Thursday, February 19, 2009

comportment

Defintion: Bearing: dignfied manner or conduct.

Therein lies the problem these days of finding Mr. Darcy. Women, Real Women, that is, are so weary of Men Behaving Badly. I recently read Julie Buxbaum's book The Opposite of Love where the main character observes men these days don't understand women are looking for "Lloyd Dobler, not Gordon Gekko." We don't want machismo, men having pissing contests in corners offend and bore us. Strength of character matters more than the definition of a man's biceps.

Emily Bronte's Heathcliff is widely considered to be a romantic hero, but he was abused and abusive. I've read Wuthering Heights a dozen times or more and while he's portrayed as a passionate lover, he only loves Catherine and treats every other character like cattle, including his own son. Rather than rising above his circumstances, he's a character who is a victim of them and depends on that arugment for pity. He acts like a big baby, too, screaming out across the moors "Cathy! Cathy!" I cringe for the same reason when Stanley Kowalski yells with primal ferocity for his wife Stella to come to the window in Tennesse William's play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Mr. Darcy doesn't want or need our pity. He never loses his dignity, even when apologizing and righting wrongs. Uptight and uncomfortable, absolutely. But he always conducts himself like a gentleman. He doesn't jerk people around, he uses his power and resources for incredible good without bragging about it, he's misunderstood but doesn't plead victimhood.


Whether escorting the nasty Caroline Bingley to a country ball,

or stuck socializing in a parlor full of strangers,

a true gentleman behaves politely and generously, biting his tongue and letting others go first. Hard lessons to teach our sons these days when we're saturated with Men Behaving Badly, but I argue Mr. Darcy is proof that Nice Guys Finish First. That's why I'm always reminding Team Testosterone about Good Manners and Not Being Rude. Self-centered, whiny brats don't grow up to have comportment, it has to be instilled in them when they're young. Teaching comportment is as much my job as feeding my sons vegetables and making sure they do their homework. Comportment is NOT an old-fashioned Victorian ideal, although gentlemen have become an endangered species in today's world. I can think of a dozen modern-day Heathcliffs with little effort, but reader, can you name a modern-day Mr. Darcy?

19 comments:

  1. I had a great uncle named Uncle Van who was, quite possibly, the most entertaining and well-mannered gentleman I have ever met. He *always* escorted his wife into or out of a family event and opened the door for her to get into the car. I have a firm memory of them walking arm in arm, in fact, it is difficult to think of a time I saw them walking on their own. He just "escorted" her with such grace.

    At the same time, Uncle Van had a devilishly clever sense of humor and a great love of life. It is an great honor to have known him.

    He's my Mr. Darcy (minus the awkward.)
    - Julia

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  2. The only Mr. Darcy I can think of right off the bat may or may not be gay (I really don't want to know for sure). You are so right, though, about raising boys.

    I took something a friend said to me a few years ago to heart and have really tried as hard as possible to get the boys on this page. J1 had fixed J2 up with my friend's son for a Sadie Hawkin's type dance (girl ask boy). As she'd done the inviting, we supplied her with wheels (J1) and money to pay for dinner and the dance. When they arrived to pick up her 'date', he presented her with a corsage and also paid for dinner and the dance. When I talked to his mother later, I told her that J2 had money, etc. and since she invited him that she surely didn't expect him to pay. She said...and I've never forgotten this..."we have so few chances to teach our boys how to behave nowadays that we have to take advantage of every opportunity to show them what to do and to make them comfortable and natural in doing it." How wise. It's no wonder I wish this boy would marry either of my girls (I've always said J1 has just been waiting for him to grow up, and they are both great friends with him, but he has a girlfriend who is one of J2's best friends...sniff!) Anyway, we've tried to do that with the boys, as well. It actually helps having had girls first, because we always talk to them about thinking about asking a date to Homecoming or Prom early rather than at the last minute, we've had them "take one for the team" more than once as a handy escort and a polite boy to make up numbers, etc.

    We've got a long way to go, but at least we know we have to go there. So many people just let their boys act like idiotic morons and say "well, boys will be boys!" Umm, yeah, that's why you have to work with them.

    Sorry, didn't mean to write a book here. Can you tell I'm passionate about ill mannered teenage boys/men/peter pans?

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  3. Hmm. Good question.

    My brother always carries a clean, cloth hankerchief. I'm afraid that's as close to comportment that I've seen.

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  4. Oh, and can you please post a picture of Mr. Darcy #1 everyday? Yeah, he's that fab-u-lously smouldering in my book.

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  5. As much as I love 18th century British literature, I do NOT like Wuthering Heights.

    As for modern Mr. Darcys, I think they're everywhere, if you know where to look. Yes, there are lots of Heathcliffs out there, but there are lots of Mr. Darcys.

    For example, my own husband is much more Darcy than Heathcliff. No, he's not a dapper dresser, nor is he fabulously wealthy. But, he is unfailingly polite and respectful to everyone. He makes sure my grandmother gets the most comfortable chair when she visits and he treats my mother as if she were the Queen of England.

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  6. I am always reminding my ten year old son to behave in a civilized manner. I am hoping one day he will comport himself like Mr. Darcy.

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  7. I know several fairly well-mannered, nice men - but of Mr. Darcy quality I only know a precious few and none of them are straight.

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  8. Amen sister!

    I know so many Mr. Darcys. But then again, I first see the good in everyone until they piss me off. Then I try not to notice them at all.

    If you have any pointers with your boys, please share!

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  9. Maybe if more young girls read P&P instead of Teen Vogue, the Chris Browns and other real-life bad boys would never stand a chance for affection or admiration next to the real-life Darcys.

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  10. I find Heathcliff/Catherine as cringe producing as any modern day soap opera. I don't GET it.

    And The Saint is a pretty good Mr. Darcy contender BTW.

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  11. How do you feel about arranged marriages?

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  12. After your week of Classic British Women's Literature, I think I need to pick up some Bronte or Austin.

    Yup, I've never read any of these books you talk about. Nor have I seen the movies.

    Don't cut me out of your life or front yard.

    I just now know what is on my reading list for the summer.

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  13. Oh it's hard to teach boys to be gentlemen when the schools teach that everyone is equal. My boys think a girl would be offended if they held the door open for them - but they do it for me 'cause I'd be offended if they didn't.

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  14. I get next dibs after Holly.

    There's one Mr. Darcy at work among lots of whiner-babies.

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  15. My best friend's late husband had the most wonderful old world manners (drummed into him by his Danish father). He made regular old American good manners seem totally inadequate.

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  16. I saw W.H. before I read it and thought that ms. Bronte was a psycho. I am not a fan of heathcliff, and I think that catherine was too abused and desperate for love. But my dad does remind me a bit of mr. Darcy. Just a bit though.

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  17. I think you need a holiday in England....come and meet some repressed Englishmen!

    H
    x

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  18. Hmmm....I just have to say that...well...everyone IS equal. We can't blame the schools for reinforcing what is already true. Perhaps some people aren't comfortable practicing equality between the sexes, but it's there regardless. I'm the mother of three sons. My husband and I have taught them to hold the door open for ANYONE who is coming up behind them. Man, woman, whatever. Especially the elderly and people with kids. Good grief! I can't imagine taking offense over someone showing me simple politeness, even though I'm a feminist. What I also can't fathom is teaching young men that good manners should only be shown toward women. Sure, society has an unfortunate history of social customs that attempt to reinforce the image of male strength and female weakness and when practiced as such? Yeah....piss me off.

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Spill it, reader.