Monday, December 21, 2015

Christopher R. Oldstone-Moore's "Of Beards and Men"

Christopher R. Oldstone-Moore is a senior lecturer in history at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair, and reported the following:
Page 99 offers a fair reflection of what is on offer in Of Beards and Men: the Revealing History of Facial Hair. It discusses the self-fashioning of medieval French kings and crusaders, who helped establish a strong conceptual link between virtue and the shaved face that endures to this day. I write that “Louis VII was [in 1144] setting two precedents for French royalty: piety and beardlessness. Over the next three and a half centuries, the former was not regularly observed, but the latter was. It proved easier to look virtuous than be virtuous.” King Louis was also leader of the Second Crusade, and his knightly retainers similarly shaved or cropped off their beards in the style of the holy pilgrims they saw themselves to be. Earlier pages of this chapter provide the background for this style choice by explaining how and why medieval church theologians favored shaving as a symbol of spiritual and moral discipline.

This account of medieval kings and knights relates to the larger story of masculine virtue in the Middle Ages and subsequent eras. It illustrates how the church successfully promoted shaving for clergy and laity as part of its effort to steer all men to a life of pious mindfulness of spiritual rather than worldly purposes. Though men of the Renaissance countered these ideals with a forthright and bearded humanism, this older idea of shaven virtue endured, reborn in new guise in later centuries. These longer trends, in turn, illustrate some of the key themes of the book, particularly the fact that over the course of Western Civilization from Hellenistic Greece to our own day, shaving has remained the default mode of ideal manliness, interrupted only by relatively brief bearded eras. Explaining this lopsided pattern, and its peculiar timing, tells us a great deal about changing formulations of masculinity over time. In this respect, the history of men truly is written on their faces.
Learn more about Of Beards and Men at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue