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The 19th century Gentleman/ Lady - Great Expectations/ Emma


The 19th Century was a time of tremendous social and economic flux. The Industrial
Revolution created a consumer economy and a huge middle class with the means of purchasing
consumer goods. This new middle class felt that they had arrived at a higher social plane of
existence. The social norms of the farm and the tenement would not do for the family of a man
who had made his way in the world.

The new middle class wanted to purchase appropriate manners, just as they could purchase
fashionable homes, stylish clothing or the latest domestic gadget. From the 1850s on, the market
was flooded with etiquette books which laid out to people who had never been exposed to such
things, the rules of "polite society".

Ironically, these rules were based upon the norms of the 18th Century European aristocratic
society which the middle class had supplanted and rendered obsolete -- and tended to disdain
for its decadence and effeminacy.

These changes were taking place throughout the European and American world, but in America,
an additional dynamic was present. 19th Century Americans were keenly aware of the
uniqueness of their democratic institutions and society, and many saw the manners of "polite
society" as contrary to the egalitarian nature of America.

The manners of the 19th Century, as expressed in etiquette books, do contain many elaborate
social rituals which seem a bit quaint to us moderns, but the vast majority of their space is
devoted to what would seem to be common sense.

Great Expectations

Britain in the 19th century was an extraordinarily dynamic place, one that was pioneering new
forms of social and urban organization. People often think of Victorian society as a stratified
one with rigidly fixed class identities, but Dickenss novels tell a very different story. Like
Dickens himself, the characters in his stories often make huge social transitions, both from
wealth to poverty and the other way round. He only wrote two novels in the first person. The
first of these, David Copperfield (1848-50), tells a triumphant story of class mobility in its
description of Davids progress through hard work and talent from poverty to success, wealth
and happiness. Great Expectations tells a much darker and more haunted version of such a class
transition. Both are novels focused on psychological growth or development, but whereas the
narrative movement of David Copperfield is towards fulfilment and insight, that of Great
Expectations is to emptiness and loss of self.

Dickenss works portray a very mobile society in which fortunes can be made and just as
suddenly lost. Some of his contemporaries, such as Karl Marx, believed that the social classes
were being increasingly driven apart, divided into the two opposing camps of the bourgeoisie
and the proletariat. Dickens, by contrast, is fascinated not by the similarity of people in a
particular class, but by their differences. He portrays in detail the extraordinary variety of ways,
in small differences of clothing, accent and behavior, by which people show and act out their
class identities and aspirations. He is constantly drawn to characters who are at the margins,
rather than the center, of social classes: those clinging to the edges of gentility or respectability,
and those who suddenly fall or rise in the uncertain world of the Victorian economy.

When people say that Dickens could not describe a gentleman, what they mean is ...that Dickens
could not describe a gentleman as gentlemen feel a gentleman. They mean that he could not
take that atmosphere easily, accept it as normal atmosphere, or describes that world from the
inside....Dickens did not describe gentleman in the way that gentlemen describe gentlemen...He
described them...from the outside, as he described any other oddity or special trade. Dickens
found and mastered a fictional form capable of expressing the social ironies underlying, both
in his own and his generations preoccupation with the idea of gentleman and in doing so
delivered what is in many ways his most profound commentary on Victorian civilization and
its values. Also, Dickens could write Great Expectations because he was deeply involved in
the process of social evolution.

To determine if someone is a gentleman, one must look within them and not focus upon their
material wealth. In the novel Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, three characters show
qualities of a true gentleman. Pip, Joe, and Provis have true gentlemen-like characteristics,
which are shown through the way they live and present themselves.

The nub of Pips problem is that hes a country boy, brought up in a blacksmiths forge, who
wrongly imagines that by becoming an urbane and sophisticated gentleman he will win the love
of the beautiful but haughty Estella, who belongs to a higher social sphere. This is spelt out in
the very short Chapter 14, when Pip reflects gloomily on being doomed to a life at the forge,
and then in Chapter 17, when he makes his lunatic confession to Biddy as to his particular
reasons for wanting to be a gentleman, namely, The beautiful young lady at Miss Havishams,
and shes more beautiful than anybody ever was, and I admire her dreadfully, and I want to be
a gentleman on her account.

Pip aspires to the wrong sort of gentlemanliness: when he says he wants to be a gentleman, he
doesnt mean he wants to be someone distinguished by his integrity, his chivalry, his modesty
and selfless consideration of the needs of others. Pips idea of a gentleman has nothing to do
with high morals. His is the idle dream of the poor boy for the sort of easy riches which we now
associate with the cult of celebrity. He wants to be dressed in extravagant finery, drinking the
best champagne and running up gambling debts in fashionable clubs.

