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Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Paperback – October 26, 1989
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The only Puritanism that dies here, however, is the author's. His parents were Christian fundamentalists and as a result, young Edmund was denied interaction with other children as well as all variety of fictional tales. "Here was perfect purity," Gosse writes, "perfect intrepidity, perfect abnegation; yet there was also narrowness, isolation, and absence of perspective, let it boldly be admitted, an absence of humanity." Despite all of this, the child maintained his sense of humor, which adds much levity to a tale of such potentially grim proportions.
When Edmund was 8, his mother died of cancer, leaving him the care of a man in whom "sympathetic imagination ... was singularly absent." Philip Gosse held on to his faith in God above all else--so much so, in fact, that when evolutionary theory was announced to the world, he dismissed it entirely because it discounted the book of Genesis. Little by little, Edmund began to chafe against the traditions he had inherited. By the age of 11, he already saw himself "imprisoned for ever in the religious system which had caught me and would whurl my helpless spirit." At this point he believed his fate was sealed and went through the motions of piety. It is not until he goes off to boarding school, and discovers the Greeks and Romantic poetry, that he slowly chooses his own path. Eventually he comes to realize that he and his father "walked in opposite hemispheres of the soul." Their split encapsulates a particular moment in history but also embodies their destiny: "one was born to fly backward, the other could not help being carried forward." --Melanie Rehak
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Top Customer Reviews
A number of powerful impressions evolve over the course of the telling. First and foremost, one is left with an impression of how overwhelmingly Gosse's childhood was stripped of nearly all fun by his parents' puritanical and stern religion. Gosse's father is presented not as a cruel, vicious, and hypocritical. Instead, he is shown as a caring parent, a completely earnest practitioner of his religion, but fanatically concerned to eliminate all activities that do not lead to increased religious devotion and moral seriousness. Unfortunately, this resulted for Gosse in a childhood from which all possibility of play and fun and delight had been eliminated. Near the end of the book, I was left wondering if Gosse would have been inclined to leave Christianity if he had just had more fun as a kid.
The section of the book dealing with his father's reaction to Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES was for me the most interesting part of the book.Read more ›
The book is not an easy read, mostly because Gosse's Victorian language is now so unfamiliar and almost baroque; it strikes me as more ornate and indirect than the norm for his time, although I certainly have not read widely among the Victorians. But I found the book worth the time and effort to make my way through it, both as a singular memoir but even more so for the light it shines from more than a century ago on contemporary issues posed by fundamentalistic and evangelical religions, especially whether they have any place for reflective individualism.
Edmund Gosse's father Philip was a distinguished British naturalist of the mid-19th Century, a colleague of Darwin, Lyell, and Hooker, and a Fellow of the Royal Society, but he also was a very strict and devout Puritan or "extreme Calvinist" (actually, a member of the Plymouth Brethren). Edmund's mother was also a devout Puritan, perhaps even stricter than his father. Edmund was an only child, born in 1849. Because of his parents' antediluvian approach to life, he had a very unusual childhood. A faint breath of normality was introduced into his life only after his father married his Quaker stepmother when he was twelve.Read more ›
Speaking of his parents' faith, he writes ...
They called themselves 'the Brethren', simply; a title enlarged by the world outside into 'Plymouth Brethren'.
Given that there is no mention of John Darby in the book, and that the book follows the 1848-49 schism that resulted in open and exclusive brethren, and that the assemblies described in the book seem essentially autonomous, I assume Gosse is referring to the 'open brethren' when he speaks of Plymouth Brethren.
Readers raised among any of the groups that have evolved from the Brethren groups that began in Dublin in the 1820's will find much familiar material.
The book is worth reading at least twice. I've just read it again after owning it for a year and am struck again at how well he describes life among the brethren and the incredible stress parents can put upon their children in the name of faith.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a beautifully written memoir of childhood. Yet, Henry James described the author as having a "gift for the inaccurate", and the accuracy of this book is disputed. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Janyce R. Lyman
*I got turned on to this book when I found it on one of Nick Hornby's list of faves*
The book fails to achieve what it hoped to: to find the seeds of Gosse's later... Read more
A very powerful yet delicate book.
Tells abou a troubled relationship in a very delicate manner.
More than expected!
In 1907, this "study of two temperaments" dramatized religious convention opposed to rational modernism. Edmund's father, Philip Henry Gosse, ran a Plymouth Brethren household. Read morePublished on November 9, 2012 by John L Murphy
"Fathers and Sons" is a classic Russian novel written by Ivan Turgenev in 1862. This novel has stood the test of time, and continues to be greatly admired and appreciated as a... Read morePublished on April 25, 2012 by Daniel
The first of all father memoirs, this is still one of the best. Interestingly, Edmund Gosse's first attempt to write about his father took the form of an official biography. Read morePublished on November 2, 2011 by Andre Gerard
"The life of a child is so brief, its impressions are so illusory and fugitive, that it is as difficult to record its history as it would be to design a morning cloud sailing... Read morePublished on June 11, 2010 by Daniel Myers
Edmund Gosse's FATHER AND SON is legitimately considered one of the highpoints of Victorian autobiography. Read morePublished on May 30, 2009 by Robert Moore