- Masculinity, Militarism and Eighteenth-Century Culture, 1689–1815 by Julia Banister
Julia Banister's Masculinity, Militarism and Eighteenth-Century Culture, 1689–1815 presents a focused and detailed case study of one of the most normative and hegemonic models of masculinity within the western world: the military man. Beginning with the standing army debates of the Restoration and ending with the late century responses to the Napoleonic wars, Banister weaves together the ways public discourses of the military man—the civic soldier, the professional officer, the old hero, or the national celebrity—were always creating and contextualizing masculinity. Cultural narratives of normative masculinity, such as the military man, continuously present themselves as simultaneously innate and linear. Hegemonic masculinity is the gender norm that seeks to be invisible, and what Banister has done is illuminate its very real moments of construction and visibility through the literal cultural display of court martial trials and the cultural debate and self-conscious presentation of the military man—fictional, non-fictional, and in between—in print. In doing so, Banister methodically resists reading the coding of military masculinity throughout the long eighteenth century as "a single narrative of 'change'" (10). Instead she effectively presents the ways "the military man" was always a complex web of competing discourses and ideas, shaped at times in uneasy and contradictory ways through political debate, military trials and codes, as well as cultural ideals of politeness, the gothic, sensibility and celebrity.
Banister is very clear about the mission of her book. This is not a definitive exploration of the variety of masculinities or sources of masculinity in the eighteenth century. Rather, this book is a deep dive and meticulous examination of the intertwined histories of militarism and masculinity. Besides an effective but perhaps perfunctory inclusion of Jane Austen in the final chapter, there are almost no women presented as major players in this text and there is no engagement with queer studies in the book, which Banister acknowledges early in her introduction. Instead, Banister provides a specific, but still important, addition to both military history and eighteenth-century gender studies by looking normative masculinity straight in its straight face, and by doing so pushes the reader to realize that that straightness is not a decisive or definitive line but rather a tangle of performative tensions and competing narratives. Banister draws upon Butlerian ideas of performance and established gender historians like Thomas Laqueur and Dror Wahrman, but brings them to bear in fresh ways on the production of masculinity. Therefore, Banister's study provides an intervention in and supplement to discourse on masculinity, and provides a jumping off point that would allow further consideration of heteronormative masculinities' connections to the wider spectrum of eighteenth-century gender studies.
In this detailed volume, Banister argues that militarism and masculinity in the eighteenth century were mutually constitutive but also always under debate. The perpetual question at the center of this discussion was whether the military man, and masculinity itself, were to be defined as innate or as something which must be molded and developed. Banister begins this exploration in the standing army debates of the Restoration and early century, which place masculinity and militarism firmly within the ancient vs. modern debates. After this, a large portion of the text is devoted to five naval trials, which provide some of its most innovative [End Page 273] interpretations. These chapters (two, three, and six) present how publicly debatable appropriate codes of masculinity were, how they clearly evolved, and how high stakes performing the in-vogue mode of manhood could be. For example, chapter three, presents the court martial trial of John Byng (1756–1757), who ended up being convicted and executed for failing to live up to the revised Articles of War that he helped to write. Banister effectively presents how Byng failed because he adopted a defense of professionalism rather than courageous embodiment. While this defense had worked successfully a decade before, Byng performed—theoretically in battle and in court—the wrong type of masculinity and died for it; his execution...