The Conception and Estimate of a Gentleman

John Mayfield

in Counterfeit Gentlemen

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780813033372
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039480 | DOI:
The Conception and Estimate of a Gentleman

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For a time, the Virginia gentleman was not the two-dimensional wall hanging he was later to become. He was open to interpretation, even caustic satire. More than that, his impact as a masculine image became the subject of a deep division in the Southerner's conception of self. Men began to take hard looks at the gentleman's effectiveness as a model for emulation, and William Wirt's probing, acerbic estimation turned into outright satire. As cotton supplanted tobacco and created instant aristocrats in the new lands to the west, this satire worked its way naturally down from the real gentlemen to take in the “half-breeds” and the “pretenders” below, men who were borrowing and corrupting bits and pieces of the gentleman's culture of manhood. First, however, the humor centered on the gentleman himself. The process began with Wirt's disciple, John Pendleton Kennedy, and one of the most misunderstood books in Southern literature, Swallow Barn.

Keywords: Virginia gentleman; manhood; William Wirt; satire; John Pendleton Kennedy

Chapter.  10407 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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