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Born in Exile
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Past BOTM discussions > Born in Exile - George Gissing (9/19BOTM)

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Kristel (kristelh) | 3950 comments Mod
September BOTM, Born in Exile by George Gissing. Discussion leader, Amanda.


Amanda Dawn | 991 comments Hey everybody: Here’s some basic info/questions for our BOTM book “Born in Exile. I haven’t read this one yet myself: so I might add some different questions as I read it.

Author Bios at these links:
http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/g...
https://www.britannica.com/biography/...

Small Book summary: Born in Exile is a novel by George Gissing first published in 1892. It deals with the themes of class, religion, love and marriage. The premise of the novel is drawn from Gissing's own early life — an intellectually superior man born into a socially inferior milieu, though the story arc diverges significantly from the actuality.

Questions
1. In which ways is the protagonist Godwin Peak an “exile” throughout his life? Does he ever leave this “exile”, and if not, what keeps him alienated?

2. Did you find Godwin to be a sympathetic protagonist in any way, or did you feel like his circumstances were the product of his own machinations and therefore just deserts?

3. Classism- in particular internalized classism on Godwin’s part (such as with his Uncle at school)- is a recurring theme in this novel. What stance does the narrative seem to take on this? Is social climbing such as Godwin’s condemned as an ideal or just his methods? How do quotes like this from the book: “Surely there was never a man who united such a capacity for great things with so mean an ideal”, or “It’s better to be in a comfortable room” explore these ideas?

4. Some have written that Gissing’s work remains so readable and relatable due to the universal tensions of the interweaving relationships between money, class, respectability and sex. Do you agree with this/ can you find examples of this in the book?

5. Literary critics have compared and contrasted the ways in which Gissing and Dickens wrote about 19th century London. Do you see any similarities in this book to other ones written during the early industrial revolution in theme/POV/assessment of the sociocultural context? Does the theme of a lower class man trying to lift himself up socially – to tragic outcome- remind you of any other list books?

6. This is one of the earlier books to utilize the unreliable narrator: what purpose does this serve in the context of this book?

7. As always: what did you think of the book? Do you think it earned it’s place on the list for you?


Gail (gailifer) | 1266 comments Questions (warning - with spoilers)
1. In which ways is the protagonist Godwin Peak an “exile” throughout his life? Does he ever leave this “exile”, and if not, what keeps him alienated?

He believes himself to be in exile from his rightful place in society because he was born to a lower class and needed to make a living instead of simply applying his superior mind to literary or scientific pursuits. However, this reader was more inclined to believe he was in exile from a clear vision of himself and how he could endeavor to work toward success. The social pressures of the time were such that it was difficult for me to know if there was any hope for Peak outside of being resigned to his place. Other characters in the book seemed capable of finding a way without turning on their own kind but perhaps they were rare examples.
Peak never leaves his exile.

2. Did you find Godwin to be a sympathetic protagonist in any way, or did you feel like his circumstances were the product of his own machinations and therefore just deserts?

Clearly there were many constraints and prejudices which Peak suffered from that were not of his own making. Also, he was not tutored in the social graces and this lack of grace went a long ways in being part of the harm the world did to him. However, in general, I never found myself very sympathetic as he had so little sympathy for his own class and really had very little sympathy for himself.


3. Classism- in particular internalized classism on Godwin’s part (such as with his Uncle at school)- is a recurring theme in this novel. What stance does the narrative seem to take on this? Is social climbing such as Godwin’s condemned as an ideal or just his methods? How do quotes like this from the book: “Surely there was never a man who united such a capacity for great things with so mean an ideal”, or “It’s better to be in a comfortable room” explore these ideas?

This is one of the reasons I struggled with the book and I would like to read other people's thoughts on this. I believe that the book condemns the class hierarchies of the time but also seems to condemn Godwin for more than just his methods. It is almost as if the book is saying that to rise above the class hierarchy one had to become either a "radical" or the pure embodiment of the dress, manners, and spiritual beliefs of the high born.

