20 May 2018

Jules Roy: Vézelay ou l'amour fou (1990)

This is a love story to Vézelay, a village of 435 inhabitants (2014) in the Yonne. Jules Roy (1907–2000) spent more than the final twenty years of his life there, and is buried there along with a number of other notable figures: Georges Bataille, Max-Pol Fouchet, Maurice Clavel, Dorothy Thum, and Rosalie Vetch. This is a village reculé, in a cul-de-sac, and it one of the places on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage map.

Roy's concern is with culture, and as might be expected Vézelay is full of it. Roy goes through the village's history, particularly of the Basilique Sainte Marie-Madeleine. He also speaks of the geography and flora surrounding the village, of the many writers associated with it (also Prosper Mérimée, Paul Claudel and Romain Rolland, for instance), the architects Villet-le-Duc and Jean Badovici, etc.

The tourism Vézelay has attracted doesn't seem to impress him though, and he rather sniffily speaks of American tour guides and cars in winter looking like they're fit for the North Pole. Sniffy is also the word to use for his opinion of Jules Renard, whom he describes as being interested in nothing much. Popular culture seems to be anathema to him, and I found this beautifully written book spoiled by Jules Roy's description of Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot as 'princesses of futility'.

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