Smells of rich mahogany

Friday we were at the Master’s House at Forbes College in Princeton, where my parents are going to be moving. The bottom floor contains a variety of Oriental rugs and a library, with leather couches and dark paneled walls and bookcases. It got me thinking about the image of the posh gentlemen, the cigar-smoking brandy-snifting old rich lord, pretentious and studious in his paneled library. I wonder where exactly that stereotype came from, what exactly we’re evoking when we think about that image. No one has existed like that in the past fifty years or so, definitely, so its not something most of us have seen. There is some vague idea of British gentlemen, Oxford-educated explorers with worldly connections, Oscar Wilde meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Its always been particularly exciting to those writing in fantasy and sci-fi (Neil Gaiman comes to mind) and its distinctly British.

Neil Gaiman smells of rich mahogany

The strongest I ever felt the echoes of this idea was at an exhibit in the British Museum, in which they basically put their various treasures stolen from other countries into a room that looked like a gentlemen’s library, full of old maps, and antique teak globes, and carpets, and cabinets full of “artifacts.” I think maybe something got muddled on the way down, and now none of us are able to articulate what, or who, exactly we’re evoking with these signifiers (I’m certainly not able to, if the ramblingness of this blog post is anything to go by…) Something old and in the blood, someone who is clearly superior to us in some distinct way – because we’re Americans? Poor? Female? “Modern”? But of course leather is just another fabric, isn’t it, and only rappers drink cognac now anyway…

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