Hurl-Eamon on Brown and Barry and Begiato, 'Martial Masculinities: Experiencing and Imagining the Military in the Long Nineteenth Century'

Michael Brown, Anna Maria Barry, Joanne Begiato, eds.
Jennine Hurl-Eamon

Michael Brown, Anna Maria Barry, Joanne Begiato, eds. Martial Masculinities: Experiencing and Imagining the Military in the Long Nineteenth Century. Cultural History of Modern War Series. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019. 288 pp. $120.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-5261-3562-9.

Reviewed by Jennine Hurl-Eamon (Trent University) Published on H-War (October, 2020) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

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This book came out of the 2015 conference “Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century” held at the University of Hull to honor the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. Eleven of the participants revised their work into chapters dealing with a wide variety of topics relating to martial masculinities. Like many editors in such circumstances, Michael Brown, Anna Maria Barry, and Joanne Begiato faced the challenge of bringing together disparate parts into a coherent whole. They have organized the chapters so that the first five are considered as analyses of “experiencing” martial masculinities and the second six as “imagining” them. Most importantly, Begiato and Brown have contextualized the essays with a masterful introduction. It situates this collection within an already rich and growing historiography of military masculinities in this period and extracts the collection’s key contributions. For this book, the long nineteenth century has been periodized as 1789-1914. As Brown and Begiato compellingly argue, this was a “vital transitional period” for Britain because it preceded “the advent of mass military participation ... but ... nevertheless saw the rise of mass society, culture, and consumption, as well as a transformation in the relations between the military, the state and the public at large” (p. 3).

The collection consists of a series of snapshots of various manifestations of, reactions to, and attempts to communicate this distinctive vein of maleness. It has been unearthed in soldiers’ own memoirs and letters, and novels, paintings, poems, and advertising campaigns about them. The cast of characters ranges from Lord Uxbridge, the officer who lost his leg at Waterloo, to St. John Rivers, the fictional clergyman in Jane Eyre (1847). Given the circumstances behind its creation, the collection is understandably more pointillist than comprehensive in its approach. However, the editors are to be commended for framing the body of the book within introductory and concluding chapters that aggregate the individual findings into a coherent whole.

The dichotomy of “experiencing” and “imagining” is an apt connective tissue for these essays, but other collective insights emerge when the book is read against the grain. Begiato and Brown have broken these into four categories: the intersectionality of military and civilian worlds, the highly varied and shifting nature of martial masculinities, the significance of the physical body to warriors’ maleness, and the intrusion of domesticity on martial culture (and vice versa). Martial Masculinities highlights the paradox and contradiction that many faced in defining or pursuing warrior manliness. Julia Banister, along with Brown and Begiato, shows that war wounds could be both a badge of honor and a source of shame, just as veterans were simultaneously admired and pitied. Even war and peace could not be entirely separated. Among others, Barbara Leonardi, Lorenzo Servitje, Elly McCausland, and Helen Goodman point out how martial-themed literature emerged in times when British forces were least involved in active conflicts. Louise Carter, Helen Metcalfe, and Susan Walton reveal that military loyalties never superseded family ties.

By demonstrating the multivalent and contingent nature of martial masculinities, this collection leaves the door open for many other avenues of inquiry. Future investigation might consider, for example, how ideals of manliness differed between the commissioned and so-called other ranks. Most of the essays here focus, explicitly or otherwise, on officers. This is understandable, given that this group was more likely to write letters and memoirs and to be subject matter for the books and periodicals emerging in such profusion in this period. Nonetheless, these materials might be read alongside other sources to determine the degree to which enlisted men adopted those gender traits or displayed others. Similarly, attention to variation between and within regiments would also likely prove fruitful. Leonardi’s focus on the Highland warrior model is a start in this direction. There can be little doubt that distinct forms of masculinity were fostered by, and associated with, soldiers with light infantry training. As I note in my book on military marriage (Marriage and the British Army in the Long Eighteenth Century: The Girl I Left Behind Me [2014]), guardsmen’s unique status in the army also came with its own brand of manliness, which would be interesting to explore further. The collection has highlighted the generational side of masculinity as well. Brown, Begiato, Walton, McCausland, and Goodman suggest that boys and girls internalized ideals of martial manliness from their elders. They demonstrate that age can be brought alongside gender as a useful category of historical analysis. My current research delves into how boy privates and drummers struggled to earn manhood in the army.

In a superbly written epilogue, Isaac Land offers a final synthesis of the chapters while presenting his own original research on cross-dressing women in uniform. Martial masculinities staked a claim over particular forms of virtue, vigor, and valor, he concludes. Accounts of female soldiers and sailors constitute “the ultimate test of how stoutly defended these (putatively) gender-specific virtues and accomplishments were” (p. 258). Ultimately, Martial Masculinities reminds us of the need to look beneath the homogenous surface presented by uniformed, drilled troops in the age of horse and musket. Moreover, it makes it clear that the influence of military gender ideals went far beyond those who donned a uniform.

Citation: Jennine Hurl-Eamon. Review of Brown, Michael; Barry, Anna Maria; Begiato, Joanne, eds., Martial Masculinities: Experiencing and Imagining the Military in the Long Nineteenth Century. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October, 2020. URL:

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