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Father and Son Edmund Gosse Oxford University Press USA


16th June 2013 History Books 0 Comments

The era in which faith and reason conflicted in a profound manner seems far away, and perhaps even a bit incomprehensible, to citizens of the modern world. Most of us take for granted our right to choose the life of the mind over that of the spirit without feeling remorse. At the very least, we’ve learned that the two need not be mutually exclusive. But this is hard-won ease, born of a conflict that began with the Victorians. Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907) traces his own reckoning–as well as that of his father, the eminent British zoologist Philip Gosse–with the clash. His story is, as he declares, “The diagnosis of a dying Puritanism.”

The only Puritanism that dies here, however, is the author’s. His parents were Christian fundamentalists and as a result, young Edmund was denied interaction with other children as well as all variety of fictional tales. “Here was perfect purity,” Gosse writes, “perfect intrepidity, perfect abnegation; yet there was also narrowness, isolation, and absence of perspective, let it boldly be admitted, an absence of humanity.” Despite all of this, the child maintained his sense of humor, which adds much levity to a tale of such potentially grim proportions.

When Edmund was 8, his mother died of cancer, leaving him the care of a man in whom “sympathetic imagination … was singularly absent.” Philip Gosse held on to his faith in God above all else–so much so, in fact, that when evolutionary theory was announced to the world, he dismissed it entirely because it discounted the book of Genesis. Little by little, Edmund began to chafe against the traditions he had inherited. By the age of 11, he already saw himself “imprisoned for ever in the religious system which had caught me and would whurl my helpless spirit.” At this point he believed his fate was sealed and went through the motions of piety. It is not until he goes off to boarding school, and discovers the Greeks and Romantic poetry, that he slowly chooses his own path. Eventually he comes to realize that he and his father “walked in opposite hemispheres of the soul.” Their split encapsulates a particular moment in history but also embodies their destiny: “one was born to fly backward, the other could not help being carried forward.” –Melanie Rehak –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Autobiography by Edmund Gosse, published anonymously in 1907. Considered a minor masterpiece, Father and Son is a sensitive study of the clash between religious fundamentalism and intellectual curiosity. The book recounts Gosse’s austere childhood, particularly his relationship to his father, the eminent zoologist Philip Henry Gosse. In the conflict between his rigid fundamentalism and mounting scientific knowledge, the elder Gosse rejected science for his faith. The younger Gosse, with his vast thirst for knowledge of the broader world, was finally unable to accept his father’s beliefs. — The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Edmund Gosse wrote of his account of his life, “This book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciences and almost two epochs.” Father and Son remains one of English literature’s seminal autobiographies. In it, Edmund Gosse recounts, with humor and pathos, his childhood as a member of a Victorian Protestant sect and his struggles to forge his own identity despite the loving control of his father. His work is a key document of the crisis of faith and doubt and a penetrating exploration of the impact of evolutionary science. An astute, well-observed, and moving portrait of the tensions of family life, Father and Son remains a classic of twentieth-century literature.

This edition contains an illuminating introduction, and provides a series of fascinating appendices including extracts from Philip Gosse’s Omphalos and Edmund Gosse’s harrowing account of his wife’s death from breast cancer.

About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

The era in which faith and reason conflicted in a profound manner seems far away, and perhaps even a bit incomprehensible, to citizens of the modern world. Most of us take for granted our right to choose the life of the mind over that of the spirit without feeling remorse. At the very least, we’ve learned that the two need not be mutually exclusive. But this is hard-won ease, born of a conflict that began with the Victorians. Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son traces his own reckoning–as well as that of his father, the eminent British zoologist Philip Gosse–with the clash. His story is, as he declares, “The diagnosis of a dying Puritanism.”

The only Puritanism that dies here, however, is the author’s. His parents were Christian fundamentalists and as a result, young Edmund was denied interaction with other children as well as all variety of fictional tales. “Here was perfect purity,” Gosse writes, “perfect intrepidity, perfect abnegation; yet there was also narrowness, isolation, and absence of perspective, let it boldly be admitted, an absence of humanity.” Despite all of this, the child maintained his sense of humor, which adds much levity to a tale of such potentially grim proportions.

When Edmund was 8, his mother died of cancer, leaving him the care of a man in whom “sympathetic imagination … was singularly absent.” Philip Gosse held on to his faith in God above all else–so much so, in fact, that when evolutionary theory was announced to the world, he dismissed it entirely because it discounted the book of Genesis. Little by little, Edmund began to chafe against the traditions he had inherited. By the age of 11, he already saw himself “imprisoned for ever in the religious system which had caught me and would whurl my helpless spirit.” At this point he believed his fate was sealed and went through the motions of piety. It is not until he goes off to boarding school, and discovers the Greeks and Romantic poetry, that he slowly chooses his own path. Eventually he comes to realize that he and his father “walked in opposite hemispheres of the soul.” Their split encapsulates a particular moment in history but also embodies their destiny: “one was born to fly backward, the other could not help being carried forward.” –Melanie Rehak –This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Father and Son (Oxford World’s Classics)

Moments of Being

8 1.5-hour cassettes –This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Published years after her death, Moments of Being is Virginia Woolfs only autobiographical writing, considered by many to be her most important book.


In Reminiscences, the first of five pieces included in Moments of Being, Woolf focuses on the death of her mother, the greatest disaster that could happen, and its effect on her father, a demanding Victorian patriarch who played a crucial role in her development as an individual and a writer. Three of the essays she wrote for the purpose of reading at the Memoir Club, a postwar regrouping of Bloomsbury, and A Sketch of the Past the last and longest of the five essays, gives an account of Woolf’s early years in her family’s household at 22 Hyde Park Gate.

Moments of Being










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