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
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My thanks to Dean Jos? Fern?ndez and the College of Arts and Humani-ties 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 appreciate ...
1 Introduction: Southern History, Mythic White Masculinity, and Queering the Medieval Chivalric Ideal
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Chivalry is a historical myth, and a queer one at that. Because histories and myths are often little better than lies, the chival-ric ideal of white southern masculinity cannot stand as a trium-phant declaration of manhood and must confront its queer foundations. As Samuel Johnson famously observed, ?All history, so far as it is not sup-ported by contemporary evidence, is romance,?1 and in positing the fre-quent overlap of history and romance, Johnson suggests the likelihood of a ...
2 Dialectical History, White Indians, and Queer Anxiety in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
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Mark Twain derided the symptoms of ?the Sir Walter disease? in southern culture as the mawkish and sentimental attachment to chivalric identities celebrated in Walter Scott?s novels. Hank Morgan, the protagonist of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur?s Court (1889), appears to display no such traces of this affliction in his flagrant Americanism characterized by gritty independence and technological know-how.1 Most important in this regard is Hank?s eponymous identifica-...
3 Medieval Masculinity, Southern Chivalry, and Redemptive Homosexuality in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction
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Medieval men in modern times: this unlikely blend of medieval-ism, masculinity, southern chivalry, and sexuality runs through-out 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 The Violent Bear It Away focus on men (or, in the case of The Violent Bear It Away, on a boy growing into manhood), ...
4 “It’s prolly fulla dirty stories”: Queer Masculinity and Masturbatory Allegory in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
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As the antiheroic protagonist of John Kennedy Toole?s comic mas-terpiece A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius J. Reilly embodies a queer masculinity modulated between the solipsistic physical pleasure of masturbation and the esoteric mental study of medievalism.1 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 ...
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
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Queer History, the Southern Phallus, and the Quest for Medieval History?its weight and its gravity?underpins Robert Penn War-ren?s A Place to Come To (1977), as the protagonist Jed Tewksbury confronts the shallow fantasies of southern masculinity. Early in the novel, Jed ponders how the past determines the meaning of one?s life and concludes that ?we are all stuck with trying to find the meaning of our lives, and the only thing we have to work on, or with, is our past. This can ...
6 “The Sir Walter Disease” and Queer Quests for Masculinity in Walker Percy’s Novels
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Walker Percy?s novels share numerous key themes, includ-ing 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 infusing a humorous streak into otherwise brooding and existential fiction.1 Medieval themes and al-...
7 Conclusion: Ellen Gilchrist’s The Annunciation and the Queer Future of Chivalric Masculinities
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As Twain, O?Connor, Toole, Warren, and Percy demonstrate in their vastly different fictions, the masculine chivalric ideal in-vites 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 this hollow fantasy can never shield them from queer fissures disrupting otherwise normative identities. A masculinity based upon the idea of imperviousness and per-...
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Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Southern Literary Studies