4. Some have written that Gissing’s work remains so readable and relatable due to the universal tensions of the interweaving relationships between money, class, respectability and sex. Do you agree with this/ can you find examples of this in the book?

On the topic of science versus religion there were struggles and arguments that seemed "modern" in some sense of the word. The place of women in society was just being tested here and Sylvia, Fanny, Miss Moxley, Dr. Janet and the later Sidwell all represented a new way of living as women during that era.

5. Literary critics have compared and contrasted the ways in which Gissing and Dickens wrote about 19th century London. Do you see any similarities in this book to other ones written during the early industrial revolution in theme/POV/assessment of the sociocultural context? Does the theme of a lower class man trying to lift himself up socially – to tragic outcome- remind you of any other list books?

It was mentioned in my introduction or a review I read somewhere about the relationship to Fathers and Sons by Turgenev to this book. In Fathers and Sons the younger generation is fighting against the expectations of the older generation. I really enjoyed that book. My Mutual Friend does have many of the same themes.

6. This is one of the earlier books to utilize the unreliable narrator: what purpose does this serve in the context of this book?

I thought it was used effectively in that each of the secondary characters often gave me more insight into Peak than Peak could.

7. As always: what did you think of the book? Do you think it earned it’s place on the list for you?
For its tackling of difficult and timely topics and for the introduction of the unreliable narrator it probably belongs on the list. I however was not enthralled.


Book Wormy | 1922 comments Mod
1. I like Gail's answer I would also add that he goes out of his way to misinterpret and assign negative emotions to those around him which only adds to his feeling of exile.

2. I didn't like Godwin for me he was not a sympathetic character. He was too resentful of those who had more and he looked down on his own family. Instead of being honest with people he was deceitful. I think in that time he would have had a hard time achieving what he wanted but I think he may have had more success if he had been a nicer person.

3. I think the novel is critical of Godwin's classism especially his treatment of his uncle boy he couldn't run away quick enough could he? In fact his preferred method of dealing with awkward situations throughout the narrative is to do a bunk hardly the best way to get people to respect you.

In terms of classism overall I think this novel is critical of it the most sympathetic characters are those from the lower classes who accept who they are and still manage to make it work to their advantage.

4. I would agree this story felt more modern than it actually is (with the exception of all the comments about women and education).

5. I was reminded of Pip in Great Expectations who basically walks all over his poor family in pursuit of a woman who doesn't love him. Pip also neglects his family to make himself a better man with much the same outcome.

6. I didn't particularly see Peak is unreliable because he was telling the reader the truth as he saw it he was lying to other characters but I class that as something different.

7. This was a 3 star read for me it could have done with being about a 100 pages shorter. I enjoyed the debates about religion and morality but I disliked the sections about a woman's place and bringing up your own wife to be educated how you wanted her to be, personally I found this situation very creepy.

This is no longer in my addition in of the 1001 books so I guess the editors decided it no longer deserved its place which about sums it up for me.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments First, I am a little disappointed by this book. I have read two other Gissing novels and liked both better than this one.

1. In which ways is the protagonist Godwin Peak an “exile” throughout his life? Does he ever leave this “exile”, and if not, what keeps him alienated?

He was born in a lower class. But he feels he belongs in a higher class where he could simply pursue literary and scientific endeavors. He sees himself as too smart for his class. He is too arrogant and too stuck on the idea that wealth would give him what he wanted and he has no desire to work for what he wants. His exile is of his own making.

2. Did you find Godwin to be a sympathetic protagonist in any way, or did you feel like his circumstances were the product of his own machinations and therefore just deserts?

I didn't like him very much. He was so resentful. He didn't work for what he wanted. He seemed to have no empathy or sympathy for people of his own class or even those in worse position than he. I know there were some real hardships but I found him unlikable and in the end I felt he brought it all on himself.

