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Dubenyuk L.


student of Foreign Philology Department

Foreign Languages Institute

Dragomanov National Pedagogical University

Horohova I. V.


assistant professor of Foreign Philology Department

Foreign Languages Institute

Dragomanov National Pedagogical University

EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT “GENTLEMAN”


Almost all Indo-European languages, regardless of social development level, have a special stock of words and peculiar linguistic units describing the privileged classes and their representatives. Unlike continental Europe countries, where class barriers were historically erased, England has been and remains one of the few countries where all attempts at leveling the class system contributed to its strengthening. “Gentleman” is one of the most distinctive terms indicating the upper classes in Great Britain. Besides, it belongs exclusively to the English sphere of concepts and is a typical nomination for privileged enclave in the UK.

Furthermore, the term “gentleman” is one of the key concepts of Anglo-Saxon culture in general and English mind-set in particular. It has altered and undergone some transformations in the process of settling. This idea can be underpinned by images, characteristics, associations that notion conjures up. Undoubtedly, the term “gentleman” has deep roots in English society and appeared on the British Isles in the 13th century (Middle English period) as etymological hybrid, translation loan (calque) formed from the elements existing in the English language according to the patterns of the source language.

Middle English form gentilman originates from old French word combination gentilz hom which nominated a noble man, aristocrat [11]. The first component derives from Latin genus (“belonging to one race, stock” [10]), and has lots of derivatives with a common lexico-semantic field of the noun gentleman.

As for the etymology, it should be stated that the term gentleman (from Latin gentilis, belonging to a race or "gens", and "man", cognate with the French word gentilhomme, the Spanish gentilhombre and the Italian gentil uomo or gentiluomo ), in its original and strict signification, denoted a man of good family, the Latin generosus (its invariable translation in English-Latin documents). In this sense the word equates with the French gentilhomme (nobleman), which latter term was in Great Britain long confined to the peerage. The term "gentry" (from the Old French genterise for gentelise) has much of the social class significance of the French noblesse or of the German Adel, but without the strict technical requirements of those traditions such as quarters of nobility.

In this sense it was recorded as a man of gentle or noble birth or “a man of a high social class[3] which was first and foremost for centuries in defining a gentleman. William Shakespeare in the 16th century writes the following:

I freely told you, all the wealth I had

Ran in my veins, I was a gentleman [14].

Samuel Richardson in his epistolary novel “Clarissa. Or, the History of a Young Lady”, written during 1747 – 1748, states: a Man of Birth and Fortuneor a Nobleman of middle Genius[13, p.16], and follows: “…seemed highly pleased with the gentleman. His birth, his fortune in possession, a clear 2000 l. per annum, as Lord M. had assured my uncle; presumptive heir to that nobleman’s large estate… [13, p.20].

Noble ancestry was still of great importance through the 19th century when Charlotte Brontë in the novel “Jane Eyre” denotes: Old Mr. Rivers, she said, was a plain man enough, but a gentleman, and of as ancient a family as could be found. [2, p.655] or “…the family have always been respected here. Almost all the land in this neighbourhood, as far as you can see, has belonged to the Rochesters time out of mind” [2, p.104].

Jane Austin supports the idea in the novel “Pride and Prejudice”: “This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with every thing the heart of mortal can most desire,-splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage” [1, p.67] and later we find: «My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father's, from respectable, honourable, and ancient-though untitled-families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid… He is a gentleman…» [1, p.298].

Oxford Dictionary defines gentleman as “a man of gentle birth, or having the same heraldic status as those of gentle birth; properly one who is entitled to bear arms, though not ranking among the nobility" [11].

It was also well-known that a gentleman was a man of gentle birth, who was entitled to bear arms, ranking above yeoman in social position[3].

Defoe attempted to define the qualities of a gentleman in his work “The Compleat English Gentleman”, written between 1728 and 1729. Defoe first separates gentlemen into two groups: “born gentleman” and “the bred gentleman”. Of the born gentleman, Defoe states that he is “a person BORN (for therein lies the essence of quality) of some known, or ancient family; whose ancestors have at least for some time been rais’d above the class of mechanicks”[4, p.25]. Clearly, however, Defoe believed that being a gentleman involved more than birth right and idle living, for in his broader definition he states that the term signified “a man of generous principles, of a great generous soul, intimates a kind of an obligation upon those who assum’d the name to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world by generous and virtuous actions” [4, p.36].

