“He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice
My mother has always loved to read, her preferred genre being romance and western novels. However in recent years, her eyesight has deteriorated to the point that she can no longer do so. During a recent visit to my mother’s home, I got her a library card and a portable disk player whereby she can listen to audiobooks. Then I took her to the library. I do not read romance or western novels so I had no recommendations to make. The only author she knew was Barbara Cartland, but none of her books were in audio format. We looked at title after title on the bookshelves until I finally selected one that looked promising. After my visit ended and I returned home, my mother started listening to her library book.
She called me a week later to tell me that she loved listening to the story but was shocked by its profanity and explicit sex scenes. She teased me for recommending an R-rated book; she told me it was unlike any other she had ever read. I decided to check the selection of audiobooks in my hometown library for something suitable but with no luck. Unlike movies, audiobooks do not come with a rating. It was annoying that I could not find my mother a decent book. Then I read Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.
I had heard about this western classic and was curious to read it. It was a great story. What’s more, it is just the type of book I could recommend to my mother. There is no profanity beyond an occasional “damn” and, although there is a great deal of romantic tension, there are no sex scenes. It struck me that the entire tone of the book was courtly.
In reading Riders of the Purple Sage, I discovered one of the reasons I like pre-modern authors is because there is no graphic or gratuitous sex, violence, or profanity in their novels. Instead, sex is very discreet and violence is of the mild sort. The writing of pre-modern authors reminds me of my father and his friends. They were country gentlemen. And I am a gentleman’s daughter.
To be sure, there is a great deal of Sturm und Drang in the works of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and Isaac Asimov, but it is of the rational kind. Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and Thomas Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities are both brilliant commentaries on New York society, but Wharton’s book is well mannered. She eviscerates social mores just as incisively as Wolfe does but with a ladylike touch.
The fact that I do not read novels containing graphic sex, violence, and profanity limits my reading selection. I’m always on the lookout for a gentlemanlike novel so I’m always reading book reviews, back covers, and samples of new books on the market. So far my efforts have met with little success. It turns out that most of my favorite authors are dead so I end up re-reading their books. Now I can add Zane Grey to my list even if he does write westerns. But no Barbara Cartland!