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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The literary/journalistic world of late nineteenth-century London is a dog-eat-dog jungle, and profit matters far more than literary quality. Gissing portrays how opportunistic men such as Jasper—who cultivate connections and give the reading public what they want, regardless of quality—will get ahead. Jasper is the calculating new man in journalism, who plots his career course pragmatically and marries a wife with the money, beauty, and charm to help him get ahead. The publishing industry race goes to the most ambitious and ruthless, not the most literary or talented of men.

True writers should stay quietly in the country. The poor, educated, idealistic men who come to London hoping to make a comfortable living at writing are naive and deluded. Talent and taste don't matter: money, connections, and pandering to the popular tastes do. Gissing contrasts the country to the city. The country is the place of purity, the city a place of corruption and disillusion. Poor, aspiring writers should stay in the country and remain single, for a wife like Amy Reardon who values success more than integrity becomes a problem. As Edwin Reardon says,

It's a huge misfortune, this will-o'-the-wisp attraction exercised by London on young men of brains. They come here to be degraded, or to perish, when their true sphere is a life of peaceful remoteness.

Since the old world of literary quality is gone, those who adhere to it are doomed. Some of the most poignant moments of the novel show people like Biffen trying to write good literature as they are starving in garret apartments. He and Reardon may love to discuss their beloved Greek classics, speak in Greek, and dream of Greece, but this has nothing to do with the ruthless world of publishing. Men like this are doomed to extinction.

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