite tenderness” (XIII, 2) and exchanging a chaste kiss that seals their engagement.  (Claude has, incidentally, just won the European championship).  The touching scene takes place in a out-of-the-way little bar, a decent place but nonetheless not one in which a respectable young lady should linger:

[…] I must go home.  This is neither a place nor a time of day for a young lady.  Will you come see us tomorrow, Claude?  Mama will be so happy to see you!  I am sure she is already happy, since she has heard the news about your victory on the radio… and since I had hidden nothing from her. (XIII, 2)

These last words on the part of Claire/Paulette embody the stark contrast between her and Lily de Valdeneige.  Unlike Lily, whose natural habitat is a nightclub, the genteel Claire/Paulette is out of place in such a setting.  Unlike Lily, Claire/Paulette clearly implies that Claude’s courtship of her will take place under the watchful eye of her mother (in fact, she is chaperoned in this final scene in the bar by an overtly maternal faithful family retainer).  Unlike Lily, Claire/Paulette has nothing to hide.  Finally, unlike Lily, Claire/Paulette (and her mother) celebrate Claude’s boxing: genuinely “respectable” people secure in their own social position, they understand the nobility of sport and are not compelled to disdain its practitioners in order to accentuate their superior social status.

It is important to note that Claire, the modest, chaste bank employee, was already the opposite of Lily; had she not been revealed to be Paulette Petit-Magnard, the contrast would already have been in place and Claude’s association with her would already have raised his social status.  The fact that she is in reality a daughter of the grande bourgeoisie, however, makes his social ascension all the more dramatic.  Clearly, Claude will marry Paulette and will be fully accepted by her mother into their family; with the father dead, he will in fact become the man of a wealthy and refined family.  Claude Armet’s gritty, hard-scrabble past will be effaced and he will take on an entirely new social identity.

Doublé au coeur thus ends on the same note as Brothers of the Brown Owl: the Carpentier figure becomes a “gentleman.”  Both texts emphasize this social ascension by making it explicit in the very last few sentences and both seal the deal with a symbolic physical gesture: in Doublé au Coeur, Paulette kisses Claude; in Brothers of the Brown Owl, Herrick and Burton shake his hand.  In both cases, full acceptance by members of “polite” society raise the virtuous young boxer to the status of gentleman he has deserved all along. This coincidence underscores the importance and centrality of the theme of social class in the Carpentier legend.  As touted in the press throughout his entire ring career and indeed his entire life, the fascination with Carpentier relies to a great degree on the idea that, despite his humble origins and “violent” livelihood, Georges Carpentier is a gentleman.

Like its predecessors Le Roman de Georges Carpentier and Brothers of the Brown Owl and the more-or-less contemporaneous film Toboggan with which it is associated, Doublé au coeur explicitly thematizes the relation between fact and fiction on which it is based. A certain measure of verisimilitude is provided by references to real people and places: the famous Parisian boxing promoter Jeff Dickson, for example, and the exact location of legendary Parisian boxing venues such as the Palais des sports and the Salle Wagram. Even more pointed are the references in Doublé, a fictional tale published in a periodical, to real-life periodicals.  A number of times in the course of the narrative (installments II, III, IV and X) excerpts from  “real” articles are “reproduced” in the text. Indeed, in two instances, an entire article is reproduced: “Nothing sums the drama up better than this article, published in L’Intransigeant and which we reproduce here in its entirety.” (III, 4) That these fictional articles are supposedly drawn from a real publication, the daily newspaper L’Intransigeant, adds to the playful blurring of lines.  Similarly, the sportswriter Jacques Manille, to whom Armet recounts his life story, works for Match, the very publication in which Doublé itself is published.  Indeed, Match  (full title: L’Intran-Match) is the weekly sports magazine published by the daily newspaper L’Intransigeant. The circle of self-referentiality is complete.

 These gestures of verisimilitude are of course ways of underscoring the porosity of the boundary between fact and fiction.  The situation is rendered even more complex by the fact that within the fictional world of Doublé au coeur, journalists can be the bearers of bedrock fact, egregious fiction masquerading as fact, or anything in between. A café frequented by boxers and the sportswriters who chronicle their lives and careers is described as follows:

It is a place where you hear good stories—some of the true, some of them apocryphal, foolish stories and risqué stories […] People confide, people gossip and people slander there.  People pass along news, news that they always insist is accurate. (II, 6)

Ultimately, however, the truth, as recounted by an upstanding journalist, wins the day. Armet’s conversation with journalist Jacques Manille is an attempt to set the record straight with respect to the story of his youth, to counter fiction with fact. In the end, it is Manille who conducts the investigation that ultimately exculpates Armet in the murder case, who uncovers the facts:

I am going to put to work all of the resources of my intelligence and every investigatory skill I have at my disposal as a journalist, in the service of proving it [Armet’s innocence].  The truth must come out.  […] No one has taken it upon himself to seek out that truth.  So that’s our job. (VII, 4)

Ironically, in a world where the fictions and half-fictions created by journalists serve above all to obscure fact, only real journalism can reveal it—an interesting thesis for a novel serialized in the popular press.

 

[1] This was not the first time the question of potential compatibility between gentlemanliness and prizefighting was asked and answered in a British literary work.  It is at the very heart of Shaw’s boxing novel (the only work of fiction he ever produced about the sport), Cashel Byron’s Profession. The particular piquancy the question seems to have had for British fans clearly had something to do with the long history of the relationship between the social elite (who were among the most fervent fans of the sport and often amateur—though never professional-- practitioners of it) and the sport of boxing in that country. It was not without interest to the French, however, as evidenced by Jacques Mortane’s novel Blaise Putois. Return to text

[2] A full fourteen-and-a-half years after Carpentier-Dempsey and nearly eight years after his retirement from the ring, Jack Dempsey was still enough of a celebrity in France for a series of articles signed by him to be published in Match… in the very same issues that included installments of Doublé au coeur.  Four articles, collectively entitled “The Secret of the ‘Punch’: Advice to Young Boxers” and supposedly written by “the ex-champion of the world, Jack Dempsey,” appeared on February 18 and 25 and March 3 and 10, alongside the final four installments (X-XIII) of Doublé au coeur.  It seems clear that the packaging of the two together was an attempt to cash in on a double nostalgia for the former champions: Carpentier’s novel would bring Dempsey back to mind and create interest in the pieces supposedly written by him and vice-versa. Return to text

[3] For quotations from Doublé au coeur, I will put, in parentheses, the number of the installment first (as a roman numeral) and the number of the page of the issue in which it was published second.  Return to text