• Define “gentleman” in Victorian terms. Who was a gentleman? What did a gentleman do, and what was expected of a gentleman in Victorian England?
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The Victorian era in England was one that stressed morality, self-restraint and properness. When most people think of the Victorian era they visualize women in constrictive dresses that prevented any sort of freedom or comfort. What is not commonly considered is how restrained the men were as well. The Victorian era raised the idea of a Victorian gentleman. This idea brought forth a role for men in society that was incredibly demanding, limiting and stressful. Throughout daily life, both public and private, gentlemen always had to meet certain expectations and requirements of the present day society.
A Classic Gent
A Classic Gent

Appearance and fashion played an important role in the lives of each gender throughout the era. Proper Victorian gentlemen were always dressed and groomed well. There were certain clothing items men were expected to wear in public or in front of others. For a man to reveal his shirt sleeves to a woman other than his wife it was considered “impolite”. To avoid any conflicts or insults, men would wear waistcoats, or dapper cutaways.
Example of a cravat
Example of a cravat

For formal attire, men often wore top hats and cravats to add to their proper appearance. Though the clothing men wore was not as constraining as the clothing women wore, it was as equally important in adding to their image. Along with clothing guidelines, men were also expected to meet certain hygiene expectations. “As for the gentlemen, they should be seen and not smelled,” it was suggested that men wear a small amount of perfume to give them an appealing scent.


Grace and elegance
Grace and elegance


Gentlemen with proper appearance were nothing without reputable behavior. The actions and decisions of a man were paramount in determining his quality as a person. The guidelines to how a gentleman should act are unlimited. Many of the common guidelines are shown in Victorian literature, such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre in which male characters exude qualities of chivalry, courage and kindness. The gentleman of the Victorian era were expected to act from the "impulses of his kind heart". (Station 1). Proper men were to create pleasurable conditions for all those in their care. They were supposed show a lot of respect and kindness to the people around them.(Gentlemen 1). Though gentlemen were not expected to be "saints", they were supposed to treat everyone kindly. There was an enormous pressure put on gentlemen to treat every person in the room correctly and properly, “He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd....” That sort of pressure is not usually felt by the men of today’s world unless perhaps they are meeting with the in-laws for the first time. The idea was to never step on anyone’s toes or be the slightest bit insulting.


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As well as being well dressed and well mannered, gentlemen had to be wealthy and financially savvy. One could be a gentlemen on a factory worker's salary. In order to care for the one around you; as mentioned in the previous paragraph, you had to be able to afford all the modern comforts of the Victorian era. Many men considered to be gentlemen, were wealthy landowners or business owners. Even more important than owning land, would be making a profit from land, or investments. Gentlemen didn't waste their wealth on indecent and superfluous things, they were wise and thrifty with their estates. Being wealthy mostly meant that you had born into well to do families in the upper class or even nobility. Because moving up in society in Victorian times was virtually impossible, birth into money practically the most important requirement for gentlemen. It was also hard to keep a good appearance on a smaller budget as well.(Gentlemen 1)


Victorian gentlemen often had to follow a set of unwritten rules or display certain qualities. These rules included acting kindly, being brave, never being embarrassed and keeping his honor. Gentlemen should also respect all but also should never be arrogant or weak. He should have dignity and carry himself with grace.