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Father and Son - The Ex-Communicator

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March 30th, 2011


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09:58 am - 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.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:tehomet
Date:March 30th, 2011 09:07 am (UTC)
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I hope you do!
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From:communicator
Date:March 30th, 2011 10:44 am (UTC)
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At one point he finds some pages from a sensationalist novel about a kidnapping, in the lining of an old box in the attic. It's the first fiction he has ever read, and he thinks it's a true account. It's astonishing. What a strange way to bring up a child.
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From:fjm
Date:March 30th, 2011 10:38 am (UTC)
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I came across this one by accident a couple of years ago, and loved it.
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From:communicator
Date:March 30th, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
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It's an interesting story in itself, but also he's a sensitive and talented writer. The best thing about Kindle is it makes these slightly obscure books easy to get hold of.
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From:dan_golem
Date:March 30th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Did you know that Dennis Potter wrote an adaptation of Father and Son in 1976? Where Adam Stood was supposed to be part of a thematic trilogy with Double Dare and Brimstone & Treacle, but the BBC took fright at the last minute and didn't broadcast the third film until years later.
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From:communicator
Date:March 31st, 2011 06:13 am (UTC)
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No, I hadn't realised that until I looked it up the other day. I missed it at the time - I was only 14 or 15. Is it worth looking out for?

Oscar and Lucinda, which I have read, features characters very like the Gosses.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:March 30th, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC)
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Yes, even the fundamentalists I used to hang out with didn't much like that theory. God trying to mislead scientists doesn't go down well.

The aforementioned fundamentalists weren't all that keen on fiction. I went to some sexual therapy with the minister's wife once, and her view on the role of fantasy in lovemaking (with one's husband) was that it was ok, she supposed, to remember past pleasant experiences with one's husband, but completely out of bounds to imagine anything one hadn't done, even if it strictly involved only one's husband. Their children did have normal-looking toys, though.
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From:communicator
Date:March 31st, 2011 06:25 am (UTC)
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I think you would like this book. That's tragic about fantasy, and very much in line with the mental shackles his father and mother put on themselves - and yet, obviously they were loving and intelligent people.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:March 31st, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
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Mental shackles is a good way of putting it. One of my long-stalled novels was trying to write about that experience.

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