Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Southern Gentlemen

by Tina Whittle

coverruin-bigIn my Tai Randolph mysteries, I write a corporate security agent named Trey Seaver. He’s the rational, rule-bound counterpart to my somewhat reckless, intuitive narrator, Tai. I get mail about him. Boy howdy, do I.

Some readers like to watch him using his SWAT cop skills; others like him best dressed to the nines. Some praise his intellect, and others his heart. But the one phrase would that gets used the most often is “gentleman.” And not just any gentleman. Trey is described as a “Southern gentleman.”

Which has got me thinking – what exactly is a Southern Gentleman? What qualities make up this creature? Is it a compliment? Does it mean only one thing or are there variants on the definition?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Southern gentleman”?

Comments

  1. Marcia Berbeza says:

    A strong man who isn’t afraid of good manners, opening doors for a lady, and using ma’am. 🙂

  2. I think of gentlemen, awesome manners, and straight up swoon worthy men. I see them as being nice and polite even if they don’t like someone because that is the way momma raised them. I also think that can be seen as a double edged sword. Being too nice can cause problems too.

  3. Good manners comes to the front of my mind. Someone who treats ladies with respect. And a man who dresses well.

  4. jdh2690 says:

    When I hear the term “Southern Gentleman” I think of a soft-spoken drawl, impeccable manners, a winning smile…and yet, a toughness that gets him what he wants, whatever that may be. It’s not a negative term unless the Southern Gentleman becomes ruthless and jaded. Thanks for the interesting question and responses. jdh2690@gmail.com

  5. Southern gentlemen in my book are exactly as Pat Conroy depicted Tom Wingo in Prince of Tides. A bit of a rogue when needed, good home training from their Mamas, oftentimes a terrible secret/vulnerability, and the inherent charm/style/swagger to get whatever the heck they want. That’s why their smiles are so devastating, and their manners can make women swoon…

    • That roguish quality gets mentioned A LOT! That whole Rhett Butler vibe. And I think this phrase comes with that connotation. A gentleman is a gentleman, but a Southern gentleman may be a rouge in gentleman’s clothing. Fair warning.

  6. I’m with Terry, I hear the “yes ma’am” with a bit of a dialect. And I ALSO love Trey.

    • Trey IS starting to “ma’am” people again, which his boss hates. I can’t decide if that’s his Southern upbringing or the former cop coming out. Probably both. And thank you for the compliment – I will pass it on!

  7. Also, I think of “yes, ma’am” when I think Southern gentleman. (And I love Trey!)

    • Very interesting, that. I’m going to eavesdrop a lot today in my South Georgia town for that “ma’am.” And I’m so glad you liked my guy Trey. I have a small thing for him too.

  8. jmjackson054 says:

    Obsessive politeness comes to my mind when I think of the term “Southern Gentlemen.” Always says please, responds with thank you, and insists on holding the door open for you, regardless of the gentleman having his hands full and you being perfectly capable of getting through the door by yourself.

    • I think that’s there too, a code of chivalry that nonetheless enforces some very rigid roles. A leftover of a very unpleasant class system that still has some echoes today.

      Interesting note — Trey will almost always respond with the perfectly polite response even if he doesn’t want to; the kind of brain trauma he has pretty much decrees it. In fact, one of the tests for this specific type of trauma is to do something completely inappropriate (like thump a person’s forehead) and then say “thank you” to which the patient will respond “You’re welcome.” Of course Trey would then also break the doctor’s wrist because SWAT training does not work well with this response, but that has nothing to do with his gentlemanly nature.