chapter  8
6 Pages

Regression and Reaction: Past Realities and Future Possibilities

The gentleman as a survivor during and after the Great War; the gentleman in a battle of imagination against will; the gentleman as relic of chivalry, as dedicated landlord, hapless puppet on the strings of influential friends; the gentleman seriously repressed by his own ideals. These are just a few presentations of the gentleman in twentiethcentury literature; there are many more. There is, for example, the gentleman cad, a particularly popular literary figure in the nineteenth century – one need think only of George Osborne in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, or Sir Felix Carbury in Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. In twentieth-century literature, the cad no longer plays a prominent part, although one example might be Galsworthy’s Soames Forsyte, a man not merely careless about the feelings of others, but deliberately callous. Then there is the unworldly gentleman, immortalized in P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. Another popular presentation is that of the gentleman as the predominantly sentimental man: Ford’s Edward Ashburnham in The Good Soldier, who had ‘all the virtues that are usually accounted English’ qualifies for that category.1 In fact, Ashburnham is presented as the story-book gentleman: good-looking, polite, well-educated, a good soldier, loyal to his men, a well-loved landlord. His downfall is his sentimentality, his urge to help everyone around him, but mainly his uncontrollable tendency to give in to every emotion concerning women. Galsworthy’s Miles Ruding, ‘The Man Who Kept His Form’, is another epitome of the literary gentleman: ‘You’re keeping up the prestige of the English gentleman’, he is told.2 To play the game, and to play it fair are the maxims of his life, and that despite the fact that life treats him roughly.