Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although essentially a realistic story about an unusual friendship, “The House of Cobwebs” also offers some gothic elements that would ordinarily appear in much more melodramatic works. The abandoned houses with their overrun gardens establish a mood of foreboding. Gissing creates a sense of mystery by having Goldthorpe, on first seeing them, spot something he cannot identify at a window of the top story of one of the houses. Gissing’s atmospheric touches add another layer of texture to what could have been merely a story of an odd friendship.

As the title suggests, the story is replete with cobweb imagery. Wherever Goldthorpe goes in Spicer’s house, the windows and walls are covered in cobwebs. Every angle and projection is draped in cobwebs, and the stuffy, musty air smells of them. Although other writers might use cobwebs similarly to establish a milieu in which melodramatic events are likely to unfold, Gissing uses them to emphasize the stale aimlessness of Spicer’s life before Goldthorpe’s arrival.

In a more positive sense, the energy of the spiders corresponds to Goldthorpe’s work on his manuscript. The spiders and their webs also point out the persistence of nature. Spicer observes that even if the houses are pulled down after he leaves, the spiders and their creations will remain and continue. Only the insects are really at home there. Nature outlasts humankind’s laws and possessions.

Spicer’s is a disused...

(The entire section is 421 words.)