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“The Man on Horseback”: From Military Might to Circus Sports

“The Man on Horseback”: From Military Might to Circus Sports

(p.131) Chapter Six “The Man on Horseback”: From Military Might to Circus Sports
Precarious Partners
Kari Weil
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 6 takes readers to a new kind of circus founded during the 1880s and known as “the aristocratic circus,” where notable men mounted horses and trapezes in a show of bodily strength and agility. The subject of paintings by Tissot and a novel by Daniel Lesueur, this athletic display, the chapter argues, represents an attempt to take back the meaning of the “man on horseback,” whose demise can be traced from the novels of Stendhal through to the Third Republic. With attention to new manuals of sports medicine and forms of unconscious training promoted by the psychologist, Gustave le Bon the chapter situates this circus within a larger effort to promote the idea of sport and physical training for the nobility. Such training made it acceptable if not advisable for an aristocratic male to show off his physical and, by extension, moral capacities. Horses were thus called upon to virilize and rejuvenate the nation at a time when the biological sciences warned of the degeneration of the French race, confirmed by the army’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

Keywords:   Stendhal, Gustave Le Bon, circus, Daniel Lesueur, James Tissot, sport, degeneration

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