fashions in sensibility

Dorothy Sayers, in the introduction to her translation of The Song of Roland, describes the contemporary notion of manly strength in contrast to the weeping and fainting of Emperor Charlemagne. Her reference of the “tough guy” with a cigarette brings to mind Humphrey Bogart in the film Casablanca:

Here too, I think we must not reckon it weakness in [Charlemagne] that he is overcome by grief for Roland’s death, that he faints upon the body and has to be raised up by the barons and supported by them while he utters his lament. There are fashions in sensibility as in everything else. The idea that a strong man should react to great personal and national calamities by a slight compression of the lips and by silently throwing his cigarette into the fireplace is of very recent origin. By the standards of feudal epic, Charlemagne’s behaviour is perfectly correct. Fainting, weeping, and lamenting is what the situation calls for. The assembled knights and barons all decorously follow his example. (Page 15)

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