5 May 2019

Frédéric Mistral: Mireille (1859)

Frédéric Mistral's epic narrative rural poem Mireille was and still is considered a major work of literature by many writers and critics, among them Barbey d'Aurévilly, Lamartine, André Chamson, and (perhaps most importantly for its initial reception) the academic Saint-René Taillandier.

Inevitably, Mireille's story of star-crossed lovers has been compared to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (star-crossed by class rather than family), but also to Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie, and Longfellow's Evangeline. Perhaps equally inevitably, this is also considered by many to be essentially a love story, although Mistral intended it (as it is written in both French and Provençal (as Mirèio) as more a renewal of a dying language and as a hymn to the glory of old Provence: the male protagonist Vincent, the son of Ambrose, is from a family of basket-makers and menders in Vallabrègues, a small town in Gard, in fact the only commune on the left bank of the Rhône which is in Gard.

Comparisons have been made between Mistral's work in general and a number of international poets – Virgil, Byron, Burns, Wordsworth and Hardy, for example – although in the case of Mireille Homer is more appropriate: this is an odyssey, but of a very different nature.

Vincent is almost sixteen and evidently comes from a very modest family, but his lover the fifteen-year-old Mireille (a variant (via the Provençal Mirèio: thanks Vagabonde (aka Mireille!)) of Mary, a symbol of purity) is from a far wealthier one: a marriage such as this would therefore be a mésalliance, and very strongly opposed to the wishes of her father Ramon, who lives with his family in the Mas de Micocoule.*

Like Homer's Penelope, Mireille has her suitors, all three of them in possession of considerable property: the shepherd Alari, Veran (a keeper of mares), and the repulsive cowherd Ourrias. She rejects them all in favour of the lowly Vincent, and when her parents object she runs from home in flight across the Crau to Saintes-Maries-de-le-Mer, where she hopes that they will give their approval of the match. Unfortunately she catches sunstroke towards the end of her journey and dies soon after reaching Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

There is a statue of her, taken by me in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, elsewhere on this blog. (Unfortunately for haters of tourism, although of course the opposite for the economy of the area, this is one of the smaller towns that have suffered from the effects of Peter Mayle's eulogies about Provence.)

*A micocoule is a hackberry, an edible (but little eaten) fruit of the micocoulier tree.

My Frédéric Mistral posts:
Frédéric Mistral at Le Mas du Juge
Frédéric Mistral: Mireille
Frédéric Mistral in Maillane
Le Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne, Les Baux-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Giniez, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral in Avignon
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Grambois
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Michel-l'Obsevatoire
Frédéric Mistral in Pertuis

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