Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Literature nowadays is a trade. Putting aside men of genius, who may succeed by mere cosmic force, your successful man of letters is your skilful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets.
In the above quote, Jasper Milvain shows he grasps the fundamental principles of the new Grub Street. He has what it takes to get ahead. He realizes that literature is just another trade and that making a profit is all-important. Idealism is a hindrance to success.
His excessive meagreness would all but have qualified him to enter an exhibition in the capacity of living skeleton, and the garments which hung upon this framework would perhaps have sold for three-and-sixpence at an old-clothes dealer's.
Biffen is the contrast to the world of the new Grub Street. He is always idealistic about his writing and always near starving. Because of Gissing's vivid physical descriptions of Biffen and his threadbare surroundings, we feel in our bones the way Biffen suffers for his art in an era before there was any buffer from a welfare state.
The sum of their faults was their inability to earn money; but, indeed, that inability does not call for unmingled disdain.
Gissing expresses compassion for those too idealistic to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of late nineteenth century publishing. New Grub Street might despise them, but Gissing does not.
But surely before long some Edison would make the true automaton; the problem must be comparatively such a simple one. Only to throw in a given number of old books, and have them reduced, blended, modernised into a single one for today’s consumption.
Gissing's disdain instead aims at mass market publishing. In the above quote, he envisions a world in which books are produced like plates or bolts of cloth in a factory, with a cynical disregard for quality or individualism.