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Father and Son Edmund Gosse Oxford University Press USA


16th June 2013 History Books 12 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










  • 12 responses to "Father and Son Edmund Gosse Oxford University Press USA"

  • TruthBetold
    2:53 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    There are few works of autobiography that lay bare the author’s soul as convincingly and seeringly as this. In an astonishing tour de force Edmund Gosse, by then a substantial Edwardian homme des lettres, remembers his childhood and adolescence in his father’s house and his indoctrination into a Victorian, evangelical, creationist, scientific, wilfully unliterary way of life and his growth out of this via Shakespeare, Marlowe and some decidedly morbid poems. What is so astounding about this book is the kindness with which Gosse remembers his past which is always present and never tempered with dishonesty. There are moments when we cannot but find fault with Gosse senior (when he writes to his son in London invoking his mother’s memory to try and force him back to the brethren) but with the Edmund Gosse painting so loving a picture of him we could never see him as, for example, the father of Samuel Butler’s “The Way of All Flesh” (a great and loosely autobiographical novel which is often metioned alongside “Father and Son” as expressing the same painful differences between the evagelical Victorians and their children) – that is desicated, corrupted, and malicious. There is one killingly funny moment where Edmund Gosse reads from Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander” to his stepmother and the idea of the straight laced little saint reading aloud about Leander “His bodie was as straight as Circes wand,/ Jove might have sipt out Nectar from his hand./ Even as delicious meat is to the tast,/ So was his necke in touching, and surpast/ The white of Pelops shoulder.” to the god fearing wife of his god fearing father, minister to the brethren, and not expecting a strange reaction, is as bizarre as it is amusing. A most endearingly human work most warmly recommended.

  • lucy appleton
    5:01 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    “Father and Son” is widely reckoned as the most brilliant work of Edmund Gosse whose delicate use of English, no doubt, partly accounted for his literary success. To attach too much literary importance to the book may, however, obscure its main purpose, which is an attempt of the writer to vindicate his attitude towards his father. The attempt failed, to put it mildly.

    Gosse lived in an age when people held very high standard of propriety; any departure from rules of behaviour would be seen as an offence. But conflicts between fathers and sons, or between their respective thoughts, are as common nowadays as they were in ancient times. Gosse revealed in his book the differences between his father and himself mainly in their beliefs as to how life should be lived. The book caused a sensation upon release not because of the revelation but because of the daring publication of the differences – Gosse did as people at that time were not bold enough to do. As such differences were common, though they might not be voiced, many people shared the writer’s experience and the book became instantly popular.

    Nevertheless, to explain the success of the book in so few words as those said above will not do justice to Gosse. It is, in Bernard Shaw’s words, one of those immortal pages in English literature. These might be extravagant words. Even so, Gosse, indeed, earned himself a place in English literature by such a bold attempt as mentioned earlier. But the attempt need not have been made – two men of widely different ages look at each other from different angles; the gap between them is only natural; it need not be alluded to nor elucidated. Any attempt which need not have been made cannot succeed.

  • Matt S.
    5:22 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Father and Son is the story of two men, Edmund Gosse (the writer) and his father, Philip Gosse. Philip was a biologist, a contemporary of Charles Darwin. The story covers a period of about twenty years, from 1849 to about 1870, during which Edmund grew from infancy to university student. Edmund Gosse became a well-known English man of letters. Among his works is a biography of his father.

    Speaking of his parents’ faith, he writes …

    They called themselves ‘the Brethren’, simply; a title enlarged by the world outside into ‘Plymouth Brethren’.

    Given that there is no mention of John Darby in the book, and that the book follows the 1848-49 schism that resulted in open and exclusive brethren, and that the assemblies described in the book seem essentially autonomous, I assume Gosse is referring to the ‘open brethren’ when he speaks of Plymouth Brethren.

    Readers raised among any of the groups that have evolved from the Brethren groups that began in Dublin in the 1820′s will find much familiar material.

    The book is worth reading at least twice. I’ve just read it again after owning it for a year and am struck again at how well he describes life among the brethren and the incredible stress parents can put upon their children in the name of faith.

  • muffler
    10:46 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This biographical work is essential in understanding the author’s greatest works. She discusses “scene making” and how it relates to memory. After reading this I plan to reread “To the Lighthouse” and “Mrs. Dalloway.”

