George Robert Gissing : as an English Novelist

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      George Robert Gissing (1857-1903), the son of a Wakefield chemist, entered Owens College, Manchester, as an exhibitioner and distinguished himself as a prize-man in classics and English literature. A career of exceptional promise was wrecked when he was imprisoned for stealing from other students, and from that time for many years his life was one of extreme hardship and unrelieved misery. He made two disastrous marriages, and subsisted in the London slums on the meagre earnings of a literary hack. In 1888-1889 he visited Italy and Greece, and a second trip to the same area was undertaken in 1897-1898. Toward the end of his career growing recognition brought financial relief, but popularity came only after his death.

Gissing's best work is deeply moving, yet as an artist his shortcomings are many. His sense of proportion is often faulty, his plots awkwardly constructed or spun out to an unreasonable length, his themes and characters are frequently repeated with but slight variations, his dialogue is poor, and his work is almost completely lacking in the poise which comes from a sense of humour.
George Robert Gissing

       As chronicles of the life of the slums, Gissing's earlier novels are unequalled in English. His backgrounds are filled in with unflinching realism, with an eye for concrete detail, and often with great power. But he is no social reformer; for the squalid and savage people he describes he sees no hope, and he has little sympathy with them, yet he is unable to achieve the detachment of the photographic realist. Gissing's novels reveal an inability to get away successfully from his own experiences. They burn with a fierce resentment, which springs from his sense of the injustice of a world where outward circumstance can be such a decisive factor in human existence. His Own personality is deeply impressed on most of his novels and the autobiographical element in them is strong. His most frequent theme is the tragic plight of a sensitive soul doomed by fate to a sordid existence, and many of these studies are marred by Gissing's self-pity.

      Gissing's best work is deeply moving, yet as an artist his shortcomings are many. His sense of proportion is often faulty, his plots awkwardly constructed or spun out to an unreasonable length, his themes and characters are frequently repeated with but slight variations, his dialogue is poor, and his work is almost completely lacking in the poise which comes from a sense of humour. His claims as a novelist rest on the value of his work as a social document and, more important, on the depth of his insight into the minds of his characters. His studies of almost morbid states of mind and his method of psychological analysis show the influence of the Russian Dostoevski, and to a considerable degree anticipate the line of development of the English novel since his own day.

      The novels which seem likely to live are Demos, a Story of English Socialism (1886), Thyrza (1887), The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891), and the unexpectedly mellow The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), while the best of his other work is found in Charles Dickens, a Critical Study (1898) and the travel book based on his Mediterranean tours, By the Ionian Sea (1901).

      Among his lesser novels we may mention The Unclassed (1884), The Emancipated (1890), Born in Exile (1892), The Odd Women (1893), In the Year of Jubilee (1894), Eve's Ransom (1895), The Whirlpool (1897), The House of Cobwebs and Other Stories (1906), and his unfinished romance Veranilda (1904).

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