A discussion of the quest, the heroic quest, and heroes at ConDor a few weeks back got me to thinking about male heroes, as written by women.
The hero from the female gaze is one I think of as the Beau Ideal. This guy tends to show up with certain recognizable qualities, either admired by women, or written by women, or both, down through the centuries of Western literature.
So many historical versions present this hero as civilized—what the gentleman could be. (Little pun there, as “gentil” has a complex history, having as much to do with birth as it does behavior.)
I don’t think this ideal begins Castiglione’s Courtier as I’ve seen asserted, but farther back, and at the inspiration of a very strong woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine. What do you think? I am no medieval scholar, but from my limited view, she and her circle seem to have reinterpreted chivalry to be less about honor and war, and more about social discourse.
When I look at the songs and poems these women favored (and wrote) I can imagine that they did not see the ‘perfect knight’ in huge men tromping sweaty and filthy straight from the battlefield into her fine rooms, blabbing exclusively of killing unruly barons and damned Saracens, to the exclusion of wit, literature, music, and other emotions besides the urge to deal death. She and her ladies liked their men clean, pretty, and house-broken, with the skill to entertain.
There’s a traceable line from these heroes of medieval ladies going through female authors such as Madame de la Fayette and on to the Pimpernel; from him to Peter Wimsy and from him to Crawford of Lymond, the type branching ever outward.
That Beau Ideal is recognizable through his descendants—very often blond, slim, blue-eyed, more often than not a second son so he must shift for himself though he still is noble of birth—witty, well, read, courageous, seemingly immoral or amoral, but even when he gets kicked around by a savage world (and some writers really like to kick him pretty hard), he holds true to his beliefs. And he has beliefs, even if it is only in honor and his fellow-man.
Not always written by females. Example, Dimitrios of John M. Ford’s Dragon Waiting, the anchor to the story; with Dimitrios, though the world around the characters seems to be sick with disease, war, greed, ambition, and death, there is grace, even if as elusive as the echo from an unseen choir.
Do you see this pattern, or any pattern?