  • Not_LouFranklin
    12:49 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being is one of the great artifacts of literary modernism — and it also possesses the virtue of being superbly written; few writers are of the caliber of Woolf when it comes to documenting the subtle nuances of human emotion and thought. Her voice is unwavering and clear; it is analytic and critical without every sacrificing its self-effacing quality and humility – and the clarity of its emotional tone. She handles the pain and loss in her life with a kind of imaginative double barreled shotgun: she destroys those that have inflicted pain on her, while exalting those that loved her. But as she hacks away at one and beatifies the other she always places both in very real, very human terms. There are also sparks of real humor here that cannot be overlooked, like the moment in the essay “Old Bloomsbury” when Lytton Strachey walks into the room and seeing a stain on Vanessa’s white dressed pronounces “Semen?” and with one word ushers in the 20th centuries fixation with discussing sexual matters. We are to believe that one word carelessly said becomes the hallmark of an entire century.

  • Fund Manager
    18:30 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    I just finished reading another biography, and so I asked my husband to give me another book – a biography to read. She gave me Virginia Woolf – Moments of Being, edited by Jeanne Schulkind, A Harvest Book.

    This is the first book I’ve ever read written by Virginia Woolf. I have always enjoyed reading biographies, and this book I very much enjoyed.

    Reading the introduction was a bit difficult. So I skipped most of it, and started reading the first chapter. And once I started, I couldn’t put the book down. I loved the way she wrote her memoirs. I loved her words; her writing voice. I usually couldn’t understand metaphors, but the way Ms. Woolf used them were fascinating and understandable.

    I plan to re-read this book, after I finish Mrs. Dalloway.

  • Ricktron
    21:03 on June 16th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This collection of autobiographical essays was not published until 1976. They do not supplement the Diaries, but stand on their own as indispensable to an understanding of the novels and thinking of this revolutionary writer. They articulate – as the Diaries do not in an explicit way – her philosophy, and this alone makes the book essentail reading for anyone interested in Woolf or, indeed, modern fiction. But these essays offer more than that. They detail sensitive and at times painful background memories of her death-ridden childhood and adolescence, of the physical abuse by her half-brother, Gerald Duckworth.
    To read ‘Moments of Being’ is not an exercise in the prurient, but to gain an understanding of the inner life of an extraoprdinary artist and human being.

  • Sandeep
    6:29 on June 17th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Edmund Gosse’s FATHER AND SON is legitimately considered one of the highpoints of Victorian autobiography. As has been noted by others, the book recounts the relationship between Edmund Gosse and his father, a member of the Christian sect generally known as Plymouth Brethren, but who was also a member of the Royal Society and one of the foremost marine biologists of his time. The narrative tends to break down into a number of definite segments: the author’s birth until the death of his mother; life with his father until the time of the publishing of Darwin’s THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES; the move of the Gosses to the coast of England; and young Gosse’s schooling and gradual growth away from the religious teachings and expectations he had received from his parents.

    A number of powerful impressions evolve over the course of the telling. First and foremost, one is left with an impression of how overwhelmingly Gosse’s childhood was stripped of nearly all fun by his parents’ puritanical and stern religion. Gosse’s father is presented not as a cruel, vicious, and hypocritical. Instead, he is shown as a caring parent, a completely earnest practitioner of his religion, but fanatically concerned to eliminate all activities that do not lead to increased religious devotion and moral seriousness. Unfortunately, this resulted for Gosse in a childhood from which all possibility of play and fun and delight had been eliminated. Near the end of the book, I was left wondering if Gosse would have been inclined to leave Christianity if he had just had more fun as a kid.

    The section of the book dealing with his father’s reaction to Darwin’s ORIGIN OF SPECIES was for me the most interesting part of the book. His father’s scientific standing was such that Darwin actually contacted him before the publication of his theories, and asked his response. Gosse notes that his father instantly understood that the scientific evidence clearly supported Darwin’s theory. His reading of Genesis, however, indicated to him that the world was created in six days, which precluded the scenario articulated by Darwin. He therefore concluded that god created the earth in six days, but in so doing implanted fossils and geologic strata into the earth. In this way, his father was able to explain both the apparent evidence for eons long development of the earth and homo sapiens and yet retain his belief in the belief that Genesis taught a six day literal creation.