3. Classism- in particular internalized classism on Godwin’s part (such as with his Uncle at school)- is a recurring theme in this novel. What stance does the narrative seem to take on this? Is social climbing such as Godwin’s condemned as an ideal or just his methods? How do quotes like this from the book: “Surely there was never a man who united such a capacity for great things with so mean an ideal”, or “It’s better to be in a comfortable room” explore these ideas?

Gissing always addresses classism, and condemns the hierarchies of his time but I think he did so better in the other books I read.
I know that classism is a real issue. I saw it often in my own childhood. But I also think it is our responsibility to work for chane. It felt more like this book was asking us to just throw out everything... like it is the world's responsibility to change things in some drastic way. I am a bit cynical and don't think this is possible, or even right.

4. Some have written that Gissing’s work remains so readable and relatable due to the universal tensions of the interweaving relationships between money, class, respectability and sex. Do you agree with this/ can you find examples of this in the book?

I do think that Gissing was a very modern man who saw struggles with insight and intuitiveness. He addresses the place of women in society in all of his books. And classism. And science. I find him to be smart and timely for our time not just his own.

5. Literary critics have compared and contrasted the ways in which Gissing and Dickens wrote about 19th century London. Do you see any similarities in this book to other ones written during the early industrial revolution in theme/POV/assessment of the sociocultural context? Does the theme of a lower class man trying to lift himself up socially – to tragic outcome- remind you of any other list books?

I don't know... I have only read one Dickens novel so far.

6. This is one of the earlier books to utilize the unreliable narrator: what purpose does this serve in the context of this book?

Not sure I know the answer to this one. But I do think this character was quite unreliable.

7. As always: what did you think of the book? Do you think it earned it’s place on the list for you?

I didn't really enjoy it. I need to have some affinity for the main character.


message 6: by John_Dishwasher (last edited Sep 23, 2019 08:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

John_Dishwasher John_Dishwasher (johndishwasher) | 11 comments ---WARNING SPOILERS---
What struck me most about this book was that all of the characters were struggling for something that they could not have, and that they were never allowed to achieve in the story. This is different from a lot of literature where an objective is set out and the story is about the hero acquiring it. It was almost like a quest story, in reverse -- an anti-quest.

Marcella wanted Peak
Peak wanted Sidwell
Sidwell wanted Peak
Christian wanted Mrs. Palmers
Earwaker wanted to overcome his editors
Buckland wanted Sylvia
Malkin wanted Bella (semi-exception)

Because of this it was hard for me not to read the novel as a spiritual allegory. I felt like Gissing was telling us to accept ourselves as human beings, and not to spoil our lives trying to achieve something that is ‘beyond’ our humanity. Doing so only provokes a lifetime of frustrated struggle, which leaves behind it lots of regrets and wasted years. I saw Godwin Peak’s efforts to transcend his station as a metaphor for humans trying to transcend their humanity, and felt like even his name indicated this as a possible interpretation. Throughout the novel each character only found peace after resigning their ‘ideal.’

Reading it this way made it very compelling for me since this message directly contradicts so many of the stories we are presented with.


message 7: by Amanda (last edited Sep 26, 2019 10:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amanda Dawn | 991 comments 1. He is alienated by his intelligence and –well honestly- pomposity in his hometown, by his origins in his endeavors to be educated, by his secret identity as an irreligious evolutionist with the Warricombes, and from his home country after he leaves it and falls ill before dying. Many different things keep him alienated over his life: but mostly it seems to come down to his unreasonable pride and social climbing that keeps him from connecting with those he feels below him, from staying on at school when his uncle comes to town, from being honest with the Warricombes, and from admitting some form of defeat in England after he receives Marcella's money.

