|Image from Victoriana.com|
A common thought is the Gentleman Adventurer -- a nobleman who travels the world righting wrongs and doing good deeds for the disaffected people of the world. One example of a Gentleman Adventurer is Othar Tryggvassen, a character in Phil and Kaja Foglio's Hugo-winning Girl Genius comic (I plug the Profs. Foglio because their comic is one of my all-time favorites). Othar has the distinct personality trait of also being kind of annoying to practically anyone he meets, despite the fact that he's convinced he's doing good works.
But anyway, my commentary about how brilliantly put-together Othar is as a character aside, the Gentleman as a Steampunk Character Type appears to be more of an overlay for a simple reason -- a character doesn't have to be born a Gentleman to act as one; the behavior that makes up the "standard" of being a Gentleman is easily translatable across primary character types.
What makes a gentleman though? In John Henry Cardinal Newman's 1852 work, The Idea of a University, the Gentleman is defined as someone who never inflicts pain, whether emotional, mental, or physical, on anyone that he comes into contact with. "He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. (Newman 208-9)."
The Gentleman's great concern then, according to Newman, is to make everyone feel at home in the space around him. He is affable, articulate, and generally focused on avoiding conflict wherever he can.
"He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. (Newman 209)"It's interesting to note that, although anyone born into the nobility was automatically considered a "gentleman," the Character Type itself isn't limited to those of noble birth in fiction. Doctor Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories might qualify as a Gentleman, as does Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless -- granted, Lord Maccon fails a bit in that he causes Alexia emotional pain on several occasions, but otherwise he more or less falls into the proper classification of the Character Type. Another example of a Gentleman from Carriger's novels is Professor Lyall, who as the Beta of Lord Maccon's pack probably makes a bit of a better example than his Alpha does.
From older fiction, the character of Phileas Fogg slots nicely into the Gentleman role. He is non-abrasive, does not seek out conflict, and intends to make people -- particularly Aouda -- comfortable in whatever abode they may be. Fogg endeavors throughout his journey to keep calm and thus keep calm the people around him. I mentioned Fogg before, when it came to the Adventurer, but he also fits here under the Gentleman simply because of the way he perceives the world around him.
What other Gentleman can you think of Steampunk (or any other) fiction?
NOTE: If you're interested in reading the Newman text, here's the Google Books link: http://books.google.com/books?id=IY9SyxjhmtwC&dq=the%20idea%20of%20a%20university&pg=PR2#v=onepage&q&f=false