by cheri block
I’ve just finished reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay (1856) entitled English Traits. Particularly curious (and a bit amusing) is Chapter VI on Manners.
One of my essays this quarter is due next Wednesday, so I am rolling around ideas that have worked their way out of my “rich mud of conception,” as American pragmatist Charles Saunders Peirce might observe, fighting their way to consciousness despite my distractions.
One possible topic I am thinking about is English manners.
I like manners, custom, and chivalry.
The English seem to possess such qualities, generally speaking, not including the tabloid press and the comedians.
This quarter, our professor asked us to read Jane Austen.
Although Jane Austen is the Queen of Excessive Subordination, overuse of adverbs, and preponderance of dashes ( a bit ironic since her main characters are the Dashwood sisters), her keen observations of the English gentry in the last part of the 18th Century drew me in again to her novel Sense and Sensibility.
Particularly hilarious and biting is her satire of the Palmers, minor characters who come to greet the Dashwood sisters. It is the Palmers whom I will be examining in my essay, I think, unless a better idea sludges up in the next day or two.
Emerson is also on our reading list and since I taught American literature for over 20 years, he is no stranger to me. I returned to his essays for insight.
Here are some of the observations that Emerson makes about the English, loosely paraphrased:
1.The English, above all, have pluck.
2. They do not tolerate wishy-washy opinion-givers.
3. They do not appreciate diffidence or a fainthearted approach to things.
4. They do what they want. They are “Occupied with their own affairs.”
5. They value personal eccentricity.
6. Their training and their manners are their harnesses.
7. Lousy weather keeps the English indoors so the their houses take on much importance.
8. Families stay in close location to one another.
9. English women are supportive of fine English men.
10. They desire independence and value the privacy of their homes.
11. The English have cold repressive manners and their only enthusiasm is seen at operas.
Well!! There you have it!! Hyacinth, what say you, old gal? Monty? Agreed?
Are these the holy grail of English manners?
Are these antiquated, worn-out, and stereotypical?
What say you, blokes?