Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jane Austin on Being a Gentleman

A college classroom discussing literature, sometime earlier this spring:
"Just the other day, when we were discussing Darcy’s first proposal and Elizabeth’s adamant refusal, a bright young man raised his hand and said he had a question for a particular young lady in the class. He looked at her in all seriousness and said “Ashley, in light of your beauty and amiability, would you be so kind as to accompany me to the Liberty Ball?” Several moments of stunned silence followed as the rest of us tried to discern if this was a joke or a legitimate invitation to the spring formal. The young man held his gaze with steady expectation, and in perfect Jane Austen fashion the young lady blushed. And being no less equal to the occasion than an Austen character, she smiled demurely and remarked .... "
I stumbled across this piece by Mark Mitchell written back in April, and loved it:
Austen’s gentlemen (I’m thinking especially of Darcy here) understand the call of duty; they are committed to family, reputation, propriety, and self-control. To be sure, Darcy takes himself quite seriously, but aren’t these pursuits serious by nature? To neglect one’s duty, to be careless of one’s family and reputation, to ignore the bounds of propriety and to indulge the appetites without restraint are not the actions of a gentleman. They represent, conversely, the behavior of a boor. Or, perhaps equally fitting, they are the actions of a male who has no sense of what it means to be a man. Such characters may be Guys or Peter Pans but they are not men and surely not gentlemen.
No indeed.

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