George Gissing and the Writer’s Life

I have a good-reading-buddy who has always pressed me to read more Gissing, especially New Grub Street. Well, I have read several of Gissing’s texts and even read New Grub Street but was interrupted and didn’t finish the whole book. I keep promising myself that I will finish but now it has been too long and I will have to start at the beginning again.

Still, I keep putting it off, month after month, year after year, but an article in the new Tin House journal has forced my hand and I intend to add George Gissing’s New Grub Street to my immediate reading list. Here is a part of that article written by Pamela Erens:

New Grub Street

I credit the Victorian novelist George Gissing with curing me of a misunderstanding about literary life. It always seemed to me that late nineteenth-century England must have been the ideal time and place to be a novelist. George Eliot was revered. There was no television or Internet to siphon away the attention of the masses. Publishers did not need to make megabucks for corporate owners who also produced lobsters or ran theme parks. The world was quieter then, and slower—seemingly good circumstances for the production of meaningful literature.

Then I read New Grub Street, Gissing’s 1891 novel about this supposed golden age. …

New Grub Street is probably Gissing’s best-known work today, although it’s hard to find anyone who’s read it, even lovers of Victorian literature. This is a great shame, and surprising, too, for Gissing has Dickens’s knack for comic caricature, Eliot’s psychological insight, and Edith Wharton’s understanding of class. If you’re a writer who’s ever felt sucky about your pitiful advances, the lack of reviews for your books, or your inability to place your literary work altogether, you will finish reading New Grub Street feeling much, much better. Because in the Golden Age of the Novel, things were actually much, much worse. …

If you haven’t read Gissing, now is your chance! Although a specific Gissing title is often out of print, one advantage of reading classics is that you can usually find online editions at sites like Project Gutenberg … and for free. This is a great way to load up your digital readers (iPad, Nook, etc.). But let’s not forget that even a small donation helps assure the availability of these free-texts in the future.

2 thoughts on “George Gissing and the Writer’s Life

  1. I still consider the chapter in The Nether World relating the day spent at the fair (Jubilee) as one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever encountered.

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  2. I loved New Grub Street. Another of Gissing’s better known works is probably The Odd Women. I did enjoy that one, but liked The Nether World more. I keep meaning to read more Gissing, but he keeps slipping my mind.

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