22 November 1857|
Wakefield, Yorkshire, England
|Died||28 December 1903
Ispoure, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France
|Notable work(s)||The Nether World (1889)
New Grub Street (1891)
Born In Exile (1892)
The Odd Women (1893)
George Robert Gissing (//; 22 November 1857 – 28 December 1903) was an English novelist who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. Gissing also worked as a teacher and tutor throughout his life. He published his first novel, Workers in the Dawn, in 1880. His best known novels, which are published in modern editions, include The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891), and The Odd Women (1893).
Gissing was born on 22 November 1857 in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the eldest of five children of Thomas Waller Gissing, a pharmaceutical chemist, and Margaret née Bedford. His siblings were: William, who died aged twenty; Algernon, who became a writer; Margaret; and Ellen.
Gissing was educated at Back Lane School in Wakefield, where he was a diligent and enthusiastic student. His serious interest in books began at the age of ten when he read The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens and subsequently, encouraged by his father and inspired by the family library, his literary interest grew. Juvenilia written at this time was published in 1995 in The Poetry of George Gissing. He was also skilled at drawing. Gissing's father died when he was 12 years old, and he and his brothers were sent to Lindow Grove School at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, where he was a solitary student who studied hard.
In 1872, after an exceptional performance in the Oxford Local Examinations, Gissing won a scholarship to Owens College, forerunner of the University of Manchester. There he remained solitary, continued his intense studies, and won many prizes, including the Poem Prize in 1873 and the Shakspere scholarship in 1875.
Gissing's academic career ended in disgrace when he fell in love with a young orphan prostitute, Marianne Helen Harrison, known as Nell. He gave her money in an attempt to keep her off the streets and when funds ran short he stole from his fellow students. The college hired a detective to investigate the thefts, and Gissing was prosecuted, found guilty, expelled, and sentenced to a month's hard labour in Belle Vue Gaol, Manchester in 1876.
In September 1876, with support from sympathisers, he travelled to the United States, where he spent time in Boston and Waltham, Massachusetts writing and teaching classics. When his money ran out he moved to Chicago, where he earned a precarious living writing short stories for newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune. He lived in poverty until he met a travelling salesman in need of an assistant and Gissing demonstrated his products. These experiences partially inspired his 1891 novel, New Grub Street.
After returning to England, Gissing settled in London with Nell, writing fiction and working as a private tutor. He failed to get his first novel published and privately printed his next work, Workers in the Dawn, at his own expense as no publisher would accept it. The marriage at the centre of this novel was based on experience of his relationship with Nell, whom he married on 27 October 1879.
His one close friend in London was fellow author and Owens College alumnus, Morley Roberts, who wrote a novel based on Gissing's life The Private Life of Henry Maitland in 1912. He was friends with Eduard Bertz, a German socialist with whom he became acquainted in 1879. Gissing spent much time reading classical authors at the British Museum Reading Room, as well as coaching students for examinations. He took long walks through the streets of London observing the poor. In his reading, John Forster's Life of Dickens particularly interested him.
According to his pupil Austin Harrison, from 1882 Gissing made a decent living by teaching, and tales of his fight with poverty, including some of his own remembrances, were untrue. The issue of his supposed poverty may be explained by Gissing's attitude to teaching, which he felt robbed him of valuable writing time which he limited as much as possible and by poor management of his finances.
Gissing's next novel, Mrs Grundy's Enemies, remained unpublished, like the first, although it was bought for publication by Bentley & Son in 1882. George Bentley decided not to publish it despite Gissing making revisions. Before his next novel, The Unclassed was published in 1884, Gissing and his wife had separated, although he continued to support her financially until her alcohol-related death in 1888. Between his return to England and the publication of The Unclassed, Gissing wrote 11 short stories, although only "Phoebe" was published at the time, in the March 1884 issue of Temple Bar.
