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VINE VOICEon 15 February 2009
This is one of the outstanding works of early twentieth century English literature, and probably one of the best British autobiographies ever written. Edmund Gosse describes his life up to the time when he left home to move back to London to start his career.

His upbringing was unusual, even by mid-Victorian standards. In his infancy, his intensely pious parents shunned all except the equally devout of their own kind, the Plymouth Brethren. His mother died when Edmund was seven, and her dying wish was that Edmund become a minister of their religion. His father then devoted himself, ultimately without success, to realising this wish. Gosse's career in literature brought him into friendship with such as Swinburne, than whom Gosse's father could hardly have imagined a more unsuitable acquaintance.

Gosse does clear justice to the affection within his immediate family. He also presents a balanced view of how far his parents realised their talents. He expresses his respect for their achievements - his mother as an evangelistic writer, and his father as one of the greatest marine biologists of the period. On the other hand, he suggests that their piety may have hampered even greater achievement. He suspects that his mother may have stifled a real talent for writing fiction on purely moral grounds ("because it was not true"), and explains - not without sympathy - how his father opposed Darwin's theory of evolution on purely religious grounds, and lost.

The doubts attaching to Father and Son are not of literary quality, but of accuracy. In the preface, Gosse says that he is writing while his memory is "still perfectly vivid", and that "at only one point has there been any tampering with precise facts". However, Ann Thwaite puts forward a very different view in Glimpses of the Wonderful, her excellent biography of Gosse's father. She quotes Edmund as describing his memory as "like a colander", and she relates several minor and some major events in Father and Son in respect of which Edmund is either remembering inaccurately or is being creative with the truth. The answer probably is - one with which Edmund would probably wryly agree - that there is no absolute truth, only greater or lesser.

The book is not unremitting gloom. There are several anecdotes where Gosse displays his subtle, wicked sense of humour, as seen throughout his career.
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on 7 September 2009
I enjoyed this book. I had feared that it would be a dense difficult book but I was pleasantly surprised by the facility and beauty of the prose. It is the story of the author's upbringing by his father , after his mother's death. Both parents were what we would now call fundamental Christians. The father was a distinguished naturalist who believed that God created the world with fossils in their place. He was dumbfounded that his demonstration, by reference to the Bible, that Darwin was wrong was met by derision.This is a side issue as the main story here is of an only child who loses his mother and finds his way despite his father's religous stiffness.

