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Evans, W.N. (1949). The Passing of the Gentleman—A Psychoanalytic Commentary on the Cultural Ideal of the English. Psychoanal Q., 18:19-43.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:19-43

The Passing of the Gentleman—A Psychoanalytic Commentary on the Cultural Ideal of the English

W. N. Evans


In the closing pages of Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud observes that just as the individual develops a superego, so the community develops a superego under the influence of which cultural evolution proceeds. 'But', he goes on to say, 'we come across the remarkable circumstance that the mental processes concerned here are actually more familiar to us and more accessible to consciousness when they proceed from the group than they can be in the individual'. When the injunctions and reproaches of the individual's superego are brought to consciousness 'we find that they coincide with the demands of the prevailing cultural superego'. The parallel developments of the individual and the group are always 'firmly mortised together'. 'Consequently, many of the effects and properties of the superego can be more easily detected through its operations in the group than in the individual.' As an inducement to further research, Freud concludes, 'it seems to me that the point of view which seeks to follow the phenomena of cultural evolution as manifestations of a superego promises to yield still further discoveries'.

Following this suggestion it is proposed to study the evolution of the gentleman, that unique product of British civilization. To understand the gentleman is to know something of that unwritten code which has been transmitted from generation to generation and thus shaped the cultural ideal of this country. The word is so indefinably English that it has to be taken over unchanged into other languages in order to convey its varied nuances of meaning. Sociological theorists with Marxist leanings like to see in it an illustration of the class struggle.

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