Gissing (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
The novels of George Gissing have perhaps always been more respected than enjoyed: readers generally find his books depressing. Though he published twenty-three novels, more than one hundred short stories, and assorted pieces of nonfiction, poverty generally forced him to sell copyrights outright, and for much less than his more popular contemporaries were paid. His reputation as a feminist and as a novelist of the working class is confounded by the misogyny and social conservatism embedded in his fiction. Similarly, his reputation for “modernism” is hardly borne out in the books—except for one striking twentieth century trait: to a far greater extent than most Victorians, Gissing used his own life as the substance of fiction.
John Halperin makes sense out of this mass of contradictions by treating Gissing’s life and the books together in minute chronological detail, using Gissing’s journal and letters, discussing his short fiction in sequence with the novels, noting the public response provided by reviews, and minutely analyzing Gissing’s fictionalized reflections of the life he had lived—and, more astonishingly, was yet to live: Gissing had the disconcerting habit of prefiguring, in fiction, steps (often disastrous ones) that he was about to take in life. Gissing’s novels are always about the interaction of sex, class, and money. His pervasive theme is exile; in particular, he writes about men of intellect and taste who are forced by...
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