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137 Tragedy in Gosse's FATHER AND SON By James D. Woolf (Memphis State University) In FATHER AND SON (1907), generally considered to be Sir Edmund Gosse's masterpiece, the author best exhibits his major talents as a writer--as a biographer who i 1luminatingly employs the new technique of psychological analysis, as an autobiographer who demonstrates that Puritanism or any religion with latent violence is inadequate for the education of sensitive youth, and as a critic who brilliantly interprets major cultural movements of his century. The book has also been recognized as possessing important characteristics of imaginative literature, especially the form of tragedy, Harold Nicolson, for example, asserts that "underlying the story is a conflict of the utmost intensity, VIe have the clash of wills; the constant hidden presence of a malignant deity; the intellectual blindness with which the father is afflicted and which impels him to the destruction of his own dearest hopes. There is all the apparatus of a Greek tragedy, and yet this tragic element is implicit only; it is never expressed,"' And Edgar Johnson alludes to an original and illuminating "dramatic structure" in the narrative.2 Yet neither critic explores the tragic element. In KING ERIK: A TRAGEDY (I876), Gosse had already essayed the tragic form but' with a lack of any impressive success, In FATHER AND SON, he achieves genuine tragic form but its main outlines, as Nicolson suggests, are implied, In a few explicit references to tragedy, however, Gosse suggests that he may have thought of his work in terms of this genre. In the Preface, he states that the life behind the book contained "an extraordinary mixture of comedy and tragedy" but the discerning reader will perceive that the "comedy was superficial and the tragedy essential."3 In another instance, he alludes to a street drama with a hero possessing a violent temper, which he saw as a child and which he characterizes as "tragedy": "I was deeply moved and exhilarated [by it], 'purged,' as the old phrase hath it, 'with pity and terror'" (p, 59), In the Epilogue, he states that the paramount value of the book is the light thrown on the "unique and noble figure of the [F]ather" (p. 211). The Father, then, is the tragic hero, As in traditional tragedy, the action of the book occurs within the framework of a moral order which ante· dates the culture of the English nineteenth century. Gosse notes that the Mother starts from the "Anglican stand-point" and the Father from the Wesleyan, both of which stem immediately from the moral order of the English eighteenth century, and culminate in an extreme Calvinist view in the Plymouth Brethren faith (p. 7) Unlike his parents, the Son evinces an interest in "the poetry of the High Church," of which the Father plans to keep him unaware (p. 63). In contrast to the theology of his Father, the Son expresses a concept in which the "pity and love" of God take precedence over His "possible anger" (p. IO9). Reflecting harmony with traditional moral order, the Son exhibits genuine interest in the character of his stepmother, Miss Brightwen, who was reared in the "Church of England" (pp„ 153-56), At fifteen, he observes with admiration the fine Anglican church in his village and the "stately Puginesque cathedral" which Rome erected near it; at the same time, he wishes for communion with "the outer world of Christianity" (pp. 207-08). In constrast to the exclusively 138 metaphysical method of his Father's religion, the young man notes a prevailing outlook among religious people Of his time which places "philanthropic activity," "objective attitude," and constructive "beneficence" in the foreground; with effective understatement, he adds that these features seem to have "formed some part of the Saviour's original design" (p. 215). The Son concludes that the Father "habitually mistook fear for love," in spite of his piety, and hence falls short of the "Divine Benevolence" (p. 97). Clearly the author asserts a traditional kñá Christian moral order as a framework for his book. In FATHER AND SOfo, the benevolent God of the moral order which is premised may be properly viewed as in control of...


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