Jane Austen, Mr. Darcy, the Christian medieval knight, the Victorian gentleman, Victorian manners
In his article “A Reqiuem for Manners,” Stephen Klugewicz at The Imaginative Conservative laments the disappearance of 19th century manners in the Western world in the last century.
Mannerly behaviour and civil dress are not just about appearances, writes Klugewicz, but actually reflect one’s inner person and values. He quotes Emily Post, a name pretty much unheard of in today’s generation, who defined manners as “the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life.”
The article goes on to define a gentleman as someone “who displayed Christian virtue as embodied in the medieval code of chivalry, an elaborate system of proper behavior to others” exemplified by the Christian knight, who humbly served his master and lived to defend the poor and defenceless, at the risk to his own life.
Manners play a great part in Victorian literature, and evidently hold great appeal for the Victorian reader also. Surely the moment Elizabeth Bennet (and the reader) falls in love with Mr. Darcy is when she visits Pemberly and is amazed by his warm, sincere civility toward herself and her aunt and uncle. (In contrast, Mr. Collins’ awkward, overdone attempts at manners make him laughable and the revelation of Mr. Wickham’s false charade of manners is horrifying.) Consider also that in the end Mr. Darcy humbles himself to save the Bennets’ reputation at the risk of his own. Truly Darcy is a gentleman. Doesn’t every Austen fan wistfully long to live in that era of manners and civility (isn’t that why we have movies such as Austenland and Lost in Austen, every Austen fan’s fantasy come true?)? Manners must mean a lot.
Do you lament the loss of “the gentleman”? Do you agree with its Christian roots? Are you drawn to Victorian literature at least in part because of the way it upholds civility and manners?