Two old brothers, Gessler younger and Gessler older, are shoemakers for a very long time. Their shoes are extremely durable because the brothers were never ready to compromise with quality. Slowly they faced stiff competition from big shoe makers and from the imported shoes. This story tells the lives of traditional workers who had fought a losing war against the industrial revolution in the 20th Century.
Questions & Answers.
- Who were Gessler Brothers?
Gessler brothers were two German migrants who made quality shoes in England. They were old and lived in a small house on the roadside. Their house was two rented tenements let into one in the West End, the part of central London where there are many theatres and many large expensive shops and hotels. The younger of the two was a very rare character. They loved and respected each other. Their shoes had lasting quality yet they did not make good money. Although the two looked identical, the elder Gessler was paler than the younger.
- How was Gessler Brother’s shoe shop peculiar?
Among the expensive shops, their shop was the simpler one. They did not give any sign upon its surface, there was just a board, and their German names were written on it, “Gessler Brothers”. They made what was ordered by the customers.
- How did John Galsworthy come in touch with the Gessler Brothers?
The writer, John Galsworthy, knew the Gessler Brothers since he was very young, because his father used to order boots from them. John usually ordered his boots for him too. And he always thought that the boots were strange but extremely good, so that’s why he admired the maker.
- “It is an art!” When and about what did Gessler younger say so?
One day, when the narrator was in Mr.Gessler’s shop, he asked shyly to him whether it was greatly hard to make boots or not. He asked it because he was too curious. Then Mr.Gessler showed little respect in a humorous but unkind way and answered, “Id is an Ardt!”. He was a Germans, that’s why his English had a German accent.
- What were Mr.Gessler’s priorities in making boots?
Mr. Gessler was very disciplined. He was quick but spent enormour time to make his boots. He made the boots with the authentic materials, giving maximum priority to the quality of the boots he made. He did not care about the price of materials. If the customers felt satisfied with the shoes that he made, he would be satisfied too.
- How was the Gessler Brothers different from other shoe-shops?
Gessler was very different from the ordinary shoe-makers. He never made a shoe with inferior leather nor did he keep a shoe that was not made by him or his brother. Besides, the Gessler brothers made shoes on order. Their quality equalled none of its time. The brothers, especially the younger Gessler, never compromised with quality. Each pair fitted perfectly. Slim and elegant, their shape made water come into one’s mouth.
- Quality made the Gesller’s fall tragic. Comment.
He had certain tall brown riding boots with marvellous sooty glow, as if, though new, they had been worn a hundred years. Over the years, the narrator developed a kind of suspicion upon the authenticity of the shoes made by the Gessler brothers. Gessler had been too old that time so the narrator hadn’t truly believe that the shoes would be delivered but they arrived. Four pairs of shoes, the best ever at the same rate. The narrator sent him a cheque that he himself signed. When the narrator visited Gessler Brothers the next time, Gessler’s shop was no more there. Nor was Mr. Gessler. The old man had died of slow starvation. There had come in the place of Gessler Brothers a new shop that made shoes for a Royal Family. The young man at the shop informed the narrator of Gessler’s slow, starved death. The old man could not make his boots in time so his customers grew tired of him.
- What impression does one make on meeting Gessler the younger?
It seemed that Gessler was himself made of leather. His face was yellow crinkly, hair too crinkly reddish, neat folds slanting down his cheeks to the corners of his mouth. His voice was guttural and monotonous. Like leather, he too was a sarcastic substance, stiff and slow of purpose. His eyes were grey-blue.
- Shopping at Gessler brothers was different. Explain.
One cannot expect to be served at Gessler’s shop. It was more like a place of worship – a place where the shopkeeper worshipped the shoes he made. When a customer visits Gessler’s shop, the first thing to be done is to wake him up from his leather dreams. If his elder brother is there, the customer would be a little luckier because he was not as slow as his young brother. However, people very seldom visited the shop because Gesslers’ shoes lasted more than others did.
