My review in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
FEW SOCIAL PRACTICES now seem more antiquated than the formal duel by swords or pistols. The so-called “judicial duel” became widely practiced in Europe in the early Middle Ages, influenced by Homeric and other Classical accounts of single combat, and survived more or less intact for centuries. Over the same span, duels appeared endlessly in stories, paintings, poems, and novels. Duels seem “particularly hospitable to literature,” John Leigh proposes in his lucid and thorough new study, because they are “self-contained dramas”; “the most deliberate, self-conscious of acts,” the “ritualized combat” of a duel stipulates a consistent pattern of word and deed….
2 thoughts on “Pistols at Down: on Touché: The Duel in Literature”
This is really great Ivan. I guess somewhat naively I had thought of duels as always marking the fault line between an honor and a justice model for sociality: if you duel you think your honor and your virtue are linked directly to your manliness, whereas if you refuse it you put your faith instead in some kind of third-person authority structure. Kind of like all those Icelandic sags which re about the role that the court can or can;t play in a feud. But if the same story of vaguely permissible dueling keeps repeating over and over, then how much of an epoch-marker can it be?