Pansy’s Gentlemen

4 Oct

In The Ester Ried Series, Isabella chronicled the transformation of a young man named Jim Forbes. Jim first appeared in The King’s Daughter as a member of a wild bunch of boys who showed up at church for the sole purpose of terrorizing the Sunday-school teachers.

Dapper young men in bowler and derby hats-1910

Homer Nelson, who was in charge of the Sunday-school classes, described Jim and his friends:

“Oh, they swear outrageously, and smoke profusely, and gamble whenever they get a chance, not often for money, for they have very little of that article about them; but for raisins, or pins, or straws, or anything that is convenient, and they use liquor freely, every one of them.”

But by the end of The Ester Ried books, Jim was a different person. In fact, he came to be so well regarded, his friends at church gave him a gift: “a dainty and elegant, and altogether perfect gold watch and chain.”

A young gentleman with his gold watch and chain. From OldFamilyPhotos.com

A young gentleman with his gold watch and chain. From OldFamilyPhotos.com

Jim was astonished to receive the watch, not only because of its beauty and cost, but because of what it represented. In the times in which Isabella lived, a man who carried such a watch and chain was considered a gentleman of the first order.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, true gentlemen followed a very strict code of dress that was based, in large part, on the model promoted by Britain’s Lord Chesterfield, who famously said:

“I cannot help forming some opinion of a man’s sense and character from his dress.”

A Victorian Gentleman, by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1890.

A Victorian Gentleman, by Vittorio Matteo Corcos, 1890.

Isabella agreed whole-heartedly. In her books, Isabella dressed her gentlemen in neat, conservative, well-fitting suits. Even the wealthy men who populated her stories (like Edward Stockwell in The Ester Ried Series, Judge Burnham in The Chautauqua Books, and Mr. Burton in Christie’s Christmas) dressed in a way that did not call attention to themselves or their wealth.

Dressing in the “height of the fashion,” Isabella believed, was better left to dandies and pretenders.

A Paris dandy, circa 1890.

A Paris dandy, circa 1890. His multiple watch chains, quizzing glass, elaborate buttons, and overly-shiny shoes would have been considered vulgar by American standards.

There were essential elements of a gentleman’s attire. In addition to a well-fitting coat and trousers, a gentleman always appeared in a waistcoat and tie.

Portrait of Henry Cabot Lodge, by John Singer Sargent, 1890.

Portrait of Henry Cabot Lodge, by John Singer Sargent, 1890.

Even when they were relaxing around the house or engaging in leisure activities, men wore coats, ties, and waistcoats.

Captain John Spicer, dressed to go fishing, by John Singer Sargent, 1901.

Captain John Spicer, dressed to go fishing, by John Singer Sargent, 1901.

.

Portrait of the artist's brother, dressed for riding, by Arthur Hacker, 1882.

Portrait of the artist’s brother, dressed for riding, by Arthur Hacker, 1882.

Another essential element of a gentleman’s appearance was an appropriate amount of facial hair. Beards and moustaches were considered to be a symbol of masculinity.

Self-portrait, by James Wells Champney.

Self-portrait, by James Wells Champney.

Isabella’s men wore beards and moustaches, as well. In Helen Lester, Helen’s dashing older brother Cleveland returned home from Europe looking very handsome and “heavily bearded.”

Portrait of Leon Delafosse, by John Singer Sargent, 1898.

Portrait of Leon Delafosse, by John Singer Sargent, 1898.

And charming Ralph Ried wore a full beard in The Ester Ried Series of books.

Undated photo of young man with a full beard and moustache. From Pinterest.

Undated photo of young man with a full beard and moustache. From Pinterest.

Coats, ties, waistcoats, and beards—they were all essential to a man’s attire in Isabella’s world, but a popular 1866 book on “etiquette and true politeness” carried this reminder:

Gentility is neither in birth, manner, nor fashion—but in the MIND. A high sense of honor—a determination never to take a mean advantage of another—an adherence to truth, delicacy, and politeness toward those with whom you may have dealings—are the essential and distinguishing characteristics of A GENTLEMAN.

A 1901 photo of a fashionably dressed gentleman.

A 1901 photo of a fashionably dressed gentleman.

You can click on the links below to find out more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post.

The Ester Ried Series

Helen Lester

The Chautauqua Books

 

 

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2 Responses to “Pansy’s Gentlemen”

  1. Karen October 4, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    What a marvelous, helpful essay! Thanks for sharing these wonderful images of dapper and handsome Victorian men. I loved this! So helpful when imagining the gents in Isabella’s books. Many thanks for your hard work and dedication!!

    • Isabella Alden October 5, 2016 at 6:33 am #

      Aren’t they handsome, Karen? I can imagine several of them as characters in Isabella’s books, too. —Jenny

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The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Author Jenny Berlin

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