- How did the Gesslers serve their customers?
Once he received an order for a shoe, Gessler would be lost in the making of it. He would ask the customer to come back the next day or so and would disappear into his room upstairs. If Gessler had to make a new model of shoe, he would observe the model for long and take precise measurement by drawing and redrawing. He would not fail to scold the customer for having ruined a wonderful shoe due to carelessness.
- How did Gessler feel when the narrator complained that his shoe had creaked?
Once the narrator made a complaint about a shoe that Gessler had made for him some time ago. He said that the shoe had creaked. It was more that what Gessler could take. He argued that the narrator should have been careless with the shoes, got them wet in the water, etc. He also suggested bringing those shoes back to him.
- How are the Gesslers different from other businessmen?
He was even ready to pay the money back. Probably it was out of sympathy for those shoes, not to restore his goodwill in the industry, that he agreed to look at the shoes.
- How did Gessler feel when the narrator walked into his shop in a shoe that was not made by him?
Once the narrator went into Gessler Brothers to place an order. That day he wore a pair of shoes bought from a large firm. Not only that Gessler disliked the shoe, he also brought to the narrator’s notice that it was not a shoe made by him. In this, he was not blaming the narrator for buying a shoe from a big store but he was expressing his contempt at the big firms that attracted customers with their mouthwaering advertisements to sell their inferior quality products.
- The Gesslers were as genuine as the leather they used. Explain.
From this the narrator understood that Gessler himself was a victim of big firms and their advertisements. How long will this old man fight with big firms without changing his beliefs? He could also produce shoes with inferior leather but he would not. He was genuine as his brother was.
- How did Gessler Brothers change over the years?
After the death of his elder brother, Gessler ran into financial strain. He was forced to lease one of the small rooms to someone to open a shop. There were other changes too – the show-pieces were huddled in a corner of the showcase and the interior of the shop was darker.
- How did the narrator know Gessler brothers from his extreme youth?
The narrator knew the younger of the Gessler brothers from the days of his extreme youth, because he made his father’s boots.
- Where did Gessler the younger live?
Gessler the younger lived with his elder brother in his shop, which was in a small by-street in a fashionable part of London.
- What was the specialty of Gessler’s shop?
The shop had a certain quiet distinction. There was no sign upon it other than the name of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots.
- What were the unique features of the boots that Gessler made?
Gessler made boots only when customers ordered for them. His boots never failed to fit.
- “To make boots—such boots as he made—seemed to me then, and still seems to me, mysterious and wonderful.” Explain.
- What did Gessler reply when the narrator asked him if it was hard to make boots?
Gessler replied with a sudden smile boot-making is an art.
- Why does the narrator say that it was not possible to go to him very often?
The narrator says that it is not possible to go to Gessler’s shop because his boots lasted very long.
- Why does the narrator say that going into Gessler’s shop is like going into a church?
The narrator compares Gessler’s shop with a church for the peace of mind one feels inside it. Going into his shop is not like going into any shop. It is like going into a church. Once inside, the customer has to sit on a wooden chair, like inside a church.
- What did Gessler do when the narrator asked him for a pair of Russian-leather boots?
- Without a word he would leave me retiring whence he came, or into the other portion of the shop,
- Soon he would come back, holding in his hand a piece of gold-brown leather.
- With eyes fixed on the leather he would praise its beauty.
- When the customer returned his opinion, he would ask when the customer would need it.
- He would agree to get the shoes ready in two weeks’ time.
- Even before the customer walked out of the shop, Gessler would walk up the stairs and start working on the leather.
- What was Gessler’s reaction when the narrator complained that a pair of his boots creaked?
- Gessler looked at the narrator for a long time without replying,
- He didn’t like the complaint.
- Finally he said that the boots should not have creaked.
- He complained back that the narrator had soaked the boots in water.
- Once Gessler saw that it was his fault, he would asked the narrator to send the creaked shoes back.
