Posted by: Natalie | March 4, 2011

Is Chivalry Dead?

A straight forward question from Plinky this evening.

If we are talking about the chivalry of old depicted in so many romantic stories, poems and paintings where a shining knight on his stunning steed sweeps a fair maiden from her troubles, then yes. This type of chivalry is almost certainly dead, that’s if it ever truly ever existed beyond the imagination. There is something intoxicating and wonderful about the idea of lad and lass meeting one another and falling so terribly in love in an instant; as if stars had collided and the whole universe lit by the sparkling shine of their glittering explosion. A love so instantaneous and powerful that it could extinguish all that stood in it’s path. These people who experience such enormity of passion, as written and painted through the centuries, usually follow a certain criteria; a woman who has befallen some certain tragedy in order to be lifted from it by her one true chivalrous love.

'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by Frank Bernard Dicksee (1902) based on poetry by John Keates

I think we long for this romanticised vision because it is not something we can experience – and to be honest, I am not sure I would want to. I don’t want to be in a position where I am so completely broken that the first sign of a fellow in a shiny suit captures my heart forever. I fear that would only inevitably end my days in even more turmoil, after all we don’t always see the longevity to these¬†Raphaelite-esq romances – just look what happened to Guinevere!

"Lancelot and Guinevere" by Donato Giancola. Click for link.

But it does all depend on your own definition of chivalry. There are some people who seem to base their character on some misplaced, preconceived concept of how it is to be chivalrous. In each instance I have experienced this I am over-whelmed by the performance and unsettled by how false it seems to be. I have been faced on occasion with men who seem to think it is their place and power to pull out chairs, open doors, collect my coat, doff their cap and constantly exclaim just how princely they are. This, when displayed by people of our generation, I find a little creepy – not because I am some staunch feminist who wants to assert her right to do these things for herself, far from it, but because it is out of time; because it doesn’t feel real or genuine and there is nothing more insulting to me. But perhaps I have met the wrong type of this gentlemanly species?

No, chivalry for me is a very different quality, and it does exist in small, sparkling glimmers in both men and women. It may simply be common decency but there is such a lack of this at times that small acts of kindness should be celebrated as chivalrous. Its when you see three teenage lads help a clearly frazzled lady with a pushchair and monstrous amounts of luggage off the train. When someone stands aside in a busy store to let you pass, and actually smiles. When someone stops their car by the side of the road to check that stranger with a puncture has help on the way. The couple next door who lend the wheel barrow so backs are not thrown out by humping a tonne of gravel onto the drive. The bus driver who actually allows you to turn right without being abusive! These acts are so small and seemingly insignificant but they do the thing we most need; make us feel good about the world and not quite so alone.

My Steve is chivalrous – I know there will be unbelievers out there, including Steve, but it is true; there are so many small, beautiful acts that I couldn’t even begin to count. But they all make me feel like that princess lifted onto his white horse – that’s if he could actually lift me! He seems to know what I need even if I don’t realise; when I am cranky and irritable, without even mentioning he forces me to sit on the sofa, under a blanket while he fetches me food and drink (hunger being the usual cause of my grumbliness); He, on occasions I will let him – and even some when I don’t, takes me shopping for clothes or cookware that I simply cannot justify spending on myself; He buys me tickets to musicals he doesn’t really want to see just because he know’s I do; He replaced and grew my Disney DVD collection; He tells me how beautiful and loved I am when I am feeling at my lowest; He bit by bit pieced back together my confidence and self-esteem so as to be happy with my lot and inside my own skin. All these and so many, many more little moments are worth so much more to me than any romanticised ideal of chivalry.

I would not swap what I have for any number of knights in shining armour. I already have mine.

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Responses

  1. You lucky, lucky thing! I actually agree that Steve is chivalrous, in the modern and gentlemanly sense, even if he doesn’t see it! :P

    Of course, some of us love the OTT chivalrous behaviour, much as we love our shiny costumes and romantic dreams: but then some of us have long modeled ourselves on princesses anyway! I guess it takes all types! :)

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with this.

    I think notions like chivalry do evolve with the times and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss modern chivalry just because it’s different to our preconceived idea of what chivalry should be.


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