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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen

I'm writing an essay on the concept of a 'gentleman' at the moment.

Have you ever considered just what a gentleman is? When I think of him, he's standing stiffly erect, trying to keep his top hat from sliding off, unbending in his black starched coat and trousers; he's courteous to everyone, chivalry personified to ladies and always has a freshly ironed, initialed handkerchief to give to damsels in distress.

He doesn't really do much, but spends his days at the local gentleman's club. His money was inherited and because of it he doesn't understand the concept of working to survive.
The two main books I'm using are - *wait for it* - North & South...
...and Pride & Prejudice.

For our last essay in my English course, we were required to find a topic, formulate a question and develop an argument to answer the question.
Here's mine: Compare and Contrast (don't you just love those NCEA winners) the changing views fictional heroines have of the concept of a gentleman (teehee) in the novels Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, and North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Margaret and Elizabeth certainly changed their views. Margaret believed Mr. Thornton was a tyrannical master who didn't care a hoot for his workers - and was 'not quite a gentleman' - to deciding, in the end, that she wasn't good enough to marry him. Elizabeth, who had more grounds for disapprobation (love the word, stole it straight from her rejection of Darcy) of Mr. Darcy, based on his "arrogance, conceit and selfish disdain for the feelings of others" - to deciding that he'd improved so much, that her opinion of him had reversed itself completely when he asked her again.
Women. They're such impressionistic idealists.

This idea of a 'gentleman' that the two ladies advocate seems to be a mix of culture, eloquence and easy manners. Margaret's belief that Thornton isn't quite the gentleman is based solely on his status as a manufacturer, and the fact that these kinds of tradesmen lack the finer qualities of a gentleman - like courteousness, pleasantry, an informed mind and accomplishments. Her 'cold quietness of demeanor' when she's forced to make conversation with him the first time they meet completely unnerves Thornton, who as a mill owner and magistrate is used to a fair bit of deference.

Elizabeth's ideas are less aery faery - she's repulsed by the fabulously wealthy Darcy because his manners are apalling. While Margaret sees gentlemanliness as primarily conduct dictated by a man's status, Elizabeth (the enlightened one) sees gentlemanliness in men of any station - for instance, her mistaken view of Mr. Wickham's character, and her uncle's gentlemanly character.
Anyway, it's outrageously early, and my thoughts are running out. Ideas, anyone?

- Lydie


Blogger The Editrix said...

Hmm. . . I always had the impression that Margaret's early belief that Mr. Thornton was "not quite a gentleman" was also partly due to his rough manners, and his attitude (the way Margeret perceived it) towards his workers and the working class in general. I don't think her disapprobation (yep, love that word! :-) of Thornton was entirely pure snobbery, though unconscious snobbery definitely played a part in her poor opinion of him early on.

As for Lizzy. . . I'd never thought of it this way, but I think you're right, she was more enlightened in this area. She cared absolutely nothing about the money or aristocratic status of others (e.g. Darcy, Lady Catherine) and refused to be impressed or intimidated by it.

I do think, though, that she may have had the opposite problem - she was prejudiced against Darcy partly because of his immense wealth and status. She perceived him as being proud and snobbish - which he was, to some extent, but would Lizzy have been so quick to judge him if he hadn't been so wealthy? Lizzy must have grown up painfully aware of her lack of fortune, and the possible implications for her future. Then along comes Darcy - filthy rich, without a care in the world when it came to money. As far as the Bennets were concerned, he was from a different world, a different social strata, and (they believed) he had no sympathy with them, nothing in common with them at all.

So yes. . . all this to say, Lizzy wasn't entirely blameless in this area - she was prejudiced against Darcy partly because of his high social status; Margaret against Mr. Thornton because of his lack thereof.

Great post, BTW. :-)


10:28 am  
Anonymous FR said...

