Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments
Father and Son (1907) is a memoir by poet and critic Edmund Gosse, which he subtitled "a study of two temperaments." Edmund had previously published a biography of his father, originally published anonymously. The book describes Edmund's early years in an exceptionally devout Plymouth Brethren home. His mother, who died early and painfully of breast cancer, was a writer of Christian tracts. His father, Philip Henry Gosse, was an influential, though largely self-taught, invertebrate zoologist and student of marine biology who, after his wife's death, took Edmund to live in Devon. The book focuses on the relationship between a sternly religious father who rejects the new evolutionary theories of his scientific colleague Charles Darwin and the son's gradual coming of age and rejection of his father's fundamentalist religion.
As Michael Newton, Lecturer in English, University College London, has written, the book is "a brilliant, and often comic, record of the small diplomacies of home: those indirections, omissions, insincerities, and secrecies that underlie family relationships." "[B]rilliantly written, and full of gentle wit," the book is "an unmatched social document, preserving for us whole the experience of childhood in a Protestant sect in the Victorian period....Above all, it is one of our best accounts of adolescence, particularly for those who endured...a religious upbringing."
Although Edmund Gosse prefaces the book with the claim that the incidents described are sober reality, a modern biography of Philip Henry Gosse by Ann Thwaite presents him not as a repressive tyrant who cruelly scrutinized the state of his son's soul but as a gentle and thoughtful person of "delicacy and inner warmth," much unlike his son's portrait. Biographer and critic, D. J. Taylor described the latter as "horribly partial" and noted that "the supposedly sequestered, melancholic pattern of [Edmund] Gosse's London and Devonshire childhood is repeatedly proved to have contained great affection, friends, fun and even light reading."
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