Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature
Publication Year: 2013
For the U.S. South, the myth of chivalric masculinity dominates the cultural and historical landscape. Visions of white southern men as archetypes of honor and gentility run throughout regional narratives with little regard for the actions and, at times, the atrocities committed by such men. In Queer Chivalry, Tison Pugh exposes the inherent contradictions in these depictions of cavalier manhood, investigating the foundations of southern gallantry as a reincarnated and reauthorized version of medieval masculinity. Pugh argues that the idea of masculinity -- particularly as seen in works by prominent southern authors from Mark Twain to Ellen Gilchrist -- constitutes a cultural myth that queerly demarcates accepted norms of manliness, often by displaying the impossibility of its achievement.
Beginning with Twain's famous critique of "the Sir Walter disease" that pilloried the South, Pugh focuses on authors who questioned the code of chivalry by creating protagonists whose quests for personal knighthood prove quixotic. Through detailed readings of major works -- including Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Flannery O'Connor's short fiction, John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Robert Penn Warren's A Place to Come To, Walker Percy's novels, and Gilchrist's The Annunciation -- Pugh demonstrates that the hypermasculinity of white-knight ideals only draws attention to the ambiguous gender of the literary southern male.
Employing insights from gender and psychoanalytic theory, Queer Chivalry contributes to recent critical discussions of the cloaked anxieties about gender and sexuality in southern literature. Ultimately, Pugh uncovers queer limits in the cavalier mythos, showing how facts and fictions contributed to the ideological formulation of the South.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Southern Literary Studies
Title Page, Copyright Page
...My thanks to Dean José Fernández and the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Central Florida for providing me with a sabbatical research leave in the spring semester of 2008 to develop this project. I am also grateful for funding this book received from the University of Central Florida’s College of Arts and Humanities. In addition, I deeply...
1. Introduction: Southern History, Mythic White Masculinity, and Queering the Medieval Chivalric Ideal
...Chivalry is a historical myth, and a queer one at that. Because histories and myths are often little better than lies, the chivalric ideal of white southern masculinity cannot stand as a triumphant declaration of manhood and must confront its queer foundations. As Samuel Johnson famously observed, “All history, so far as it is not supported by contemporary evidence, is romance...
2. Dialectical History, White Indians, and Queer Anxiety in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
...Most important in this regard is Hank’s eponymous identification as a Yankee, an identity that ostensibly inoculates him from the nostalgia for chivalric social codes prevalent in the nineteenth-century U.S. South. Hank instead ridicules the Middle Ages for espousing and practicing chivalric values; his criticism of the past tautologically condemns the Middle Ages for its very medievalism. Despite this...
3. Medieval Masculinity, Southern Chivalry, and Redemptive Homosexuality in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction
...Medieval men in modern times: this unlikely blend of medievalism, masculinity, southern chivalry, and sexuality runs throughout much of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. In particular, her short stories “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” “The Comforts of Home,” “The Geranium,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” and “The Enduring Chill” and the novella...
4 “It’s prolly fulla dirty stories”: Queer Masculinity and Masturbatory Allegory in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
...pleasure of masturbation and the esoteric mental study of medievalism. Antichivalric in the extreme (and provocatively antisouthern), Ignatius’s masculinity plays a pivotal role in the character’s unlikely triumph at the narrative’s end. Throughout his madcap adventures, the seductive force of allegory stimulates Ignatius, despite his stringent...
5. “I am the Lost Cause”: Queer History, the Southern Phallus, and the Quest for Medieval Timelessness in Robert Penn Warren’s A Place to Come To
...The quest for life’s meaning begins in a person’s roots in history; to find the self, one must sift through the past. Warren proclaims this theme frequently in his fiction. In an interview with Bill Moyers, he succinctly posits the impossibility of a life without history: “I don’t know how you can have a future without a sense of the past...
6. “The Sir Walter Disease” and Queer Quests for Masculinity in Walker Percy’s Novels
...Walker Percy’s novels share numerous key themes, including the search for love to escape solipsism and despair, the need for community in a fractured and spiritually enervated world, and the threat of malaise to undermine agency and social harmony; furthermore, much of his appeal as a writer lies in his ability to couple such grave themes with mordant irony, thus...
7. Conclusion: Ellen Gilchrist’s The Annunciation and the Queer Future of Chivalric Masculinities
...As Twain, O’Connor, Toole, Warren, and Percy demonstrate in their vastly different fictions, the masculine chivalric ideal invites deep questions about what it means to be a white man in the U.S. South. The promise of chivalric manhood establishes a cultural goal for men to esteem, venerate, and follow, but...