The Genteel Tradition had been waiting for someone to name it, but by the time George Santayana did, it was already in decline. It had to be, for when a culture is hegemonic and fully naturalized, it is everywhere and, therefore, hard to see. But when Santayana delivered his lecture “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy” in 1911, the culture of the Gilded Age had receded sufficiently so that when he pointed toward it, it stood out, wholly revealed.
Yet gentility persisted, though it was no longer dominant and still in the process of being displaced by modernism. In fact, as Joan Shelley Rubin has argued, “genteel values” did not die in American at the turn of the century but “survived and prospered, albeit in chastened and redirected form” well into the 1940s. As late as 1935, for example, Nathaniel Peffer, editor of Collier’s magazine, was still railing against
the cult of the genteel essay.”