Sir Thomas Smith, offered the following definition of a gentleman that stressed a man’s behavior and reputation: “For whosoever studieth the lawes of the realm, who studieth in the universities, who professeth the liberall sciences, and to be shorte, can live idly and without manual labour, and will beare the port, charge, and countenaunce of a gentleman, he shall be called master, for that is the title which men give to esquires and other gentlemen, and shall be taken for a gentleman” [12, p.178].

Starting with the 18th century, education becomes one of the most prominent features of a real gentleman what has the next dictionary entry: a man who is cultured, courteous and well-educated [11]. Samuel Richardson in “Clarissa. Or, the History of a Young Lady” validates: “everybody distinguishes the gentleman born and educated” [13, p.31].

John Locke, an English philosopher and leader of the Enlightenment age who fathered Classical Liberalism, was convinced that: “Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him” [9, p.16].

Locke begins his advice to a Gentleman on the importance of reading with the following thoughts: “Reading is for the improvement of the understanding. The improvement of the understanding is for two ends; first, for our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver and make out that knowledge to others” [4, p.140]. Afterwards the philosopher proceeds by enumerating those studies that are of primary importance for a well-bread, honorable man in civil society: “Therefore he, who would be universally knowing, must acquaint himself with the objects of all sciences. But this is not necessary to a gentleman, whose proper calling is the service of his country; and so is most properly concerned in moral and political knowledge; and thus the studies, which more immediately belong to his calling, are those which treat of virtues and vices, of civil society, and the arts of government; and will take in also law and history” [4, p.140].

Starting with the mid of 18th century up to the second half of 20th century pronunciation plays an important role for a well-bread and educated man. A person could not be considered to be a “gentleman” if he had not speak queens English”, that is a language spoken by royal family, court and aristocracy. The idea is proved by a number of literary examples. George Eliot in the novel “Middlemarch” substantiates: “He is a gentleman. I heard him talking to Humphrey. He talks well” [5, p. 161], “There would be some pleasure in voting for a gentleman who speaks in that honorable manner” [5, p.892].

In addition to this, Oliver Goldsmith in “The Vicar of Wakefield” fortifies: “Mr. Thornhill, notwithstanding his real ignorance, talked with ease, and could expatiate upon the common topics of conversation with fluency” [6, p.22].

To sum up, it should be stated that the concept of “gentleman” is one of the most important English concepts which belongs exclusively to the British sphere of concepts. It was firstly registered in 13th century and went through altering in the process of its evolution. Through centuries it gained new specifications.



All in all, it can be acknowledged that the concept of “gentleman” is complex, synthetic, and absorbed quite a number of connotations and implementations in the process of evolution: from purely noble birth, high social position to civility, decorum, impeccable behaviour, and what is more important a good education.

List of references:

  1. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. R. W.Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1986. – 352 p.

  2. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. – 545 p.

  3. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of English. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. – 1814 p.

  4. Daniel Defoe, The Compleat English Gentleman, ed. Karl D. Bulbring. London: Balantyne Press, 1889. – 295 p.

  5. Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Ed. Ashton, Rosemary. London: Penguin Books, 1994. – 491 p.

  6. Goldsmith O. The Vicar of Wakefield/ O. Goldsmith. – London: Penguin Books, 1998. – 284 p.

  7. John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 5th ed. (London, 1705 [1st ed., 1693]), in James L. Axtell, ed., The Educational Writings of John Locke. – London and New York, 1968. – 190 p.

  8. Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. 2 vols. 4th ed. London: Strahan, 1770. – 2306 p.

  9. Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Ed. Ruth W Grant and Nathan Tarcov. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996. – 262 p.

  10. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. 5th ed. Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2009. – 2081 p.

  11. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. 8th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. – 839 p.

  12. Penelope J. Corfield, “The Rivals,” Land and Society in Britain, 1700-1914, ed. by Negly Harte and Roland Quinault. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996. – 240 p.

  13. Richardson, Samuel, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, ed. by Peter Sabor (Harmondsworth 1985) – Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady, 3rd ed., 8 vols. London 1751. – 592 p.

  14. William Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice/ Shakespeare William. – L.: Penguin Classics, 2005. – 240 p.





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