Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

David S Shields



This dissertation explores the literature and history of the ―long‖ nineteenth- century South through the intersection of rhetoric and violence as it is represented in dueling, the settlement of honor disputes through ritualized gunplay or the threat thereof. The duel has long served in historical interpretations of the South as a signal scene of violent masculine honor. Indeed, its life and death consequence has made it a preeminently potent expression of authentic elite values. Curiously, literary investigation of the duel, particularly its constructedness, has not provided a sufficiently-developed alternative understanding of this locus classicus of regional identity. My dissertation provides this alternative interpretation. Using literary writers such as Mark Twain, Augusta Jane Evans, Robert Munford, John Blake White, Royall Tyler, and others, in conjunction with non-literary texts such as letters, newspaper and magazine articles, postings, sermons, memoirs, honor court documents, and the code duello itself, I argue that representations of dueling were central to the development of Southern masculine identity even as they saved elite men from the violent practice of that identity. The duel custom in the South interposed language between reputation and deed, whereby performances of violent masculinity, in print or less frequently in codified practice, were the major markers of aristocratic male worth in the nineteenth-century South.

Divided according to form, my four dissertation chapters detail distinct segments of print culture surrounding the duel, with an eye towards the representation of honorable

manhood evinced therein. Chapter Two: ―The Honorable Ideology of the Duel,‖ the most theoretical of the chapters, positions the duel ritual as a function of communal manners, and thus a prescriptive definer of social behaviors, particularly in the realm of masculine honor. Chapter Three: ―The Language of the Duel‖ evaluates a host of non-literary writings from duel participants, uncovering the paradox of publicity in the production and distribution of these ostensibly private communications. Chapter Four: ―The Case Against the Duel‖ explores oppositional rhetoric from groups outside the honor culture, including women‘s magazines, anti-dueling sermons, the rejection of aristocratic values in the revolutionary moments of the plantation Caribbean, and the tacit repudiation of honor culture implicit in the late-century age of assassination. Chapter Five: ―The Literature of the Duel‖ analyzes the complicated trope of dueling in southern literature from the very beginning and end of the dueling period in the region, roughly from the Revolution to Reconstruction. The Appendix: ―Duel Document Transcriptions‖ gathers together a number of original duel documents transcribed from manuscript, a small reclamation of a formerly repressed literature.

In conclusion, through a conflation of historical and literary texts, I offer an appreciation of the complicated legacy of honor and the duel in southern society, especially where they intersect with the world of print. This dissertation adds to the scholarly knowledge base about southern culture, the link between violence and print, and shifting attitudes about practical honor, all as they are encapsulated in the fascinating world of what William Faulkner calls ―a succinct and formal violence‖ – the duel.


© 2010, Todd Hagstette