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Born in Exile
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1001 book reviews > Born in Exile - George Gissing

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message 1: by Kristel (last edited Sep 29, 2019 02:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kristel (kristelh) | 3967 comments Mod
2019, September BOTM
Read this for Reading 1001 BOTM, September. This book was written by George Gissing, British author, written in 1892. It is a story of a young man who is smart and longs to be of a different class than that which he was born and he views himself as born in exile as he believes he belongs to this other class. It is the story of his struggles, his alienation and the sense that he was always a lodger and never at home. His attitude is aptly presented with these quotes
"the squalling mass-obscene herd of idiot mockers".
In this novel that looks at class structure and the whether there is fluidity to climb higher or are you fated to always be what you were born. I do think it is hard to take the "thinking and cultural mores" out of the person who is born or raised in a lower structure and does change. That early life event is always part of ones history. Our protagonist could not find any peace, he could not accept his humble background. He lives in shame and then he created a deception and this deception was what really destroyed him, not his humble origins. The book also explored happiness. Is happiness promoted by intelligence and moral principles?, Is happiness the conscious exertion of individual powers (do we choose to be happy or melancholy and discontent)?
"Then you are incapable of happiness in any worthy sense? You may graze but you will never feast.". Themes of the book are loss, religion, love, marriage. This book thoroughly explored intelligence vs faith (religion). It explored many issues still relevant today. Politically, people still call people of faith "stupid, illiterate, idiots" and feel there can be no redeeming qualities of intelligence in the man of faith. It explores the erosion of faith by people of education who alter the dogmas to fit the "social demands".

Gail (gailifer) | 1273 comments Although not a difficult book to read, I found Born in Exile to be a difficult book to process as it is built around themes of idealism, class hierarchies, female emancipation, religion versus science and self-hatred and insecurity but in the time of the late Victorian era where all these themes were codified so much differently.

Our Main Character, Godwin Peak is a very intelligent, ambitious and multi-talented individual but he was born to a lower middle class working family and therefore can not exercise his intelligence and ambition freely but must make a living. He feels that his intelligence makes him worthy of so much more than the class he was born into but likewise he blunders through social interactions and is always underestimating how others view him. He sets his sights on a gentrified ideal family life by concealing his repugnance toward the dogma of religion of his time and sets out to become a pastor while courting Sidwell, a refined ideal of womanhood and the daughter of a scientifically inclined gentleman. The characters do develop and change their opinions on their philosophies but in general I did not find Godwin Peak to be a sympathetic character. He is of the masses and he hates the masses. I didn't understand why Peak did half the things he did because I did not understand the social pressures of the time. The question of a women's place is also quite irritating in this story. For example, the women doctor has to give up her practice when she marries because she had overworked herself. Again this is because of the age it is written in and about which I can usually navigate without problems, but here it caused me to connect less with most of the male characters as their opinion of women was so critical.

There is a character, Sidwell's brother, who is able to throw away his religious beliefs without censure because he is of the upper class yet he condemns Peak for his horrible hypocrisy or perhaps it is simply for Peak's aiming above his station. There are other middle class characters in the book who seem to be able to find a living without having to pretend to be other than who they are...which makes one wonder about Peak. The love story starts in a very constrained way and unfolds with more nuance than I had expected given the rest of the book.
I only gave it three stars because in the end, although it is well written, I did not find myself connecting with it.

Diane | 2022 comments Rating: 3 stars

The story of a man not happy with his lot in life who will stop at nothing to move up the social ladder during the class-conscious Victorian era and what results. Much of this even parallel the author's own life. I wanted to empathize with the main character, but his actions made it difficult to do so.

message 4: by Pip (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pip | 1361 comments The book begins with a high school graduation in a Midland town in 1874. Students are humilated by coming second in class. Really? But when it is realised that the protagonist is not the wealthy, easy going Buckland Warricombe, but the class conscious scholarship boy Godwin Peak, who decides to leave school a year early rather than suffer the humiliation of his uncle opening a tea rooms opposite the school, the story gains traction. Late Victorian snobbery seems extreme until it is realised that the author, George Gissing, like Godwin, had a father who was a pharmacist and who also missed his last year of school, albeit in a more spectacular fashion. He ended up in jail for stealing from other students to support an unfortunate choice in women. With Godwin Peak bearing similarities to George Gissing, the story became intriguing. Then it is realised that the class system is not the only theme. The dilemma of rationalising traditional Anglicanism with the new ideas of Darwin becomes a more pressing theme. Godwin has published an article, The New Sophistry, condemning modern religion for attempting to reconcile religion with evolution. He has done so anonymously, which allows him to conceive of an idea to profess a desire to enter the clergy, to take orders, in order to ingratiate himself with the Warricombes and advance his social position. Which definitely dates the book.! As does Godwin's ideas about emancipated women. I quote: 'Remember your evolutionism. The preservation of the race demands in women many kinds of irrationality, of obstinate instinct, which enrage a reasoning man'. Nevertheless the ensuing story becomes fascinating both for the plot and for the way that these hot issues of Victorian society: the class system, religion versus science and the emancipation of women are discussed by the various characters. The conversations are realistic, the characters develop in interesting ways and the reader begins to wonder why Gissing is not more well known.

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