manliness

I’m reading A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White, and it’s sending me to the dictionary with nearly ever paragraph. In the novel, the protagonist is struggling with his increasing awareness that he is gay (or homosexual as it would have been called during the setting of the story). One of the ways he hopes to overcome this tendency is to become more “manly.” And in his teenage mind, the best way to do this is to go to a boys-only boarding school.

The interview his parents have with the headmaster is comical, but one sentence, one whopper of a sentence, truly caught my eye:

“For my father, sitting uncomfortably in that petit-point chair without arms, manliness was not discussable, but had it been, it would have included a good business suit, ambition, paying one’s bills on time, enough knowledge of baseball to hand out like tips at the barbershop, a residual but never foolhardy degree of courage, and an unbreachable reserve; to the headmaster manliness was discussed constantly, every day, and entailed tweeds, trust funds, graciousness to servants, a polite but slightly chilly relationship to God, a pretended interest in knowledge and an obsessive interest in sports, especially muddy, dangerous ones like lacrosse or hockey or rugby that ended with great sullen lads hobbling off the field to lean on sticks at the sidelines, the orange and blue vertical stripes of their jerseys clinging to panting diaphragms, bare knees scarred, blond hair brown with sweat, an apache streak of mud daubed across a wan, bellicose cheek.”

I’d not read Edmund White before, but I think I’ll find more of his novels in the future. In fact, this one is the first part of a trilogy.

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