As I had been asked to review A Gentleman in Moscow, the best seller by Amor Towles, I had the pleasure of a required second reading. The first time I read the book, I finished in three days, and not one other thing was done around the house for those three days. The second reading was delightful, in that as I knew where the story was going, I could slow down and relish the story scene by scene and word by beautiful word. This slower process also allowed me to spend more time with the Count so that when I finished I felt I knew him quite a bit better than I did after my first read.
Why is this man so endearing to the reader? Towles suggest an answer in the title of the book, for the Count is a gentleman. A gentleman is a man of good family, breeding or social position. But further than that, the dictionary tells us that a gentleman is a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man. No problem for the Count, as he owns each of those adjectives. When I reviewed comments on Amazon about the book, the word classy is used a lot to describe the Count, a word I would agree with 100%. He is one classy guy – a gentleman.
I found myself toying with another book entitled A Lady in Moscow. Disturbed that lady did not carry the same positive connotations as gentleman, I went to my dictionary. The problem with lady is, even though the first definition reads a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken and matches well with the definition of gentleman, the dictionary goes on to caution that lady is sometimes used in combination, such as saleslady AND is usually offensive in the singular, as in Lady, get out of my way, please. Lady is also sometimes offensive in calling someone a lady doctor. There are no such warnings under gentleman in the dictionary. In fact, a gentleman doctor carries no such possible offense; it sounds more like a compliment!
As I pondered my conundrum further and further, I felt as I do on some hikes I have taken in the mountains of Ireland when I find myself suddenly surrounded by soggy bog with no solid ground in sight. I have learned the hard way that the best solution in this circumstance is to turn around. Therefore, I deserted my search for one noun to match gentlemen in meaning but pertaining to a female accepting that we females are simply more complex. Maybe the solution requires not a word but a phrase or even a bit of a sentence. I had heard colleagues talk about great men they had worked for in this way : He was a prince. But She was a princess does not work at all. It would appear that the feminine forms in English just carry too much connotational baggage.
So I suggest this to Mr.Towles, who is certainly up to the task. Please write a book for us all that addresses this title:
She’s a Real Gentleman.