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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Born In Exile by George Gissing

English author George Gissing

Book Review
Born In Exile
by George Gissing
p. 1892

 Consider the character of the alienated intellectual. If you had only read literature of the 20th century, you might assume that such a figure has played a central role in the development of the novel as an art form, so prominent is his/her position in the great works of the 20th and 21st century.  And yet this character is relatively recent development, with sporadic appearances in French literature, a more significant role in Russian literature and almost entirely absent in British literature until George Gissing hit the scene.  Gissing actually wrote two novels that essentially created this character:  He published New Grub Street in 1891, and Born In Exile in 1892.   New Grub Street is an incredibly bleak look at the entire life and times of a failed novelist.  Born In Exile is a less despairing look at a similar figure- but this time the main guy is a scientist and would-be clergyman rather then a writer.

 Godwin Peak is a man born to lower/middle class parents.  He quickly demonstrates an aptitude for study and begins course work at a nearby college, only to have his dreams thwarted when a Cockney Uncle opens up a restaurant across the street from his college.  Of course he quits college rather then put up with a lower class relative opening up a restaurant nearby, it makes perfect sense!

 After leaving school, he suffers multiple crises of faith before deciding to pursue a clerical career, only to have his plan wrecked by this earlier dabbling in religious criticism, which is brought to the attention of his clerical sponsors.  Unlike New Grub Street, which ends in utter misery, Born In Exile has a marginally less depressing finale where Peak inherits money from the sister of a friend, and is able to travel the world where he dies...also in Exile.  Do you see the irony there?  Because the book is called Born In Exile?  And he also Dies in Exile?  Maybe irony isn't the right word.  Symmetry, I suppose.

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