Jane Austen presents very few men who are gentlemen in all senses of the word. Some men, like Mr. Bingley, Mr. Gardiner, or Colonel Fitzwilliam, have impeccable manners but do not own land. Others, like our Mr. Darcy, own land but don’t demonstrate the modesty, grace and poise of gentleman-like behavior.
Mr. Darcy is born a gentleman, but it takes him eight and twenty years (and the love of a woman worthy of being pleased) to adopt all the manners of a true gentleman.
Jane Austen’s most complete gentleman is Mr. Knightley of Emma. Knightley dances with Harriet Smith after she is slighted by Mr. Elton, whereas Darcy refuses to dance and give consequence to ladies slighted by other men. Knightley does not tolerate Emma’s insolence toward Miss Bates, whereas Darcy behaves condescendingly toward all of Meryton society. Knightley strives to put people of all classes at ease, whereas Darcy continually gives offense.
Mr. Knightley encourages Emma to be a better person. Elizabeth encourages Mr. Darcy a timeless lesson “most advantageous” — that humility, kindness, and respect do indeed make a complete gentleman.