Father and Son : A Study of Two Temperaments Paperback
by Edmund Gosse
Edited by Peter Abbs
At birth Edmund Gosse was dedicated to 'the Service of the Lord'.
His parents were Plymouth Brethren. After his mother's death Gosse was brought up in stifling isolation by his father, a marine biologist whose faith overcame his reason when confronted by Darwin's theory of evolution.
Father and Son is also the record of Gosse's struggle to 'fashion his inner life for himself' - a record of whose full and subversive implications the author was unaware, as Peter Abbs notes in his Introduction.
First published anonymously in 1907, Father and Son was immediately acclaimed for its courage in flouting the conventions of Victorian autobiography and is still a moving account of self-discovery.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 272 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 27/07/1989
- Category: Biography: general
- ISBN: 9780140182767
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Review by jburlinson
This memoir broke ground in the early 20th century by presenting generational conflict in an apparently frank, dispassionate, indeed "scientific" way. In its restrained way, it helped lead his countrymen from the piety of the Victorian vision of family life to Philip Larkin's definitive statement: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you." The truly fascinating part of reading this book is in the inexorable build up of the tension in the central relationship, a tension that is not fully realized until the extraordinary "Epilogue." It is also touching to witness the long-term effects of the father's inexorable judgmentalism on the son's ingrained self-criticism. I am now going to provide an extended quote that will chill the blood of anyone possessed of an abundant super-ego in the form of an insistent voice of a strong parent figure. The fact that the author himself is not aware of life-blighting process that is just now beginning makes it all the more poignant: "But of all the thoughts which rushed upon my savage and undeveloped little brain at this crisis, the most curious was that I had found a companion and a confidant in myself. There was a secret in this world and it belonged to me and to a somebody who lived in the same body with me. There were two of us, and we could talk with one another. It is difficult to define impressions so rudimentary, but it is certain that it was in this dual form that the sense of my individuality now suddenly descended on me, and it is equally certain that it was a great solace to me to find a sympathizer in my own breast." That this "sympathizer" will mature into the child's most intolerant critic and implacable enemy is never recognized. "Ah, the pity of it Iago."