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By J. Solinger

Changing into the Gentleman explains why British electorate within the lengthy eighteenth century have been haunted via the query of what it intended to be a gentleman. Supplementing fresh paintings on femininity, Solinger identifies a corpus of texts that deal with masculinity and demanding situations the idea of a masculine determine that has been considered as unchanging.

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Extra info for Becoming the Gentleman: British Literature and the Invention of Modern Masculinity, 1660–1815

Example text

Where the latter “assume a prerogative over their Fellow-Creatures, as if they were not moulded of the same Materials with them; and, contemning all others, value only their great and mighty selves,” the “Man of a generous Education . . treats his Inferiors with Respect, has a due Regard to his Friends, and is civil and just to all” (55, 56). Such language transfers to the gentleman of a liberal education the paternal cares and public virtues long associated with men of the landed gentry and titled aristocracy.

On the other, the line’s evocation of sumptuary customs and use of the word “coat” call to mind the armigerous gentleman that William Darrell, the Catholic theologian and author of A Gentleman Instructed (1704), likened to the “proud Temples of Egypt, that under Gilt Frontispieces, and Azur’d Vaults, lodged nothing but Statues of Rats and Crocodiles ” (17). In KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD 23 writing of this sort, one glimpses the semiotic origins of the middleclass subject, as defined both (positively) by its interior attributes and (negatively) by its relation to those above and below it on the social scale.

That this struggle over the category of the gentleman has never been recognized as a central event in the historical rise of the modern middle-class individual is undoubtedly a function of the success with which such writing masked and reified its construction of the gentleman. It is striking in this regard that throughout the textual wrangling surrounding the category, there is a pervasive distrust of categories and language in general. Following Bacon and (in some cases anticipating) Locke, male instructional authors, for reasons I develop below, described their world as one plagued by an abuse of words.

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