(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The House of Cobwebs” is told in the third person through the consciousness of Goldthorpe as he progresses from struggling writer to successful novelist. George Gissing provides detailed descriptions of the primary setting and other places his hero visits.

The twenty-two-year-old Goldthorpe estimates that he needs three months to complete his first novel, but he does not have enough money to continue living in his lodging house. He hopes to find a place where he can live on fifteen shillings a week. Walking rather aimlessly in the suburbs of Surrey, Goldthorpe comes upon three deserted houses in a row in a middle-class neighborhood. Their once well-tended gardens are overrun with weeds, and the houses are in severe disrepair. From one of the houses, he hears someone playing “Home Sweet Home” on a concertina. Moving closer, he sees the musician, a middle-aged man dressed like a clerk or shopkeeper. Learning that the man is the owner of the three houses, Goldthorpe asks immediately to rent a room. At first suspicious, the man changes when he discovers Goldthorpe is a literary man because he is a great admirer of such writers as Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson. Goldthorpe engages the man, who identifies himself as Mr. Spicer, further by complimenting him on the flowers and vegetables growing in the garden, which the owner hopes to improve.

Spicer explains the complicated legal means by which he has come to inherit the lease on the...

(The entire section is 561 words.)