chapter  4
15 Pages

The Strange Case of Godwin Peak: Double Consciousness in Born in Exile

WithJenny Bourne Taylor

In Born in Exile, the fraught position of the 'unclassed' intellectual moves inward, into a study of the contradictory and perverse contortions of an individual consciousness, but a consciousness freighted with social significance. Like many of George Gissing's ambiguous heroes, Godwin Peak is driven by what Martin Ryle describes in the present book as a 'spirit of antagonism'. Gissing gives 'double consciousness' itself a double meaning in Born in Exile, as these two forms of mental duality clash and correspond. He appropriates a well-known psychological term and reworks it in an explicitly social context as a form of class consciousness, while playing on its complex significance in psychological discourse to destabilize naturalized perceptions and assumptions. This dual meaning structures the novel's implied overarching epistemological framework and its narrative voice, as shaping the paradoxical consciousness of Godwin Peak himself. Throughout Gissing's fiction, education represents the possibility of individual transformation and marks the limit of the liberal ideal of progress though culture.