The British author George Gissing 1857 1903 was prolific and well thought of in his day, although he is far less known or read in ours This is the first and only of his books that I have read, so I cannot comment on his oeuvre in general.The protagonist in Born in Exile is Godwin Peak, the son of a poor laborer in England s Midlands Peak has had the good fortune to study at Whitelaw College, a relatively new and modern educational institution where he has been a star pupil Envious of those above him on the social and intellectual ladder, scornful and intolerant of those below, he is prickly, defensive, and judgmental When his disreputable Uncle Andrew decides to set up a diner next to the college, Peak leaves the school in humiliation and disgust, convinced that his uncle will reflect poorly on him Peak is a religious freethinker, interested in both science and journalism, and initially struggles to support himself while working in a chemical factory and, on the side, submitting articles to various publishers But nothing really satisfies him or his aspiration to rise in social status and wealth His varied social circle of interesting companions provides a backdrop and foil for his own vacillating ventures and ambitions After a while he renews a friendship with Buckland Warricombe, one of his Whitelaw College classmates, through whom he meets Backland s sister, Sidwell, with whom he becomes enad Thinking that she is a conventional Christian, he moves to Exeter where the Warricombes live and ingratiates himself with the family, pretending to be conventionally Christian himself, even determining to take Holy Orders His deception is ultimately discovered and he flees Exeter, but not before having captivated Sidwell, with whom he has become truly in love, and receiving from her a promise of marriage The d nouement to all of this is complex, and I shall leave that to the interested reader to discover.The novel, well written and compelling, raises a number of interesting issues of the period, including social class and status, the limited opportunities to move out of one s social class of birth, the conflicts between traditional Anglicanism and the forces of the new science, including evolution, the conflict between means and ends, the ethics of total honesty versus expedient deception, and many others Peak is not a character whom many readers might find likeable, but he is one with whom many might empathize He is a turmoil of contradictions intolerance and generosity, impulsiveness and calculation, ambition and yearning for stability, loneliness and the desire for intimacy, admiration and judgmentalism, the list could go on and on Perpetually tormented, he elicits from the sympathetic reader the wish for his happiness.On a broader level, Peak s plight can be generalized into insights into the experiences and feelings of so many people today who are or perceive themselves to be marginalized, disrespected, undervalued, deprived of opportunity, scorned, dismissed, rejected And there are clearly so many, either as individuals or groups We are wise to strive constructively to respond to these people and issues, and a book like Born in Exile might help us to do just that I m very glad that I read it. There are always some difficulties with reading a book from a completely different era, and this book is no exception Though the language wasn t difficult to understand, I did have some trouble relating to the ideas of class and social status that Godwin Peak was so concerned about However, I had no trouble understanding the broken promise of Peak s idealism, and his inability to escape who he is and where he came from Though Peak s scheme was less than noble, it did shed light on some interesting ideas regarding religious hypocrisy and the futility of basing actions on other people s perceived expectations. I was reading a couple of reviews on here, and it seems to me thaT the majority of the authors of said reviews have missed the point of the novel This book is NOT about the impossibility of climbing outside one s own social sphere This is an attack on idealism it is Peak s idealism that forces his inevitable failures and Sidwell s that forces hers And the only person who rejects the notion of Peak s ability to transcend social stations is Peak Such a good book. George Gissing is an author everyone would like to like but unless he s the subject of your dissertation, you won t. I thoroughly enjoyed this long book exploring one man s attempts to manoeuvre himself into a socity he was not born into I loved the twists and turns as he struggled to mask his true feelings in order to ingratiate himself with others I really get involved in these internal dilemmas and could feel for the protagonist. Just before publication in 1892, George Gissing changed the title of his novel to the evocative Born in Exile from the name of its primary character, the difficult, complex anti hero, Godwin Peak Although written after Gissing had made a name for himself with New Grub Street and other books, Born in Exile was a hard sell to the publishers The book was rejected several times and nearly passed over The book has remained little read over the years Yet it is an extraordinary book, perhaps Gissing s best For all its datedness, length and awkwardness, this book will reward careful reading.The book is a detailed study of its title character and a novel of ideas The book is among the first and the best novels to explore the relationship between Darwinism and geology and traditional religious beliefs The book has much to say about sexuality, about the life of the mind, the erosion of values, social classes, and social change Gissing seemed greatly influenced by Dostoevsky s Crime and Punishment and by Turgenev s Fathers and Children in writing Born in Exile.In some respects, Peak is modeled of Gissing himself and Gissing described the novel to a friend as a book I had to write Born, as was Gissing himself, to a struggling lower middle class pharmacist, Peak is intelligent, broodingly introspective, skeptical, and rootless He