What would an English background have taught her?
First, it would have taught her that seriousness of purpose need not be embalmed in seriousness of manner. Second, that eagerness, earnestness, and hard, bright, righteous sincerity, displayed too willingly, too often, are daunting rather than reassuring qualities in matters of love. Third, that perennial, incessant, reliable, helpfulness is as attractive as any other practical tool – a sturdy broom, or an efficient boiler. Fourth, that patience on a monument is as uncomfortable to take to bed as anything else made out of marble; and fifth, that the above four maxims have one thing in common: the qualities they depict are essentially, cellularly un-English.
For while it is true that, like everyone else on the planet, the English are, or can be serious, earnest, sincere, helpful, and patient, these attributes are rarely exhibited as proofs of worth…They are lightly handled, even flippantly dismissed, simply because they are intrinsic to the “inner man” rather than emissaries of it…
He helped her to her feet, anxiously dusting her coat, apologising, undistressed, so courteous and unconfused that she felt he had conferred on her a favour, and to her amazement she heard her own voice answering with equal ease, assuring him that no, she was not hurt, no, of course it was not his fault, yes, it certainly was the roughest she had ever known it. Then he left her and she watched him go: he had yellow hair, unmistakable yellow hair, and she said to herself there goes a public school boy. She was not familiar with the type but she recognised it when she saw it as she would have recognised the Eiffel Tower. (Drabble, Jerusalem the Golden, 62)
The operative word here is undistressed. He is “anxious” only that she is not hurt, thus marking him as a gentleman, but undistressed that it should have been he who was involved in the accident. He is not embarrassed; he does not morally blame himself, although he pays a social debt by courteously taking upon himself the clumsiness of falling, thereby relieving her of any doubt as to her own lack of grace. More than that, it does not signify…
Maurice, although idealised by Kitty as a perfect symbol of England, (which she loved as only one who is not wholly English can do) is nevertheless an undeniable and immovable part of it. He is ‘county’ to the core, and lives in a world in which, and for which, he needs a eminently suitable, easily compatible, and undistressed wife. He will never wed private pleading, internal desperation, or social inadequacy. He will never consummate a marriage with The Romantic Tradition.
— ‘The Civics of Civility: Aesthetics and Habitude in Anita Brookner’s novel Providence’