2. I largely did not find him sympathetic in that it was mainly his own machinations and dishonesty that resulted in everything happening to him. But, on the other hand, I do feel like capitalist society has long sold people he idea that the affluent (and therefore often also educated) classes are superior people, and I suppose I have a little bit of sympathy for people not from that background who have desperately latched onto that idea, the same way I guess I feel for people crying on competition shows because they’ve manifested the idea that they’re going to get famous and ‘make it’ even though that likely won’t happen.

3. I was actually expecting to give this book a like meh 3 star review since it sounded very similar of other books on the list that didn’t severely stick with me- but a big part of why I rated it higher was how it explored this concept, which I’ve always found really interesting. I mean, as someone from a rural working class background who was always really stuck on being an academic- I can in some ways relate to some of the feelings Godwin expressed. But, I think if you get into the mindset of “why aren’t these people just more cultured/educated/etc, when I am and I’m from the same place as them”, it really puts the onus on the disadvantaged to justify why they haven’t put in excessive work to get to the same place as the affluent, when we should rightfully be putting pressure on the political and societal powers that create those systemic barriers in the first place.

And Godwin never gets there with his thinking, keeping with an individualistic mindset in both his goals and attributions. What I think is interesting, is that the narrative seems –at least to me-to condemn him for this on some level, as his machinations reflect a deep selfishness that would not in turn benefit others from his standing, and also fundamentally end up turning against him and not working. I don’t think the book condemns ambition in those from the lower classes (at least to a reasonable extent as illustrated by the second quote), but it relates the idea that someone from that background felt the need to scheme in order to thrive, and that they had to reach immense social standing and wealth to be fulfilled, as a tragedy. Which I agree it is. As a society, we still sell that idea to people. And it serves both to keep people from seeing these injustices as a systemic issue, and from seeking out a life of genuine contentment. Even though Godwin is an awful unsympathetic character, I feel like it’s all still very sad.

4. I would agree with this: I mean I also agree with everyone else saying the way most of the male characters discuss women is gross and outdated, but fundamentally tension between classes, the respectable and the riffraff (bohemian) world, the sexes, religion and secularism, are all still hyper present in society. The intersection between class and gender, and respectability and status are all concurrent issues as well. I mean, an affluent cocktail party and a white trash potluck still do not have the same norms- which I have recently found out much to my chagrin lol.

5. I guess I would say I’ve personally read Dickens’ work as much more about laying out the plight of the impoverished and working class for his readership to understand their struggles. Whereas I feel like this book is about exploring the psychology of those living in the industrial world.

It also reminds me of Jude the Obscure- also about a man of education trying to claw his way into an easier life from humble origins. However, Jude’s tragedy is that he tries to work the world as a meritocracy when it isn’t, instead of scheming to his own downfall. Also reminds me a lot of The Red and Black- including scheming to tragic ends, and Bel-Ami (scheming to not so tragic ends).

6. I think it kind of gives us the sense here that Godwin has an unrealistic and inflated sense of himself and his circumstances, which prevents him from having empathy from those sharing his true circumstances, and leading him to downfall.

7. I really liked the book, and while it isn’t my all time favorite exploration of this subject (Jude the Obscure probably is), I thought it provided an interesting angle that was compelling and I think belongs on the list.


Kristel (kristelh) | 3950 comments Mod
Finished the book today.
1. The main character Peake is a man who is born into a middle class, working class family and he feels he is superior to this class. He was born in exile from the class he thinks he really belongs to. The premise would be; you can climb but your class that you were born to will stick to you. I think this is very true and probably covers such terms as "the new rich". I think it is a sad state not to be able to be comfortable with yourself as your are but to strive for that which is not yours to have. Because of this characteristic, I did not like Peake. I did not like his attitude at all.

2. I mostly did not like him. I had little sympathy for him. I also felt like he wanted to use "marriage" to climb out of his class. I think this is a poor base for marriage.

3. Classism -- was probably a big deal in the era when this book was written. I think Peake's way of dealing with it was innately wrong. His shame of his relatives, his town, etc, showed him to be a mean hearted person.

