Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Multiple Perspectives on the Honourable Duel

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Multiple Perspectives on the Honourable Duel

Article excerpt

Multiple Perspectives on the Honourable Duel Victor Kiernan. The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy, New Editioin. London: Zed Books, September 2016. ISBN: 978-1-78360-838-6. History. 348pp. $22.95.

Some of the first book-length works I read included duels. These were the novels of Alexander Dumas and works by lesser-known authors that wrote about pirates and aristocrats alike engaging in duels for honor, for country, and for love. As a writer, I have ventured into the times when duels were popular. So, I had to ask for a book about the history of the duel, as it is a topic I should know more about. For example, I recently researched an American author who was an editor and engaged in a duel for which he was kicked out of a western state because duels had just been outlawed there. The concept of fighting to the death being legal is one that clashes with the basics of modern law, wherein any attempt on somebody else's life unless it is in self-defense is illegal, but then again is one defending one's life when one answers the threat proposed in a duel?

Curiously, there is only one chapter in this book dedicated to a single person and it is, "Walter Scott and Honour." I have been studying Scott a great deal, and duels are not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about his historical novels, publishing efforts, judgeship... So, I'll start the examination here. As I started reading this chapter, the meaning became clear, Scott's contribution to the duel was more in the passages he wrote that glorified the honour of dueling rather than in his own attempts with this art. Kiernan explains, justly, that Scott yearned to become an aristocrat out of his humble beginnings (his father was a common lawyer that never rose above his humble law practice). Scott achieved this goal when the King knighted him and added Sir to his title. He and a couple of his publishers (with whom he partnered) also went bankrupt trying to buy extremely luxurious castles or mansions that rivaled the aristocracy's abodes. …

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