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A Class Apart

The Military Man in French and British Fiction, 1740–1789


Karen Lacey

The military man has long been one of literature’s archetypal figures. Using a comparative framework, this book traces the transformation of the military man in eighteenth-century British and French literature as this figure moved from noble warrior to nationalised professional in response to changes within the military structure, the role of empire and the impact of an expanding middle class. The author examines the way in which the masculinity of the military man was reimagined at a time when older models of military service persisted alongside emerging models of patriotic nationalism, inspired by bourgeois morality, the cult of sensibility and a new understanding of the role of violence in both public and private domains. Through a corpus of canonical and lesser-known literature, the book explores the military man’s relationship to the state and to his fellow citizens, even in the domestic setting. With the role of the «nobleman» in decline, the military man, not a «civilian» and no longer associated with the ‘aristocrat’, became a separate class of man.
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… the feudal system, about which the writers of this age have made such a pother, as if it was a new discovery, like the Copernican system. Every peculiarity of policy, custom, and even temperament, is affectedly traced to this origin, as if the feudal constitution had not been common to almost all the natives of Europe (1771).1

As the military man moved from non-national archetype (warrior, knight, noble) to nationalised professional, loyalties were transferred from feudal lords to kings and, finally, to states. The shift from the dynastic realm to nationalism was under way in the years that frame this study and would be consolidated but also disturbed by the French Revolution and its aftermath. For the warrior, individual glory had been the reward for valour on the battlefield; for the military professional, selfless service to the state was recompense in itself, with the concept of glory being reshaped and financial reward modest and uncertain. In the same decades, patriotism was evolving into a moral category that seemed to offer a democratic alternative to hierarchical models, a shift that put new focus on the moral relationship between the soldier and the state. Simultaneously, the battlefield was revolutionised by technological developments to the weapons of war, a further limitation of the scope for the display of personal valour and a further requirement for professionalisation, moving nations incrementally toward, as Adam Smith affirmed, the ‘absolute necessity’ of possessing a professional army. These fundamental changes, as I have...

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