Father and Son (book)

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Father and Son
Father and Son (Gosse) first edition cover.jpg
AuthorEdmund Gosse
CountryUnited Kingdom
Set inLondon and Devon, 1849–64
Publication date
Media typePrint: hardback
Philip Henry Gosse with his son Edmund Gosse, 1857. Frontispiece to the first edition of Father and Son.

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,[1] 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."[2]

Although Edmund Gosse prefaces the book with the claim that the incidents described are sober reality,[3] a modern biography of Philip Henry Gosse by Ann Thwaite[4] 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."[5]


Source: Library of Congress

  • New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1907
  • London, W. Heinemann, 1907
  • New York, Oxford University Press [1934]
  • London : Heinemann, 1958
  • Boston, Houghton Mifflin, [1965, c1907]
  • London, Heinemann Educational, 1970, ISBN 0-435-13350-0
  • London ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1974, ISBN 0-19-255401-8
  • Oxford [England] ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-284066-5

In popular culture[edit]

Father and Son partially inspired the 1988 novel Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, that won the Booker Prize the same year, and the 1989 Miles Franklin Award.

The book was the inspiration for Dennis Potter's 1976 television drama Where Adam Stood, starring Alan Badel as Philip Gosse.


  1. ^ Edmund Gosse (1890). The Life of Philip Henry Gosse, F.R.S.
  2. ^ Edmund Gosse, Father and Son, ed. Michael Newton (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), x-xi.
  3. ^ "At the present hour, when fiction takes forms so ingenious and so specious, it is perhaps necessary to say that the following narrative, in all its parts, and so far as the punctilious attention of the writer has been able to keep it so, is scrupulously true. "Preface"
  4. ^ Ann Thwaite, Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse, 1810-1888 (London: Faber and Faber, 2002).
  5. ^ Review of Thwaite by D. J. Taylor in The Guardian

External links[edit]