The quintessential English gentleman was much sought after indeed. In literature, the perfect English gentleman might be Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy: an upstanding citizen who acts with gallantry and sophistication, or out of a sense of duty.
Christine Berberich writes, in The Image of the English Gentleman in Twentieth-Century Literature (2007):
When we hear the term, we might think of Englishness; of class; of masculinity; of elegant fashions; of manners and morals. But we might also think of hypocrisy; of repression; of outdated behaviour befitting the characters of a Victorian novel, but which no longer holds any value in today’s society. These conflicting images make it difficult to pinpoint the term ‘gentleman’ in a definition.
Certainly, if one could define a true English gent, he would be a man who is trusted to do the right thing with grace. Why? Because it is expected of him. Berberich presents the perfect example of this in Mr. Walter D. Douglas, a passenger aboard the Titanic: as his wife pleaded with him to join her in the lifeboat, Mr. Douglas responded, "No … I must be a gentleman."
The role of the English gentleman may not easily be defined, but it is readily understood. Forbes writer Melik Kaylan explains it beautifully in Requiem for an English Gentleman.
Colin Firth played a fabulous Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC mini-series, Pride and Prejudice. Hugh Grant played a more modern English gentleman alongside Julia Roberts in Notting Hill (1999).