- Bloody Good: Chivalry, Sacrifice, and the Great War
In his ambitious and far-ranging study, Bloody Good, Alan Frantzen seeks to explore the "enduring power of chivalry to symbolize both prowess and principle in warfare" by examining the links between its origins in the Middle Ages and its continued expressions during the First World War.
This book is organized into two major sections. The first focuses on Britain and France and explores the origins of chivalry during the Crusades and the Hundred Years' War. It assesses the tensions between early Christian doctrines of sacrifice and martyrdom (derived from the Passion of Christ) and their transfiguration into a militant warrior code based on concepts of heroic masculinity and antisacrificial/sacrificial theories embodied in the theology of chivalry, which sanctified killing in the name of Christianity. By the thirteenth century, manuals of chivalry—stressing the heroic chevalier's ability to overcome fear of death and thereby to willingly undergo suffering—chronicled idealized knightly behavior.
In the second part of his book, Frantzen examines the many ways in which these older medieval ideas and images manifested themselves during the Great War. In so doing, the author elaborates on many themes first raised by other scholars, notably the intellectual and cultural historian George L. Mosse and the literary critic Paul Fussell. This analysis is pursued in a variety of now familiar contexts—the chivalric iconography produced during the war in propaganda posters and postcards, as well as in the ways the dead are commemorated in war memorials and military cemeteries. The plates and figures included in this volume to illustrate these themes are copious and often of the highest quality. Frantzen concludes that the myth of self-sacrifice was expropriated to serve the interests of the state to be sure, but that chivalric behavior—based on Christian concepts of love and self-sacrifice for others—also constituted an essential aspect of the mentality of most combatants. [End Page 977]
Because of its breadth of scope, a series of methodological concerns arise which are never specifically addressed by Franzen. The focus of this study is often inconsistent. British and French medieval chivalry is assessed, German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, as well as British and French war posters are examined, and German and British war memorials and cemeteries are compared—all through the prism of their allegedly shared chivalric heritage. Assessment of the First World War artifacts is also restricted to contextual analysis. Indeed, despite the availability of extensive archives housing, for instance, the records of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, with only one exception—Sir Reginald Bloomfield, designer of "The Cross of Sacrifice" for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission—do we ever learn first-hand about the symbolic intent of those crafting the art objects being examined. Finally, Frantzen, whose specialty is literary criticism, is often on more solid ground assessing the iconography of the war than grounding it in its historic context (e.g., Plate 7 shows an Italian, not a British standard, breaking against the Austro-Hungarian knight's shield).
Nevertheless, this study is unique in its scope and offers many valuable insights. As such, it makes an important contribution to our understanding of the enduring myths and symbols of Western Culture and how they are reified and continually resurrected to fit new contexts. In this regard, Bloody Good represents a significant achievement.