Saturday, October 04, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen

gen·tle·man /ˈdʒɛntlmən/[jen-tl-muhn]
noun, plural -men.

1. a man of good family, breeding, or social position.
2. (used as a polite term) a man: Do you know that gentleman over there?
3. gentlemen, (used as a form of address): Gentlemen, please come this way.
4. a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man: He behaved like a true gentleman.
5. a male personal servant, esp. of a man of social position; valet.
6. a male attendant upon a king, queen, or other royal person, who is himself of high birth or rank.
7. a man of good social standing, as a noble or an armigerous commoner.
8. a man with an independent income who does not work for a living.
9. a male member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Massachusetts.
10. History/Historical. a man who is above the rank of yeoman.

- Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 04 Oct. 2008.

Ask any single woman what she wants in a man and nine times out of ten, somewhere in her description of Mr. Right will appear the word "gentleman." You could be forgiven for doubting the sincerity of their desires when you consider that nine times out of ten the same girls are dressed in nothing more than strips of clothed strategically pulled into place to avoid a conviction for public indecency. After all, the kind of man you attract in that outfit does not fit anyone's definition of a gentleman.

But what is a gentleman after all? Are all these women on the same page with what they want? Certainly there is nothing particularly alluring about a "male personal servant." I can imagine, however, why some might be attracted to "a man with an independent income who does not work for a living."

But that is not what people usually mean when they say "gentlemen." I think in most minds a gentleman most resembles Mr. Darcy, the hero of the book that practically every female has enshrined under a special light on a golden pedestal on her bookshelf (all right, maybe not quite). Mr. Darcy does not pressure Elizabeth to have sex with him, in fact their physical contact is almost nil save when they are dancing. Mr. Darcy does not lie. He is also a "man of action" who gets things done behind the scenes, and without boasting about it or seeking praise. He has the added advantage of being enormously rich.

His counterpart of course is Mr. Wickham. This officer is a liar, irresponsible with his money, a seducer of virgins, very interested in sex and in filthy lucre.

Every woman who reads Pride and Prejudice can identify the gentleman and the scoundrel, the hero and the villain. What sometimes gets overlooked is that these characters have female counterparts. Elizabeth is a lady: serious, well-educated and intelligent, a model of proper behavior, and completely and utterly chaste. Her sister Lydia is not ladylike at all: flippant, obnoxious, loudmouthed and promiscuous.

There has been such a push in modern criticism to view Jane Austen as a feminist that her harsh critique of sexual rebellion tends to go unnoticed. Austen emphasizes the disaster of unconventional sex through her depiction of Lydia as a disgrace and the potential undoing of her entire family. She does not show Lydia as a strong or liberated female making her own sexual choices - instead she is a silly, selfish prig and a cross to everyone close to her. Austen has zero sympathy for Lydia, and she makes that clear when she provides the tidy ending in which each sister gets what she deserves: the lady-like Elizabeth is matched with the gentleman Darcy and presumably lives happily ever after, and the loose young girl, Lydia, is paired with the wicked scoundrel Wickham, who most likely does not love her and only agrees to marry her after being bribed with the promise of money.

The moral of the story is obviously that if you want to marry a gentleman, be a lady.

But being a gentleman or lady is not merely a concern for those with a vocation to marriage. In The Catholic Spirit, the paper of the diocese of St. Paul in Minnesota, there was an interview with the rector of the seminary, in which he said of his seminarians:
They want to be men of the church. They have a love for the church. They don’t know as yet all about what their responsibilities or calling will be in that church, but that’s what formation is. They love the church, and they somehow want to respond to the call to serve the church.

Second, they want to be gentlemen, and we want to help them to be just that. We pray in the Mass for vocations for ardent, but gentle, servants of the Gospel. . . .

We’ve had so many examples of what that means. From the time I came here, and for the first years I served here, we had Archbishop [Harry] Flynn. He’s the quin­tessential gentleman. He just knows how to touch the hearts of people. All the leaders that I’ve had the good fortune to serve with, and now Archbishop [John] Nien­stedt, that’s a hallmark of their ministry. They want to be men of the church and gentlemen. They respect [other people].

I want to ruminate about this a little more. In the meantime I highly recommend The Art of Manliness site. They feature a free guide to being a gentleman in 2008.

1 comment:

  1. I am lucky in knowing some wonderful gentlemen! Great post..