A copy of Ben Yagoda’s fascinating Memoir: A History – no, it’s not the story of author’s life, but a rich and thought-provoking study of the history of that curious genre — landed on the desk today. I haven’t had time to fully take in its many pleasures, but leafing through I was very happy to see the attention the author gives to one of my personal favorites — Edmund Gosse’s melancholy masterpiece Father and Son.
Gosse was a prolific and authoritative critic of both visual and literary art, a late-Victorian/Edwardian literary lion of a type that would more or less disappear. Yagoda points out that although in his day his many critical works comprised the vast bulk of his enormous output, it was his very different — and for his day almost revolutionary — account of his life growing up as the only child of Plymouth Brethren parents that became his lasting literary claim to fame. Gently bringing the details of his highly anachronistic family life into view, Gosse breaks through the habitual reticence of the Victorians about their private worlds with a grace that seems effortless, though it was almost certainly anything but.
I’m not going to spoil any of the pleasures of Father and Son by recounting Gosse’s story here, but reading Yagoda’s praise of this slender, haunting book, with it’s arresting portrait of a the deep but completely strange bond between a boy trying to grasp the world through the lens of his curious education, and a father whose life’s work of biological science is dramatically at odds with his complex Puritan faith, I was reminded of what a wonder of the genre it is. I’m looking forward to reading Memoir in depth — and then to re-reading Father and Son.