Everyone has a swipe at their parents and the way they were brought up at some point in their lives; very few of us exact revenge to the extent that Edmund Gosse did upon his father in this superbly funny, agonising account of a very strange childhood.
The subtitle of the book is A Study of Two Temperaments, and these were temperaments not destined to get on. Gosse, Sr. was an eminent naturalist and zoologist and a keen follower of the Plymouth Brethren. Gosse, Jr. had a natural leaning towards the arts and would grow up to be one of Victorian England's leading literary figures. The battle lines were drawn.
Throw into the picture the struggle already taking place within Gosse, Sr. (and most of the rest of the country) to reconcile his faith with the new theory of evolution as expounded by his fellow naturalist, Charles Darwin, and backed up by his own zoological studies, and you have the makings of a seriously entertaining fight.
This is a beautifully wry description of the attempt of a son to extricate himself from the vast influence of his father. Much has been made of Edmund Gosse's (possibly necessary) adjustment of the facts, but you can understand his need to speak out a bit when the entry in his father’s journal for the day of his birth reads, 'E. delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica'.
Another book I discovered through listening to the wonderful Backlisted podcast. Sir Edmund Gosse CB (21 September 1849 – 16 May 1928) was an English poet, author and critic. He was strictly brought up in a small Protestant sect, the Plymouth Brethren, but broke away sharply from that faith.
'Father and Son' is his account of his childhood and his gradual questioning of the fundamentalist religion of his parents. All of which might make this book sound like a misery memoir, and yet nothing could be further from the truth. This is a charming, fascinating and insightful account of Victorian life in the mid-18th century with numerous wonderful little details.
'Father and Son' is subtitled “A Study of Two Temperaments” and this signals the approach of Edmund Gosse. He retained enormous respect and affection for his father but ultimately there was to be no way for the different personalities to be true to themselves and reconcile their differences.
It's beautifully written and, as I suggest, absolutely riveting, complete with numerous funny and idiosyncratic memories from a childhood spent both in Islington and, from around age 6, in Ilfracombe in Devon, then, as now, a small and sleepy backwater.
I listened to Father and Son (1907) narrated by the peerless Geoffrey Palmer, and courtesy of Audible. Incredibly, this wonderful experience only set me back three British pounds. What a bargain. It's a wonderful book.
Some accuse Gosse of demonizing his father, which was certainly the impression I had before listening to this book. While Gosse's father was a purist in his view of Christianity, he was also a tender and, in his way, loving father, and I thought the portrait sympathetic. A humor based on long perspective and understanding enlivens the book, and Geoffrey Palmer's reading makes it shine. The combination of his nuanced interpretation and Gosse's rich Victorian prose is marvelous. A thoroughly enjoyable listen.