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Discuss the Qualities Expected of 19th Century Victorian Gentlemen, and Dicken’s Criticisms of Them.

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Introduction

DISCUSS THE QUALITIES EXPECTED OF 19th CENTURY VICTORIAN GENTLEMEN, AND DICKEN'S CRITICISMS OF THEM. HOW DOES DICKENS USE LANGUAGE TO CONVEY HIS MESSAGE? Charles Dickens was a man who often used his writings as a tool to explain to the public his criticisms of the various facets of Victorian life. These criticisms included the penal and judiciary system, the maltreatment of children and the idea of the Victorian gentleman. The latter is the predominant theme in Great Expectations, a novel about the 'son' of a blacksmith becoming a 'gentleman' after he is given a large sum of money by a mysterious benefactor. I shall discuss the Victorian perception of the qualities of a gentleman in this essay and then comment on how Dickens criticises these perceived qualities, especially through Great Expectations. Perhaps the word 'gentleman' should be defined before it can be analysed. The Collins dictionary gives two definitions: 1. A man regarded as having qualities of refinement associated with a good family; 2. A man who is cultured, courteous and well educated. It is interesting to note at this early stage that it only mentions one truly personal quality, courtesy, whereas being cultured and coming from a good family are highly prized qualities. I mention this definition because it almost exactly mirrors the Victorian definition of a 'gentleman' and summarises it well. ...read more.

Middle

Dickens disagreed vehemently with this. He believed that although politeness was an attractive and necessary attribute, holding a spoon correctly or putting your hat in the right place should not be seen as all-important. "And that the fork is reserved [to put in the mouth], it is not put farther in than necessary." This clearly shows how pedantic and superficial the Victorians were. Although manners are important, and Dickens shows this in a humorous light, which probably only the upper classes would find funny, does it really matter how far in the fork is placed? Dickens says no. I believe he also implies that these intricate rules of etiquette were a way for the upper classes to make themselves look, and feel, superior to the lower classes. A perfect example is when Joe goes to see Miss Haversham, and doesn't talk directly to her but to Pip, for fear of making a mistake or appearing disrespectful. The way one spoke in the Victorian era was heavily connected to etiquette and much to Dicken's disgust, related to one's social status. To be a true gentleman in the eyes of Victorians, one had to speak with an affected upper class accent and use words that many 'common' or lower class people wouldn't use: ""He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!" ...read more.

Conclusion

This is the main theme in his book, and is the basis of Pip's development. Through Magwitch, Dicken's shows that money can 'make' a gentleman. Dickens believes that to be a true gentleman, money is only of value through work, and that even so, there are more important things in life, such as loyalty, friendship and honour. Joe, being Dicken's example of a true gentleman, shows this when he uses all the little money he has to pay off Pip's debt and despite this making him penniless, is still happy because Pip's health is improving. Although Pip eventually makes it on his own, and pays off his financial debt to Joe, he is left with an emotional debt he can never repay. Dickens believed in karma. He believed that if you sow the seeds of goodness, you will receive goodness. He also believed it worked the other way - badness begets badness. Pip's only worthy deed in his development - starting a fund for Herbert to set up in business, later provides him with a job, and makes him into a true gentleman, because he works hard, he makes it on his own, and he pays off his financial debt to Joe. Bentley Drummle, on the other hand, treats Estella with violence and disrespect and dies a violent death when he is killed by his horse. So it would seem that we all reap what we sow. ...read more.

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