A Gentleman’s Index Poem

Taken from the book The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal, by Philip Mason.

 

1 Reading List

 

Book of Snobs, The

Book of Courtiers, The

Description of England

Edwardians, The

Idea of a University, The

Ideal of a Gentleman, The

Knight on Wheels, A

Legend of Good Women, The

Way of the World, The

 

2 Qualities

 

Courtesy

Gentillesse

Gravitas

Intellectual attributes

Manners

Moral qualities

Musical ability

Physical attributes

Ruling class

Scholarship

Snobs

Sportsmen

Squire

Statesmanship

Stoicism

Troubadours

Women, attitudes to

I have been thinking about masculinity and femininity and this book uses both history and literature to examine the English idea of the “gentleman” and how it evolved from the time of the Norman Conquest through about World War I. He draws examples from Geoffrey Chaucer, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others, all of whom as an English major I read in college, which means I absorbed this very English-ruling-class idea of masculinity without realizing it.

But I find it fascinating that Mason says in a footnote, “More than one critic who saw an early draft of this book wanted me to include some comments on the Japanese samurai. But I know nothing of Japanese culture, and I think it would take a year’s work to fit myself to write even half a page of useful comment on the samurai” (Mason 235, n. 23). This is interesting to me because I think I have also absorbed a lot of what I think it means to be a good me (masculine and/or feminine or other) from studying (primarily Japanese) martial arts for more than half my life. And although contemporary Japanese culture does make some strong distinctions between masculine and feminine, they are not always in ways Westerners would recognize, so I will have to think more about this.

Trying Things On

germany-the-bookworm

In the last few weeks, I have ordered seven or eight pairs of shoes online. I fully expect to have to send half of them back for not fitting; I acknowledge that this is not the most efficient or environmentally responsible way to buy shoes, if simply having things in general to wear on my feet is my goal. But I think what I am really doing is playing with constituting my identity in a different way and that requires a specificity I can’t achieve by wandering through Marshalls or DSW and hoping I hit on something interesting and appropriate.

It feels very strange to be sorting out my identity with shoes. Normally, I use books. As a writer and English teacher, my normal destinations in moments of existential confusion are, first, the library, and second, the used/antiquarian bookstores.

According to LibraryThing.com, an online book cataloguing site, I have about 900 books, not counting cookbooks and cartoons. Like most bibliophiles, I have a very clear organization for my books, so I can generally lay my hands on whatever I am looking for in seconds: theology here, poetry over there, books on Joss Whedon’s oeuvre on the shelf above the books on bungalows and the Arts and Crafts movement, etc. Back in 2009 or so, I bought a copy of Carl Spitzweg’s “The Bookworm” (1850) to put up on one of my bedroom walls. This fellow is one of my inner archetypes, along with the woman warrior, and when I am trying to process how my life has changed every few years, I find myself rearranging my books, and I suspect to anyone watching, I probably look a bit like this.

Most of the shelves stay static. Books about writing or medieval history or science pretty much stay where they are. But I have two shelves that change on an irregular basis: the Writing Project in Process shelf and the Self in Process shelf. The former still carries a bunch of books about England and ancient Egyptian religion from a novel I tried to write two years ago. The other one has been undergoing some shifts since Tuesday morning when I stood there with my huge Christmas mug filled with overly creamed coffee feeling restless. (I was restless, not the coffee.) Out came the books on mystery writing and spycraft that were overflow from the Writing Project shelf. In went the following Very Odd Bibliography:

 

Connors, Roger, and Tom Smith. Change the Culture, Change the Game. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Earhart, Amelia. Last Flight. (1938). New York: Crown, 1988.

Levertov, Denise. The Poet in the World. New York: New Directions, 1973.

Mason, Philip. The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal. New York: William Murrow, 1982.

Oliver, Mary. Blue Pastures. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995.

Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998.

Stark, Freya. Perseus in the Wind. New York: Transatlantic Arts, 1949.

 

It should be interesting to see what my little reading list leads to.