walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Barbara Holland's _Gentlemen's Blood_

Subtitled _A History of Dueling from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk_

Well, it is entertaining. And I suppose it's history. There are no notes, altho there is a bibliography. Judging by the author photo/blurb and remarks in the text, Holland is an elderly woman from the South (West Virginia) who isn't at all shy about letting you know she feels the Civil War was (a) a criminally deadly mistake the blame for which can be firmly laid on one side and (b) that would be the North's fault.

The book is a minimally organized collection of stories of duels. There are a few tales from the days of armored men on huge horses with lances, but mostly the duels are from the 17th through the 19th century, with a small number in the 20th and one challenge in the 21st. She considers the wars of the 20th and 21st century to be much like the duels that preceded them, and wishes we could substitute duels for those heinously bloody affairs. One can sympathize.

Here are the problems. She repeats and embellishes the standard ethnic stereotypes (Russian, German, Irish, Italian, French, etc.). She doesn't need to. Describing the Mensur and the rest of the German saber dueling tradition without the stereotypes would be a lot more interesting and informative. Altho she includes some stories of women involved in challenges and/or duels, she is incredibly dismissive of women in general, even tho there is evidence in the text that women played a big role in putting an end to dueling. She is dismissive of legal efforts to suppress dueling, even tho enforcing the law was a major mechanism when the duel was eventually suppressed. She talks about money culture putting an end to dueling, and she does talk about the frontier/land grabs as fueling duels, but even tho dueling is quite clearly a beautiful microcosm of the modernity, she just leaves it alone entirely.

Annoying. Altho it did do a great job of explaining why the injunctions against discussing religion and politics in polite gatherings.

I'll be digging around for a better book and I will report back if I find one.
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