Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Father and Son

I got hold of a copy of Edmund Gosse's Father and Son for my Kindle. This is a book I have vaguely wanted to read for ages. Now I have got hold of it, I find that it is very well written, and altogether a pleasure.

Gosse's father Philip Gosse was a well respected Victorian Naturalist, and a fundamentalist Christian (he and his wife were ultra-strict Plymouth Brethren). The theory of Evolution basically smashed his life up, because his two eternal loves - science and the Bible - suddenly became incompatible. Philip Gosse was the man who developed the idea that God created the world 6,000 years ago, but with dinosaur fossils created in the rock strata. This idea was ridiculed by just about everybody. Publishing these ideas (in the book Omphalos) was an act of desperation, attempting to head off the evidence which he knew was gathering. Two years later Darwin published the Origin of Species and it was all over.

Meanwhile his son became increasingly sceptical and hung out with the pre-Raphaelites, and was best friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, and generally broke free. The book recounts the changes in the relationship between them as this happened and his father's life imploded.

The book is a tender and loving portrayal of his father and mother, from a position of complete disagreement with their ideas. His upbringing was in many ways very harsh. Before his mother died, when he was 7, he was not allowed to play with toys, he did not speak to any other child, and he was unaware of the concept of fiction. He was never told a story, or heard any song except hymns.

And yet, and yet, this is what makes the book so good - he genuinely loves his parents, and he felt loved and cared for as a small boy. Certainly while his mother lived. She seems an incredible person: mad, unimaginative, powerful, self-sacrificing, loving and uncompromising. They lived a strange austere life entirely devoted to religion and science.

It's a very well written book, honest and generous. I am not half way through yet, so I might comment again when I've finished it.
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