Cover: Touché: The Duel in Literature, from Harvard University PressCover: Touché in HARDCOVER


The Duel in Literature

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$41.00 • £35.95 • €37.95

ISBN 9780674504387

Publication Date: 06/08/2015


352 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

10 halftones


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[Leigh] has produced a surprisingly long list of plays and fictions in a variety of languages in which [duels] feature. He uses his haul to trace attitudes to dueling, often made clearer in literature than by the historical record, through a series of close readings of texts where duels are not merely a plot device but reveal something about human nature and the evolution of social values… His elegantly written, free-ranging encounter with the literature of dueling shows why the duelist became and stayed a hero.—David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

An intriguing book… Ranging over two dozen examples of novels, poems and plays, Leigh describes how this ‘medieval anomaly’ continued to preoccupy writers, even as they dismissed dueling as an old-fashioned folly… The strength of Leigh’s book is that it makes sense of such an anachronistic act… Some of the most striking moments are when he invokes potential modern parallels to duels—American Westerns, Olympic fencing… His entertaining study will remind readers why this archaic form of male combat can still be compelling, and how it could live on.The Economist

Throughout Touché, Leigh shows himself a master of the neatly turned observation… An excellent [book].—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

Fascinating.—Brooke Allen, Hudson Review

A duel always carried with it some improvisatory aspect, what Leigh calls ‘a sort of joyous death-defying creativity, an ingenuity which almost excuses the fatalities that followed.’ Touché itself has something of this quality. The depth and scope of Leigh’s reading are never in doubt, but it is the idiosyncratic willfulness of his enthusiasm that frees this book from the dead hand of cultural studies under which it might otherwise have languished… Urbane and elegantly penned.—Jonathan Keates, Literary Review

Erudite, enjoyable and wide ranging, taking in authorities as disparate as St. Augustine and Jerome K Jerome. Leigh has the knack of the well-minted phrase.—Richard Hopton, The Field

Touché is keen, clever, thorough, crisply humorous and impressive in its sources.—Richard Davenport-Hines, The Spectator

Insightful.—Henrik Bering, Wall Street Journal

With a [book] like Touché, the temptation to linger on anecdotes must be strong, but Leigh stays admirably focused: he wants to understand why the duel was so pervasive in stories, and to uncover the meanings writers found or placed in it. It soon becomes clear that, in a variety of ways, the practice of dueling was wrapped up in writing about it.—James Guida, New Yorker

It is the extraordinary prevalence of duels in literature that John Leigh explores in a study that ranges from the early 17th century to the early 20th century, and that moves confidently across the continent of European literature… Leigh has a remarkable range of reading to hand and is easy with the different proprieties of various European languages. He wears his learning lightly—with a nonchalance, one might think, that matches many of the duelists we encounter in his book.—John Mullan, New Statesman

Touché demonstrates how some of the greatest writers of the modern era used the duel in their works (and sometimes literally in their own lives) to help their readers come to grips with the emerging modern world.—M. A. Byron, Choice

This is an excellent study of the strange survival of the duel into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and its imaginative appeal in literature. The author’s unexpected and illuminating insights come across in a pleasing, infectious way.—Ritchie Robertson, University of Oxford

Touché is remarkable. Through the insightful analysis of classic works in English, French, German, Russian, and Italian literature from the past three centuries, the book generates a vivid history of dueling. It is brilliantly written, filled with apt allusions to contemporary art and music—a pleasure to read.—Theodore Ziolkowski, Princeton University

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