Few would think of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886) as a novel with sport scenes, yet the book includes significant coverage of sports such as skating, tennis, and horse racing. Indeed, many famous writers have included sports in their novels. James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823) depicts a turkey shoot, pigeon shooting, and bass fishing. Charles Dickens offers a colorful cricket match in Pickwick Papers (1836-1837, serial; 1837, book). Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) is renowned for its bullfighting sequence, but the loving presentation of the joys of fishing is equally vivid. The hero of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952) is not just a fisherman but an avid baseball fan obsessed by Joe DiMaggio’s quest to extend his record hitting streak. Beyond such occurrences, however, lies a wealth of fiction devoted mainly to sports.
For many years the most famous sports novels were those of Gilbert Patten. Writing as Burt L. Standish, Patten described the exploits of Frank Merriwell, a star in baseball, basketball, football, track, and crew at Yale University. In more than two hundred dime novels written between 1896 and 1930, Patten presents Merriwell as the epitome of virtuous American youth, always playing according to the rules, never drinking or smoking. Patten was obviously influenced by Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), in which Thomas Hughes demonstrates how cricket and football (soccer) are necessary components of a British gentleman’s education. The Merriwell tales established the template for such writers of young adult sports fiction as Clair Bee, Donald Honig, Jackson Scholz, and John R. Tunis. While many writers have been concerned with athletics, the best-known sports novels have been by American writers.