Is Honor Dead?
“BUT REALLY, AND UPON MY HONOUR, I WILL TRY TO DO WHAT I THINK IS WISEST; AND NOW I HOPE YOU ARE SATISFIED.”––Elizabeth Bennet
I had an interesting and enlightening discussion with people at church about honor and what exactly it is. We used words to describe it and I found that people described it in ways I had never considered before. When I think of honor, I think of having integrity. Honor is something you possess. I also thought of how it is something you can give. For example, we honor our parents or those we respect. I then wondered if you can earn honor. I believe someone who stands up for something they believe in, and is rewarded for their strength of character, then yes, they do earn honor. So you can possess honor, you can give honor, you can even earn honor, but something you cannot do is steal honor. To be deemed an honorable man, one must work hard and be vigilant to live as he knows he should live.
This lead me to think about the Regency world and how so many times women are compromised with what seems like such a simple act now in our day. It could be as simple as being alone in a room with a man, visiting a man at his house, found kissing, or it could be more significant and her virtue could be taken. Either way, a lady was felt to be compromised with the slightest infringement or questionable situation.
I then wondered about why they call gambling debts “debts of honor”. I recently read a book where a crucial plot twist described how cheating at cards was almost worst than being a rake and seducing women. This surprised me since I consider sexual immorality to be one of the worst things that one can do. But considering that not only is a woman’s virtue and honor so valued back in the 1800’s but a man’s was just as important. Where homes could be lost, carriages broken, wives and children die, sometimes a man’s honor was all he had. This is why duels were so popular. Defending one’s honor or the honor of your family was a matter of life or death.
I think that is why we all love to hate Wickham because he was so dishonorable. He would lie, cheat, and seduce young ladies. He had no honor at all. Yet, Darcy, who was honest to a fault is revered and loved more than any other fictional hero. Hundreds of books have been written about him. He stood by his beliefs. Once he learned that he had faults, he corrected them and earned the love and honor of those around him. He did not use his connections, wealth, or his father’s name to be deemed honorable. Instead he earned it with every good deed.
So why do I blog about honor? Because even though this world has altered their moral views about being alone with a man, honor is still possessed, given, and earned, but more importantly it is still valued! The world still romanticizes those who are “men of honor”, “serve with honor”, and “treat others with honor”. These old fashioned values are not dead, and I believe they never will be. Perhaps there was more importance put on honor in Regency England but was there really? Can we really say that people in the 21st century value honor any less? I make a bold statement in saying that the answer is no. We all know what makes a man or woman honorable. We all appreciate when someone treats us with honor. Employers weed out those who may seem untrustworthy. We still feel that infidelity in marriage is unacceptable. We have banks that limit credit to those who have failed to uphold their debts. Honor is not a dying virtue. If anything, those who possess it, give it, and earn it are those who find the most happiness in life. This is a universal truth. Perhaps I can go as far as saying it is a moral law. Being honorable and giving honor creates happiness.
As I researched honor when I prepared for this blog, I learned that honor is one of the few values in society that is timeless. In writing, a good hero is one who is honorable and even if he was at one time a rogue, he has to change his ways to possess, give and earn the honor that turns readers hearts towards him. A good heroine is one who feels the stirrings and desire but maintains her virtue and reputation. These are the kind of characters that readers fall in love with. Those who value honor and integrity beyond the immediate gratification builds the character up, and I’m not talking about fictional characters anymore.
One more point I wish to make is that although Latin is considered a dead language, it is interesting to note that the Latin translation of “honor” is “honor”. There is not a difference. It is the same today as it was back then. I think you see where I am going with this.
My point is that those of us who romanticize the “olden days” or any other time when it seemed that a woman’s or a man’s honor seemed to be held in highest regard, the universal truth is out there: there were honorable men back then just as there are today. There will be those who dishonor others now just like back then. But society has not changed their moral view on what constitutes an honorable man. Even the worst rogues turn out to be the best heroes when they alter their ways and realign their lives with honorable intentions, and often in fiction and in real life, it is in the name of love. And don’t we all want to fall in love with an honorable man?
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