A three-part Clutterbuck, today. The figure linking the three parts is Edmund Gosse (1849-1928).
After his mother’s death in 1857, Gosse was raised by his father, Philip Henry Gosse, a marine biologist and a fundamentalist Christian with a decided hell-fire bent. The younger Gosse described the intense relationship between the two in the book that made his name: Father and Son (1907).
Modern readers of the book might find certain sections of the book oddly familiar. This will probably because (a) they have read it before and forgotten about it or (b) they have read Peter Carey’s marvellous novel Oscar And Lucinda (1988). Carey’s account of the childhood of Oscar Hopkins owes a great (and acknowledged) debt to Gosse.
He looked upon [each of the feasts of the Church] as nugatory and worthless, but the keeping of Christmas appeared to him by far the most hateful, and nothing less than an act of idolatry… [B]ut the servants, secretly rebellious, made a small plum-pudding for themselves. Early in the afternoon, the maids… kindly remarked that ‘the poor dear child ought to have a bit, anyhow’, and wheedled me into the kitchen, where I ate a slice of plum-pudding…
At length I could bear my spiritual anguish no longer, and bursting into the study I called out: ‘Oh! Papa, Papa, I have eaten of flesh offered to idols!’… Then my Father sternly said: ‘Where is this accursed thing?’… He took me by the hand, and ran with me into the midst of the startled servants, seized what remained of the pudding, and with the plate in one hand and me still tight in the other, ran till we reached the dust-heap, when he flung the idolatrous confectionery on to the middle of the ashes, and then raked it deep down into the mass.
The suddenness, the violence, the velocity of this extraordinary act made an impression on my memory which nothing will ever efface.
One can well imagine. And now here’s Carey:
Oscar took the spoon and ate, standing up… [H]e was just raising the spoon to his mouth in anticipation of more, had actually got the second spoonful into his mouth when the door squeaked behind him and Theophilus came striding across the cobbled floor.
He felt the blow on the back of his head. His face leapt forward. The spoon hit his tooth… A large horny hand gripped the back of his head and another cupped beneath his mouth. He tried to swallow. There was a second blow. He spat what he could. Theophilus acted as if his son were poisoned.
Theophilus threw what remained of the pudding into the fire.
Oscar had never been hit before. He could not bear it.
His father made a speech. Oscar did not believe it.
His father said the pudding was the fruit of Satan.
But Oscar had tasted the pudding. It did not taste like the fruit of Satan.
Parts II and III of this Gosse extravaganza will have to wait till tomorrow.