is ashamed of his origins He both envies and scorns the upper classes and believes his intellectual gifts entitle him to a higher place Thus Peak sees himself, in a phrase repeated several times in the book as Born in Exile As a young man, Peak secures a scholarship to Whitelaw College where he distinguishes himself both in the sciences and in literature but cannot decide what he wants to do In an odd but critical turn in the book, he leaves Whitelaw before his final year because his uncle proposes to open a cheap restaurant in the community and Peak believes this association with his uncle would shame him He moves to London where he graduates from the London School of Mines, becomes a chemist, and falls in with a group of radical freethinkers and journalists He has what seems to be the makings of a successful life Peak is a skeptic and anonymously publishes an article The New Sophistry in a leading magazine which criticizes severely efforts to reconcile Darwinian science and geologic time with religion The various types of arguments on all sides seem not much different from those in current debate.Dissatisfied with his social position, Peak leaves London to try to ingratiate himself into the upper classes Peak says to a friend in a key passage of the book that he does not believe women need to be intelligent or enlightened women need to be sexual And so Peak goes to look for a wife and self destructs in the process Peak meets a family with a landed estate, the Warricombs, whom he had known from his days at Whitelaw The father of the family, Martin Warricomb, is a student of geology Peak pretends to have shifted his career goals to become a minister in the Church of England Peak ingratiates himself with Martin Warricomb, who is surprisingly liberal minded, by trying to show Warricomb the sincerity of Peak s beliefs and the compatibility of religious traditionalism with scientific modernism Peak is interested in Warricomb s daughter, Sidwell, lovely and reserved and religiously traditional and unadventurous At first, Sidwell is something of a stand in for class, rather than a person Peak loves for herself As the story develops, Peak seems to develop something of a genuine love for Sidwell And oddly, Sidwell comes to love Peak.Peak lives with tension in his pursuit because he knows he is practicing deceit and living a lie He is ashamed of doing so Ultimately the truth comes out when Sidwell s brother Buckland, an old Whitelaw friend, discovers that Peak was the author of the anonymous article The New Sophistry which condemned efforts to reconcile religion and science Buckland is himself a skeptic whose views are rough and not deeply considered but still are similar to Peak s and to modernity Buckland has found his way to Peak s former small group of friends in London who are amazed that Peak is trying to pass himself off as a prospective clergyman Buckland confronts Peak with what he has learned and tells Sidwell and Martin Peak is disgraced and must leave Exeter Even though she knows the truth, Sidwell still loves Peak Her own religious and moral views have broadened under their acquaintance to something approaching free thought Sidwell has achieved a substantial intellectual independence from her family and background Before Peak leaves, the door is left open that they will marry if Peak establishes himself.Peak is miserable and lonely but he receives a bequest from an intellectual woman, Marcella Moxey, who unreciprocatedly had long loved him With his financial future secured, Peak writes Sidwell a love letter, the first time he has opened himself up, proposing marriage After much anguish, Sidwell rejects Peak and terminates the relationship For all her intellectual change, Sidwell finds she cannot leave her family and its estate Rootless and alone, Peak sets out for travel on the continent where he apparently lives the short life of a rake, contacts a disease, and dies homeless and alone Born in Exile is a study of a modern type, an intelligent, rootless, and confusedly amoral individual, in the dress of late Victorianism The novel explores the loss of traditional religious faith and the lack of any apparent standards to replace it Gissing, himself a nonbeliever, did not see humanism, social activism, or other nostrums as providing an adequate substitute for religion Hence his novels, particularly this one, have a pessimistic philosophical cast.The book is long, with extensive passages of wordy dialogue and of introspective commentary, both of which are typical to Gissing Other than the masterful portrayal of Peak, and to some extent the characterization and growth of Sidwell Warricomb, none of the other of the many characters and scenes are well developed It takes perseverance to read this book For interested readers, perseverance will be richly rewarded Although never likely to become popular, Born in Exile is a troubling and deeply perceptive philosophical exploration of modernity Unfortunately, this book appears out of print It richly deserves a new edition I read this book in a Harvester Press edition from the mid 1980s with an introduction by the Gissing scholar Gillian Tindall.Robin Friedman Between And Gissing Wrote Novels His Early Works Were Naturalistic And Later He Wrote In A Realistic Style Gissing It Considered To Be A Late Victorian Author Godwin Peak Leaves His Home In The Midlands To Become A Journalist He Enters The Free Thinking Society Of London His Background Of Poverty Hinders His Progression He Gets His Big Break With An Article Lambasting The Hypocrisy Of The Victorian Church Godwin S Future Dims When He Falls In Love With A Devout Girl Free download available at One of those you hate to see end because you re afraid you ll never find another book quite as good for your soul.
George Robert Gissing was an English novelist who published twenty three novels between 1880 and 1903 From his early naturalistic works, he developed into one of the most accomplished realists of the late Victorian era.
- 544 pages
- Born in Exile
- George Gissing
- 21 October 2017 George Gissing