This is very much the philosophy of The Finches of the Grove, the group of rich, rowdy and
irresponsible young twits with whom Pip and Herbert consort in Chapter 34. Dickens seems
amused as well as disgusted by their antics, indulgent perhaps in the light of his own
remembered proclivities as a gadabout young man, when he was a struggling lawyers clerk
and shorthand reporter on a low salary, sensitive about his lower-middle class origins and his
fathers disgraceful descent into bankruptcy and imprisonment.

Once Magwitch is dead and Biddy has rejected him, Pips illusions lost - and in Chapter 34, he
admits that being a Finch wasnt much fun anyway - he has to sober up and start working for
his living, rising by his own unremitting efforts rather than the magic wand of an inheritance.
After Joe (ironically) has paid off his debts and he has drudged for a decade in the offices of
Clarrikers, Pip ends up becoming another sort of gentleman.

Joe Gargery, the blacksmith kind, loyal, sincere and hardworking, a faithful dog of a man,
simple in heart and mind. In Chapter 57, in gratitude for his tender sickbed ministrations, Pip
whispers O God bless this gentle Christian man! Gentlemanliness, in his case, is as much
about Gods grace as it is about any act of personal will.


Emma is typical of Austen's novels - in essence, a female oriented one with a female central
character - a lassie called Emma Woodhouse. Typically, she was of the upper middle class
section of refined Regency/Georgian society, living in a small English village (much like
Elizabeth Bingley in Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen, while writing the novel, called Emma "a heroine whom no-one but myself will
much like." Emma is an independent, wealthy woman who lives with her father in their home
Hartfield in the English countryside near the village of Highbury. The novel concerns her
attempts to be a matchmaker among her acquaintances and her own romantic misadventures.

Emma Woodhouse has grown up indulged by her governess and in consequence has picked up
little real schooling. As early as Chapter 5 Mr. Knightley points to her failure to submit to a
serious plan of reading as a major fault in her development, saying She will never submit to
anything requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding.

Emma professes that she does not ever wish to marry -unless she falls very much in love-, as
she has no financial need to, having a large inheritance and she doesn't wish to leave her father
alone. After series of new engagements, visits at Highbury, and lots of miscommunication,
Emma finds herself falling in love with her friend George Knightley.

George Knightley is Emma's friend, brother-in-law of her sister Isabella, and ultimately her
love interest. At 37, he is significantly older than she and Emma looks up to him. He often gives
her advice and guidance, particularly since Emma's mother is deceased. Mr. Knightley has a
strong moral compass and frequently teases or scolds Emma for her more frivolous pursuits,
such as matchmaking. He also disagrees and argues with Emma on occasion, notably on
Emma's interference with Harriet Smith and Robert Martin's relationship. Knightley spends
most evenings with Emma and her father, taking the short walk from his home to theirs.

Due to his attachment to Emma, Mr. Knightley has disliked Frank Churchill -unconsciously
labeling him as competition- even before he met Frank, and remains doubtful of him even when
everyone else indulges the younger man. It is also his jealousy of Frank that causes Mr.
Knightley to acknowledge his romantic feelings for Emma. Although he is mostly rational, he
can also act more impulsively at the cause of Emma, such as making a sudden visit to London
and returning in an equally unexpected manner to propose to her. Emma, too, gradually realizes
her feelings for him due to her jealousy first of Jane Fairfax and later of Harriet Smith.

Emma often behaves in a frivolous or selfish way, and shows a lack of consideration for her
friends and neighbors. She carelessly manipulates the life of her friend Harriet Smith, neglects
her acquaintance Jane Fairfax, and insults the poor and dependent Miss Bates. However, her
friends, especially Mrs. Weston and George Knightley, see potential in her to improve herself
and become a better person.

Emma does not have one specific foil, but the implicit distinctions made between her and the
other women in the novel offer us a context within which to evaluate her character. Jane is
similar to Emma in most ways, but she does not have Emmas financial independence, so her
difficulties underscore Emmas privileged nature. Mrs. Elton, like Emma, is independent and
imposes her will upon her friends, but her crudeness and vanity reinforce our sense of Emmas
refinement and fundamentally good heart. Emmas sister, Isabella, is stereo-typically
femininesoft-hearted, completely devoted to her family, dependent, and not terribly bright.
The novel implicitly prefers Emmas independence and cleverness to her sisters more
traditional deportment, although we are still faced with the paradox that though Emma is clever,
she is almost always mistaken.

Although Austen predicted that Emma would be a non-likeable character, most of her readers
have proven her wrong, her narration creates many ambiguities. The novel is narrated using
free indirect discourse, which means that, although the all-knowing narrator speaks in the third
person, she often relates things from Emmas point of view and describes things in language
we might imagine Emma using. This style of narration creates a complex mixture of sympathy
with Emma and ironic judgment on her behavior. It is not always clear when we are to share
Emmas perceptions and when we are to see through them. Nor do we know how harshly Austen
expects us to judge Emmas behavior. Though this narrative strategy creates problems of
interpretation for the reader, it makes Emma a richly multidimensional character.