4. I really felt it was very timeless especially in the aspect of addressing the conflict of faith, religion and intellectuals and the conflict of class and politics. Also the view of women and their worth, intelligence, etc. tho there has been progress, I think some of these ideas still are alive.

5. Literary comparison for me was more with Elizabeth Gaskells' North and South. Especially the comparison go country leisure life, London city life and life in the industrialized cities.

6. Unreliable narrator. If he was unreliable it was very obvious. He was a poor judge of other people, often made poor choices based on his projection onto others. Peake was a poor judge of social situations. He had no social skills.

7. I also liked this book and am glad to have read this book that I knew nothing about. Why am I happier to read these older books over more contemporary novels?


John_Dishwasher John_Dishwasher (johndishwasher) | 11 comments Amanda wrote: "Also reminds me a lot of The Red and Black- including scheming to tragic ends, and Bel-Ami (scheming to not so tragic ends)...."

I also thought of The Red and Black. That did book did a better job of convincing me of the character's genius. Godwin is so self-absorbed that in the period when my opinion was really being formed of him I wondered if he was so talented, or if he just thought he was so talented.


message 10: by Diane (last edited Sep 29, 2019 10:03AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane | 2021 comments 1. In which ways is the protagonist Godwin Peak an “exile” throughout his life? Does he ever leave this “exile”, and if not, what keeps him alienated?
He is exiled by birth to the social class he aspires to. He is too intelligent to resign himself to the lot of the lower social class, but his low birth doesn't allow him to be accepted by the higher classes of society,

2. Did you find Godwin to be a sympathetic protagonist in any way, or did you feel like his circumstances were the product of his own machinations and therefore just desserts?
I had mixed feelings about Godwin. I felt that the social barriers of the time were unfair to people like Godwin, who were relegated to a life of hardship due to their family lineage. On the larger scale, Peak's constant outsider status represents a whole population caught up in the "us vs. them" mentality. However, I did not like his disdain and snobbery toward his own social class and the lengths he went through to claw his way up the social ladder.

3. Classism- in particular internalized classism on Godwin’s part (such as with his Uncle at school)- is a recurring theme in this novel. What stance does the narrative seem to take on this? Is social climbing such as Godwin’s condemned as an ideal or just his methods? How do quotes like this from the book: “Surely there was never a man who united such a capacity for great things with so mean an ideal”, or “It’s better to be in a comfortable room” explore these ideas?
I think Gissing shows both sides of the coin in Classism. He shows the inequality and unfairness of the system, while at the same time portraying what can go wrong for those who aren't happy with their lot and will do anything for their own gain. Yes, I do feel it is important to be comfortable in your own skin without being "complacent". It is certainly alright to aspire for something more, but one needs to go about it the right way.

4. Some have written that Gissing’s work remains so readable and relatable due to the universal tensions of the interweaving relationships between money, class, respectability and sex. Do you agree with this/ can you find examples of this in the book?
Yes. Even though the social strata is different in modern times, and there are more opportunities to change one's lot, a lot of the situations in this book remain relevant today.

5. Literary critics have compared and contrasted the ways in which Gissing and Dickens wrote about 19th century London. Do you see any similarities in this book to other ones written during the early industrial revolution in theme/POV/assessment of the sociocultural context? Does the theme of a lower class man trying to lift himself up socially – to tragic outcome- remind you of any other list books?
This does remind me of other list books, although I can't recall specifically which ones. Seems like there were some from Dickens, Hardy, Gaskell, Eliot, and others with similar themes.

6. This is one of the earlier books to utilize the unreliable narrator: what purpose does this serve in the context of this book?
He sort of spoke through both sides of his mouth, so to speak.

7. As always: what did you think of the book? Do you think it earned it’s place on the list for you?
I liked it. I think it deserves its place due to the use of an unreliable narrator and one of the first depictions of an "outsider" in literature.


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