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  • Writer's pictureJuilet Archer

An Officer or a Gentleman?

2 November 2015.  Discovering Darcy

I loved the Country Life article on how to recognise a 21st century gentleman.

Darcy as an OfficerNaturally, it made me think of someone who wrote about the daughters of gentlemen in a world where marriage to a gentleman was seen as their purpose in life: Jane Austen. Her novels illustrate the two measures of a gentleman 200 years ago: birth and character. Her heroes tend to embody both, although her heroines are often slow to appreciate the second.

The most famous example is Lizzy Bennet. In the first half of Pride & Prejudice, she prefers the officer to the gentleman. She is attracted to George Wickham, an officer with the militia, who reveals that he has been treated very shabbily by so-called gentleman Mr Darcy. This merely confirms Lizzy’s initial (and prejudiced) impression of Darcy as rude and arrogant. When Darcy unexpectedly proposes marriage, Lizzy tells him in no uncertain terms why she is turning him down, ending with: ‘You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’  Later in the novel, we hear from Darcy how deeply those last few words affected him.

But Lizzy finds that she has been deceived in both men. As she says, ‘One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.’ By the time Wickham returns to Longbourn after an elopement and hasty marriage to her youngest sister, Lizzy is ready to grab him by his regimentals and turf him out of the house. With Darcy, her feelings undergo a similar reversal as she learns what a true gentleman he is.

Let’s measure him by some of Country Life’s 39 criteria:

Numbers 1 and 9: ‘Negotiates airports with ease’ and ‘Turns his mobile to silent at dinner’ – Jane Austen couldn’t put these to the test, but I’m sure a modern Darcy would pass with flying colours.

Numbers 7, 8 and 34 are to do with style: ‘Possesses at least one well-made dark suit, one tweed suit and a dinner jacket’, ‘Avoids lilac socks and polishes his shoes’ and ‘Sandals? No. Never’. A definite tick here 200 years ago, except that his servants did the shoe polishing.

As the owner of a large country estate, Jane Austen’s Darcy would probably meet criteria 3 and 33: ‘Can train a dog and a rose’ and ‘Knows the difference between a rook and a crow’.

Numbers 5, 6 and 14 also ring true: ‘Knows when not to say anything’, ‘Wears his learning lightly’ and ‘Is unafraid to speak the truth’.

We can only speculate (and frequently do) about numbers 19 and 37: ‘Can undo a bra with one hand’ and ‘Demonstrates that making love is neither a race nor a competition’.

And, best of all, number 30: ‘Has read Pride & Prejudice’!

How would Poldark measure up?

After my #Poldarcy article earlier in the year I was wondering how Poldark would measure up to Country Life's criteria.


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