    There are any of a number of reasons to read this work. It is a classic autobiography, an important source for one response to the reception of Darwin, and a magnificent evocation of puritanical religious life during the Victorian age. Most of all, it is a disturbing account of the distortive effect that intolerant and narrow-minded religious upbringing can have on an individual.

  • Leone Puzo
    15:20 on June 17th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    People who have enjoyed Woolf’s novels or diaries will surely find her essay “A Sketch of the Past” deeply moving and helpful in illuminating her other works. In “Sketch,” the longest essay in this volume, Woolf recounts her earliest childhood memories–both beautiful (hearing the waves break on the shore at her family’s summer home) and sinister (her stepbrother’s unwelcome sexual advances when she was a small child). She develops a theory about memory and about transcendent experience in this essay. She discusses her powerful drive to reshape and write about the past: “I feel that strong emotion must leave its trace; and it is only a question of discovering how we can get ourselves attached to it, so that we shall be able to live our lives through from the start.” In this essay Woolf proposes that in moments of ecstasy we have a meaningful vision of the world itself: “it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we–I mean all human beings–are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words, we are the music; we are the thing itself. And I see this when I have a shock.”

  • James puff
    21:42 on June 17th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Virginia’s genius is all over this volume, esp in A Sketch of the Past. From the first sensations of childhood (waves splashing against the shore) to the tragedy of the death of her mother and sister, it is the most revealing work of creativity ever written. You’ll learn about her life, her work, and even how you might become a great writer. Examine the parallels with To the Lighthouse and you’ll be amazed. Yes, this is how she come to be what she is; and her life and what she writes.

  • Thomas Hauck
    3:17 on June 18th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Edmund Gosse’s FATHER AND SON is legitimately considered one of the highpoints of Victorian autobiography. As has been noted by others, the book recounts the relationship between Edmund Gosse and his father, a member of the Christian sect generally known as Plymouth Brethren, but who was also a member of the Royal Society and one of the foremost marine biologists of his time. The narrative tends to break down into a number of definite segments: the author’s birth until the death of his mother; life with his father until the time of the publishing of Darwin’s THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES; the move of the Gosses to the coast of England; and young Gosse’s schooling and gradual growth away from the religious teachings and expectations he had received from his parents.

    A number of powerful impressions evolve over the course of the telling. First and foremost, one is left with an impression of how overwhelmingly Gosse’s childhood was stripped of nearly all fun by his parents’ puritanical and stern religion. Gosse’s father is presented not as a cruel, vicious, and hypocritical. Instead, he is shown as a caring parent, a completely earnest practitioner of his religion, but fanatically concerned to eliminate all activities that do not lead to increased religious devotion and moral seriousness. Unfortunately, this resulted for Gosse in a childhood from which all possibility of play and fun and delight had been eliminated. Near the end of the book, I was left wondering if Gosse would have been inclined to leave Christianity if he had just had more fun as a kid.

    The section of the book dealing with his father’s reaction to Darwin’s ORIGIN OF SPECIES was for me the most interesting part of the book. His father’s scientific standing was such that Darwin actually contacted him before the publication of his theories, and asked his response. Gosse notes that his father instantly understood that the scientific evidence clearly supported Darwin’s theory. His reading of Genesis, however, indicated to him that the world was created in six days, which precluded the scenario articulated by Darwin. He therefore concluded that god created the earth in six days, but in so doing implanted fossils and geologic strata into the earth. In this way, his father was able to explain both the apparent evidence for eons long development of the earth and homo sapiens and yet retain his belief in the belief that Genesis taught a six day literal creation.

    There are any of a number of reasons to read this work. It is a classic autobiography, an important source for one response to the reception of Darwin, and a magnificent evocation of puritanical religious life during the Victorian age. Most of all, it is a disturbing account of the distortive effect that intolerant and narrow-minded religious upbringing can have on an individual.

  • David Emery
    8:05 on June 18th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This book kept me reading from day to night. I really got caught up in the life of Virginia Woolf. It was a very realistic look at the life of the author in her own words. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

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