I’m not going to get too philosophical here. I tried, and ended up nowhere and more confused than when I started.
It’s a very good question you’ve posed - what *does* make a gentleman? I don’t think it’s entirely to do with status, then anyone with status would be a gentleman and anyone without status wouldn’t be. Neither is true. While in my very confused state just now, I googled "what is a gentleman" and found:
It summed up what I had been thinking rather nicely.
It would seem that gentlemen are rather rare these days. I wonder why? And where are they all hiding? I’d like to know, cause I’ve met precious few real, living gentlemen. There must still be some out there...somewhere. If you ever find any, let me know:)

3:55 pm  
OpenID microchiroptera said...

...i laughed at the Raphaelite portrait of idealistic lounging ladies. :)
Well i do happen to know a gentleman, even though a very young one. he used to be exceeding wild to the extent of being Unseemly-
he is pretty much a gracious being with a level and lively mind on his 13-yr-old shoulders.
he progressed from pulling hair to helping carry stuff, and various other small actions that have to do with taking care of others.

He's also my little brother :p


1:15 am  
Blogger Theresa said...

Lydie: Perhaps your next post should be about what a gentleman looks like today! Haha! - although that could be risky...

10:38 pm  
Blogger Lydz said...

wow Elise, that was a pretty epic comment! Maybe *you* should have written the essay for me. chuckle..
hmm. You're right about Thornton's way of treating the working class as being something that Marg. objects to. I'd forgotten that that was a pretty huge element in her dislike.

And yes - I think you're right about her 'unconscious snobbery'. It's more to do with how she's been brought up to view the world from a Harley Street - lens than a strong belief in trade *actually* degrading people. She did hold that belief fairly strongly, but the fact that she had to change her opinions so quickly wrt. Thornton possibly shows she hadn't thought it all out properly.

When I was studying this I got a bit irritated by Our Dear Friend Margaret; she said to her mother: "are those the Gormans who made their fortunes in trade at Southampton? Oh! I'm glad we don't visit them. I don't like shoppy people, I think we are far better off, knowing only cottagers and labourers, and people without pretence." - sorry for the long quote, but it at least explains her annoying way of viewing Thornton's position as mill owner.

Lizzy - hmm. Maybe she *was* a bit prejudiced against Darcy because of his rank. Still - she wasn't at all prejudiced against Bingley, with his 5,000 a year. Maybe it's mainly to do with the person's character. I'd say she was more disposed to be prejudiced against him because he was proud of his rank, rather than being against him because of the rank itself? haha, train of thought going on there.
Anyway. thought-provoking stuff, Elise.

11:35 pm  
Blogger Lydz said...

FR - it's so difficult to understand! I sympathise - I haven't worked it out myself. I *think* that the word 'gentleman' means a few different things: the status of gentleman, or a man who is gentlemanly in manners, like that site says. Today, there isn't any rank of 'gentleman' but it's still used to describe the fairly well-to-do men, and is also a description of a man's manners. hmm. Gentlemen today?

I reckon my brother andy - over at is a gentleman - he actually opens the car door for me sometimes, and he *always* makes me go through a door before him! Although some of that may seem superficial, he actually is a gentleman at heart, I believe.. :)

Microchiroptera - you have an awesome name! I like your blog, definitely something I'll have to add to my list of blogs to read. It's quite a different style - your way of observing minute things.
aww - your brother sounds lovely! He's certainly getting a headstart on gentlemanliness if he's a gentleman at 13!

Theresa - haha, yep it could be. Usually I avoid writing about potentially romantic/girl-intriguing guy information. Still, it's tempting. There's that whole gentleman thing going on with whats-his-name Edward, Edward Cullen. He goes for the whole: I'm ridiculously good looking and happen to be a gentlemanly vampire - thing.

11:56 pm  
Anonymous FR said...

Aw, I think it's so sweet that you have such a gentleman for a brother, Lydie. And you too, Microchiroptera (I think you have an awesome name, too). Thanks for sharing, I'm glad to know that gentlemen do still exist these days:)

8:03 pm  

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