Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Manly Months Conclusion

When Men Were Men

Manly Months is done.  We spent April and May reading manly 19th century literature, and you might be surprised at just how rough and tough our ancestors were.  Believe it or not they didn't all sit around sipping tea and eating cobbled oats.  I know, they wore those lacy looking shirts and all, but don't define them by their frilly fashion sense.

Here are the books I managed to read and review:

  • King Solomon's Mines, by Sir H. Rider Haggard (1885)
  • Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling (1897)
  • Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  • The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane (1895)
  • The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1888)
  • The Frozen Pirate, by W. Clark Russell (1887)

Only six books, I wish I could have finished more.  Here's a list of others I could have added to this list, and still plan to read:

  • W. Clark Russell - various sea stories
  • Captain Frederick Marryat - various sea stories
  • Sir H. Rider Haggard - more adventure stories
  • Victor Hugo - Toilers of the Sea (1866)
  • Stephen Crane - The Open Boat (1897)
  • Richard Henry Dana - Two Years Before the Mast (1840)
  • Winston Churchill - various war stories including The River War (1899)

I should add one more to this list that I've actually read numerous times - that would be Roughing It, by Mark Twain.  He spent several years living out west among Indians and outlaws and miners, and wrote extensively about them.  It's one of the most entertaining books I own.  If you put your hand on your weapon, be prepared to use it.  That was a time when men were men, as the saying goes.

Remember that life pre-20th century was harder than now.  We've got it easy.  The average man was a farmer back then, most men were married with children by their mid-20s and worked hard their whole lives.  Throughout history laws have always been sporadic, and people learned to fend for themselves and take care of themselves.

We think a man is tough today because he drinks protein drinks, goes to the gym three times a week, has a tattoo or two, and hangs out in bars.  Maybe he even grows a soul patch to dispel any doubts.

In them olden days, men didn't have time for any of that.  They got up with the sunrise, mended fences, ploughed fields, and chopped wood.  They occasionally had to fight for their lives against marauders, outlaws, and pesky invaders.

Take the dark ages, for example.  It was a near constant state of war, when not only the men but the women had to know how to defend themselves.  Children were often left alone after an invading army swept through, and were raised by their wits and strength or died young.  Men grew to manhood knowing how to fight and kill when necessary, and how to provide for themselves and their family by their own hands and the sweat of their brow.

Manliness was taken for granted much more than it is today.  Today it's something to be proven by artificial means - wearing dark glasses and copping an attitude, being top dog at the gym, having a fast car.  There was a time when your survival alone was proof of your manliness - when you carried an actual weapon of war on you at all times and were ready to use it to defend your life when necessary.

That it should be reflected in literature today is not surprising.  But what I didn't expect when I started Manly Months was what I found out.  Because it was so common in centuries past, it was so taken for granted that it wasn't considered an actual subject of literature.  Instead, it lay on the fringes of the actual storyline.  Today, the manliness itself is the subject simply because it's not as common.  When we read Dirk Pitt or James Bond or Jason Bourne, we are reading the exploits of a tough guy because he's tough.  It's his tough manliness that creates the story.  In centuries past, that alone did not stand out from the crowd.  It wasn't worthy of being the drive of the story.

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