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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-Albion@h-net.msu.edu (June 2005) Markku Peltonen. _The Duel in Early Modern England: Civility, Politeness and Honour_. Ideas in Context Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. x + 355 pp. Bibliography, index. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-5218-2062-6. Reviewed for H-Albion by Greg T. Smith, Department of History, University of Manitoba Markku Peltonen's contribution to the prestigious Ideas in Context series makes a sound addition to the current spate of work on the history of manners and civility in the pre-modern era. Peltonen takes the task of explicating the honor duel in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This rigorous study is, in fact, an intellectual history of civility and politeness and its vehicle for exploring those concepts is the discourse surrounding the duel in early modern England. The focus then is not the cut and thrust of the duel itself, but the eloquent arguments both for and against the practice which surfaced in the period between 1500 and 1700. Peltonen wants to challenge the argument made by some scholars that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were remarkable for the progress of politeness. The neat transition from an increasingly outdated honor culture to a new culture of civility is key to these arguments and Peltonen suggests that the duel has been used by proponents of that argument as an exemplary model of outdated behavior to paint a rather uncomplicated picture of the transformation of civil culture in the early modern period. Though the alleged medieval origins of the duel of honor were reiterated by defenders of the practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and were proclaimed later by many historians, Peltonen demonstrates the fallacy of that claim, explaining that the duel of honor was in fact a Renaissance creation, not a lingering conceptual relic from "indigenous medieval chivalric culture" (p. 93). Peltonen argues that a careful reading of early modern accounts reveals a clear distinction being drawn between the duel and the medieval trial by combat. Even within sixteenth-century sources and commentaries, he writes, "there is strikingly little evidence that dueling was developed from chivalric sources" (p. 12). The duel was an imported tradition that came from Renaissance Italy, and thus the ideology of dueling as it developed in England was an adaptation of a foreign cultural construct, and English conceptualizations of dueling were very much part of an English project to define and shape home-grown notions of courtesy and civility in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Peltonen traces the Italian and French roots of civility to the sixteenth century and their adaptation to English culture. By the first third of the seventeenth century, he argues, civil conversation--a social construct heavily dependent upon external traits such as polite, informed conversation and rhetorical skill--was being promoted as the way of gaining approval and respect from both one's social superiors and inferiors. But one's status as a gentleman need not be defended solely by dueling, it was argued. Critics of the duel, which included James I and others of the nobility, worried that the increasingly easy resort to violence to supposedly right certain real or imagined slights of character were in fact undermining the legitimate authority of the crown. Others pointed to the fact that the potentially fatal duel subverted central principles of Christian morality. Still other critics pointed to its Italian (foreign) origins, and argued that dueling as an imported practice did not support English notions of civil courtesy but instead marked an infiltration by outside forces. Passing over the Civil War era, Peltonen picks up the debate again in the Restoration age, when contemporaries claimed dueling had seriously increased. Here again, Peltonen is less interested in the quantifiable evidence than in the changing nature of the discourse around the duel and the culture of civility. By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the influential continental literature on civil courtesy had shifted from Italian to French sources, and the duel was coming under criticism once again, though from slightly different theoretical angles. But it is the overall continuity in the debates justifying the place for the duel within changing notions of civility that Peltonen emphasizes. The book's key arguments lean heavily upon a very careful reading of contemporary tracts and pamphlets both praising and condemning the duel. Through analysis of an astonishing range of pamphlets, diaries, letters, and manuscript texts, Peltonen shows how the arguments both for and against the duel were really at the heart of changing notions of politeness and civility in seventeenth and eighteenth-century England and how these tracts might also be read as contributions to the ongoing discussion of national identity. This makes for a dense and nuanced book, though at times the subtle distinctions between the many sources quoted are swamped by their volume. The last chapter is more tightly focused on one thinker, offering a significant re-examination of Bernard Mandeville's conceptions of politeness, civility, and sociability--again through an analysis of the place ascribed to the duel in Mandeville's works. Thus the book will be of interest to scholars tracing the contested nature of civility in both pre- and post-Civil War England. Copyright (c) 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: firstname.lastname@example.org.