Power of Character
Middle-Class Masculinities 1800-1900

By David Tjeder
December 2003
Department of History, Stockholm University
ISBN: 91-7265-633-6
318 pages, Illustrated, 6 " x 9 "
$87.50 Paper Original

This is a study of continuity and change in middle-class conceptions of ideal manhood. The theoretical cues in this work are the notions of the male as an unproblematised and genderless norm, masculinity as homosocial, and George L. Mosse's use of countertypes. Notions of passions, youth, and character were important throughout the century. If young men could learn to master the dangerous passions especially in the precarious period of youth, they would develop character.

If men instead gave in to the passions, they would fall and become countertypes. Meanwhile, young men lived according to another notion, that young men should have their fling. The meaning of manhood also changed over time. In the decades around 1800, manhood meant to lead a life which would be beneficial to society as a whole. Another ideal, the man of the world, was founded on urbane manners as a tactic to further one's career. By mid-century, the ideal of the self-made man came to the fore.

The homosocial world of business was now seen as a good way to mould manly characters. In the last decades of the century, moralists criticized the sexual double standard and male sexuality. To remain chaste until marriage became a central mark of manhood. Autobiographers, however, reveal that to many men, Don Juan was a hero rather than a villain. The notion that men were genderless and that masculinity was not a subject of discussion cannot be sustained. Masculinity was indeed the subject of intense discussions. Meanwhile, neither moralists nor autobiographers shed critical light on married, adult men.

The problem was how young men should best be guided into an adult position of legitimate power; that position of power in itself was not problematised. While most masculinities were homosocial, this was not exclusively so. Countertypes were more complex than what Mosse allows for. Men who had taken ideal manhood too far could be countertypes, and at times men endorsed ideals which meant unmanliness to moralists.

Sociology; History

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