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By J. Solinger

Turning into the Gentleman explains why British voters within the lengthy eighteenth century have been haunted through the query of what it intended to be a gentleman. Supplementing contemporary paintings on femininity, Solinger identifies a corpus of texts that handle masculinity and demanding situations the proposal of a masculine determine that has been considered as unchanging.

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

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11 To this day, fashion’s ability to convey worldliness requires cognoscenti versed in some form of knowledge of the world. The world that emerges in the pages of male instructional texts, one might say, is not a place to inhabit but an idea to apprehend. Thus, the importance of knowledge of the world lay less in the data it conveyed than in the promise it held that both social standing and fortune were won or lost by knowing or failing to know the world. It was in this vein that Chesterfield, breathing new life into the Christian trope of the book of the world, advised his son: “The world is the book, and the only one, to which, at present, I would have you apply yourself, and the thorough knowledge of it will be of more use to you, than all the books that ever were read” (2: 92).

Well into the next century, conduct-book authors and educational writers would lament the decay of virtue and learning among the aristocracy in ways that made it possible to hedge and disguise their attacks on hereditary distinction. So begins John Littleton Costeker’s The Fine Gentleman: Or, The Compleat Education of a Young Nobleman (1732): “[T]he Majority of our modern Youth are so far from excelling those of the 20 BECOMING THE GENTLEMAN last Centuries in what then used to raise them to Emulation after Praise, I mean the liberal Arts and Sciences in the Knowledge and Practice of Virtue, that those of our present Times have hardly any Knowledge at all of them” (8–9).

14 Closer to home, this experiential rhetoric shaped curricula and valorized a plain style of writing. The conceit that structures an adage such as “The whole Universe is your Library,” for example, depends upon a seemingly self-evident breach between text and referent. Implicit in the novelty of this figure is the notion that the world exists outside the various systems used to describe it, and that maybe, with the right guidance, it can be known directly, without the distractions posed by language.

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