- He then explained that some boots are bad from birth.
- Zome boods,” he continued slowly, “are bad from birdt. If I can do noding wid dem I take dem off your bill.”
- Once (once only) I went absent-mindedly into his shop in a pair of boots bought in an emergency at some large firm. He took my order without showing me any leather and I could feel his eyes penetrating the inferior covering of my foot. At last he said, “Dose are nod my boods.” The tone was not one of anger, nor of sorrow, not even of contempt, but there was in it something quiet that froze the blood. He put his hand down and pressed a finger on the place where the left boot was not quite comfortable.
- “Id ’urds’ you dere,” he said, “Dose big virms ’ave no self-respect.” And then, as if something had given way within him, he spoke long and bitterly.
- It was the only time I ever heard him discuss the conditions and hardships of his trade. “Dey get id all,” he said, “dey get id by advertisement, nod by work. Dey take id away from us, who lofe our boods. Id gomes to dis — bresently I haf no work. Every year id gets less.
- You will see.” And looking at his lined face I saw things I had never noticed before, bitter things and bitter struggle and what a lot of grey hairs there seemed suddenly in his red beard!
- As best I could, I explained the circumstances of those ill-omened boots. But his face and voice made so deep an impression that during the next few minutes I ordered many pairs. They lasted longer than ever. And I was not able to go to him for nearly two years.
- It was many months before my next visit to his shop. This time it appeared to be his elder brother, handling a piece of leather.
- “Well, Mr Gessler,” I said, “how are you?” He came close, and peered at me. “I am breddy well,” he said slowly “but my elder brudder is dead.”
- And I saw that it was indeed himself but how aged and wan! And never before had I heard him mention his brother. Much shocked, I murmured, “Oh! I am sorry!” “Yes,” he answered, “he was a good man, he made a good bood. But he is dead.” And he touched the top of his head, where the hair had suddenly gone as thin as it had been on that of his poor brother, to indicate, I suppose, the cause of his death. “Do you wand any boods?”
- And he held up the leather in his hand. “ld’s a beaudiful biece.” I ordered several pairs. It was very long before they came—but they were better than ever. One simply could not wear them out. And soon after that I went abroad. It was over a year before I was again in London.
- And the first shop I went to was my old friend’s. I had left a man of sixty; I came back to one of seventy-five, pinched and worn, who genuinely, this time, did not at first know me.
- “Do you wand any boods?” he said. “I can make dem quickly; id is a zlack dime.” I answered, “Please, please! I want boots all around—every kind.”
- I had given those boots up when one evening they came. One by one I tried them on. In shape and fit, in finish and quality of leather they were the best he had ever made. I flew downstairs, wrote a cheque and posted it at once with my own hand.
- A week later, passing the little street, I thought I would go in and tell him how splendidly the new boots fitted. But when I came to where his shop had been, his name was gone.
- I went in very much disturbed. In the shop, there was a young man with an English face. “Mr Gessler in?” I said. “No, sir,” he said. “No, but we can attend to anything with pleasure. We’ve taken the shop over.”
- “Yes. yes,” I said, “but Mr Gessler?” “Oh!” he answered, “dead.” “Dead! But I only received these boots from him last Wednesday week.”
- “Ah!” he said, “poor old man starved himself. Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he went to work in such a way! Would keep the shop on; wouldn’t have a soul touch his boots except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time. People won’t wait. He lost everybody. And there he’d sit, going on and on. I will say that for him—not a man in London made a better boot.
- But look at the competition! He never advertised! Would have the best leather too, and do it all himself. Well, there it is. What could you expect with his ideas?”
- “But starvation!” “That may be a bit flowery, as the saying is—but I know myself he was sitting over his boots day and night, to the very last you see, I used to watch him. Never gave himself time to eat; never had a penny in the house. All went in rent and leather. How he lived so long I don’t know. He regularly let his fire go out. He was a character. But he made good boots.”
- “Yes,” I said, “he made good boots.