There are other interesting aspects to the book. We think of the Victorian age as being one long period but here the author demonstrates the difference between the generation who were born in the regency era and the more modern thinking later Victorians. There are many other useful insights including the observations public health in the 1850s and that the coast had been ruined by 1900 by all the tourists looking for samples etc. A fascinating book that is well worth reading.
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on 1 August 2009
A thought-provoking, beautifully written account of an unusually sheltered childhood. In the most controlled terms, the author describes his passage from child to man with a degree of fairness and frankness that lets us judge for ourselves the validity of his father's controlling ways. Although the atmosphere of the Gosses' home is strict and repressive, the book itself never becomes oppressive. It has too much gentle humour and lightness. What is remarkable is how much tenderness and sympathy we feel for both of these people. The father is not a bad man, and he acts only out of misdirected love. Nevertheless, the story unfolds with an inevitability that is deeply sad. Nowadays, straight-forward horror stories of appalling physical and mental abuse sell by the million, but this was Victorian England, and this account of subtler damage done was initially published anonymously, so shocking for its time were the revelations. In a brilliant Epilogue, the author unleashes an indictment of religious fundementalism that remains as relevant as ever.
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on 23 October 2005
Edmund Gosse's Father and Son is a haunting and strangely lyrical account of an unhappy childhood that is redeemed by moments of dramatic encounter with the world of nature and the world of books. The description of the newly-widowed Gosse senior's grief-stricken immersion into the secret realms of rock-pools is one of the highlights of all English literature. Michael Newton's sympathetic introduction offers valuable insights into the book's historic and literary contexts, as well as into the emotional density that is achieved by Gosse's prose. The cover, too - featuring William Dyce's Pegwell Bay - is an inspired choice for what remains one of the must-reads of early 20th-century writing.
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on 22 October 1999
Gosse's autobiographical account of his early years with his strictly Puritan family is beautifully written and, although often a painful book to read, a book which one will remember. It is a slice of life from a time that, although not so long ago, seems drastically different to our modern day world. Gosse charts his development as a child and his development as a literary figure in Father And Son and produces one of the finest semi-autobiographical novels in the English language. A criticism of the novel could be that it occasionally verges upon the self-pitying yet it is a sad tale and a tale told delicately. I personally enjoyed the novel and found that, in it's style, it offers something fresh and worthy. Unlike most autobiography, Father And Son does not act as a self-advertisment for the writers greatness. What it does do is offer an insight into a life that most modern day readers would find difficult to imagine.
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on 9 November 2014
This is a biography of the relationship between Edmund Gosse and his father, Philip Henry Gosse. Gosse senior was an eminent naturalist and an ardent member of a small fundamentalist Christian sect. The father's Christian belief was passionate, but literal and narrow, and he spent 20 years trying to impress it on Edmund. He wrote a book in 1857, Omphalos, still in print, attempting to reconcile the text of the Old Testament with Darwin's ideas on evolution. It was greeted with derision. Despite the enormous, and growing, tension between the two, Edmund retained considerable respect for his father, and it is a sense of regret which propels the narrative: "What a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all." There is insight into a fundamentalist understanding of religious doctrine which has a broader validity even today, but more importantly this is a story of a relationship lost through an intelligent man's lack of understanding of human nature, a man more interested in understanding sea anemones than his own son. Some doubt has been cast on the accuracy of Edmund Gosse's account, but it is the emotional tenor which is important and that rings true. Moreover, it is a story told with considerable and engaging humour, mostly at the author's expense. It is a compelling read.
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on 25 May 2016
This is a fascinating insight into the relationship between a son and his obsessively religious parents. In fact it was hard to put this book down - especially as there were religious fanatics in my own family! But even without the religious aspect the role of the parents, especially the father, is particularly disturbing.

Highly recommended.
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on 4 March 2013
I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. The language was beautifully precise, some may say pedantic. The descriptions were evocative and moving. It is about a boy growing up with a loving but rigidly fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren father who as a scientist had trouble denying his colleague Darwin. There are some laugh out loud moments and I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 2 November 2011
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. Written shortly after his father's death on August 23rd 1888, the Life of Philip Henry Gosse was admired by Henry James as "a singularly clever, skilful, vivid, well-done biography of his father, the fanatic and naturalist--very happy in proportion, tact and talent." Luckily, at least two other readers--John Addington Symons and George Moore--suggested Gosse should be more autobiographical and explore the father son relationship. Almost twenty years later, Gosse unburdened himself of Father and Son. Though the book was an immediate success and the reviews were largely enthusiastic, the reviewer of the Academy had reservations about the "close anatomisation by a son of a father," and the Times Literary Supplement raised the question of "how far in the interests of popular edification or amusement it is legitimate to expose the weaknesses and inconsistencies of a good man who is also one's father." Perhaps not always fortunately, subsequent writers, far more frank and confessional, showed far fewer qualms in writing about their fathers.

Andre Gerard,
Editor of Fathers: A Literary Anthology
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on 23 July 2012
This brilliant autobiography is touching, tender and tragic, retailing the childhood of a future agnostic professor at Oxford. He was the son of a brilliant geologist who just happened to be a member of the Plymouth Brethren. He could not square his faith with Darwin or dinosaurs,and in effect committed intellectual suicide as a result. He also lost his son. The younger Goss exorcises the past in this depiction of a loving father from whom his son must escape to survive. It is the best thing Goss ever wrote, and a classic in its own right.It will not date,even though it is hard for us (though not alas for Americans) to understand the crisis of faith and science it depicts.
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