The years following the publication of The Unclassed were a time of great literary activity. Isabel Clarendon and Demos appeared in 1886; Demos marked the beginning of a relationship with publishers Smith, Elder & Co., who were his publishers until New Grub Street in 1891. The novels written at this time depicted the life of the working classes. Gissing used the £150 proceeds from the sale of The Nether World in 1889 to fund a trip to Italy, which he had wanted to make for some time as a result of his interest in the classics. His experiences in Italy formed a basis for the 1890 work The Emancipated.
On 25 February 1891, he married another working-class woman, Edith Alice Underwood. They settled in Exeter, but moved to Brixton in June 1893 and Epsom in 1894. They had two children, Walter Leonard (1891–1916) and Alfred Charles Gissing (1896–1975), but the marriage was not successful. Edith did not understand his work and was prone to fits of temper and violence. In April 1896, Walter was sent to stay with Gissing's sisters in Wakefield, to prevent him being a victim of Edith's violence. As well as his marital difficulties, Gissing developed health problems in the 1890s. The couple separated in 1897; in 1902, Edith was certified insane and was confined to an asylum. At this time he met and befriended Clara Collet who was probably in love with him, although it is unclear whether he reciprocated. They remained friends for the rest of his life and after his death she helped to support Edith and the children.
Gissing's literary work began to command higher payments. New Grub Street published in 1891 brought him £250. In 1892 he befriended fellow writer George Meredith, who influenced his writing. In the 1890s Gissing lived more comfortably from his earnings, though he had health issues which limited the time he spent in London. Novels from this period include Born in Exile in 1892, The Odd Women in 1893, In the Year of Jubilee, 1894, and The Whirlpool in 1897. From 1893, Gissing wrote short stories, some of which were collected in the 1898 volume Human Odds and Ends, and other collected volumes were published after his death. In 1895, he published three novellas, Eve's Ransom, The Paying Guest and Sleeping Fires, reflecting the changing tastes of the reading public, which were moving away from three-volume novels.
In 1897 Gissing met H. G. Wells and his wife, who spent the spring with him and his sister at Budleigh Salterton. Wells said Gissing was "no longer the glorious, indefatigable, impracticable youth of the London flat, but a damaged and ailing man, full of ill-advised precautions against the imaginary illnesses that were his interpretations of a general malaise."
Soon after separating from Edith, Gissing made a second trip to Italy in 1897-1898, which is recounted in his travel book By the Ionian Sea (1901). While in Siena, he wrote Charles Dickens: a Critical Study. In Rome he met H.G. Wells and his wife and did research for a romantic novel set in the sixth century, Veranilda. The Town Traveller, written in the final months of his marriage in 1897, was published while he was in Italy. After a short stay with his friend Bertz in Potsdam, he returned to England in 1898 and moved to Dorking in Surrey.
In July 1898, he met Gabrielle Marie Edith Fleury (1868–1954), a Frenchwoman who approached him with a request to translate New Grub Street. Ten months later, they became partners in a common-law marriage as Gissing was unable to divorce Edith. They moved to France, where he remained, returning to England briefly in 1901 for a six-week stay in a sanatorium in Nayland, Suffolk. The couple settled in Paris, but moved to Arcachon when Gissing's health deteriorated. The final years of his life were spent in the villages of Ciboure, near St Jean-de-Luz, and Ispoure, near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
Gissing's relationship with Fleury provided inspiration for his 1899 novel The Crown of Life. He wrote several novels during his third marriage, including Among the Prophets, which remained unpublished and no longer survives, Our Friend the Charlatan (1901), and Will Warburton, which was published posthumously in 1905. Gissing worked on a historical novel Veranilda, which was unfinished when he died. In 1903, he published The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, written between 1900 and 1901 which initially appeared as a serial entitled "An author at grass" in the Fortnightly Review. It consists of a series of semi-autobiographical essays written from the standpoint of a struggling writer who inherited a legacy enabling him to retire in the countryside and brought much acclaim.
In addition to fiction, Gissing followed his critical study of Charles Dickens with further writings including introductions to editions of Dickens' works, articles for journals and a revised edition of John Forster's biography of the author.
Gissing died from emphysema aged 46 on 28 December 1903 after catching a chill on an ill-advised winter walk. Verinilda was published incomplete in 1904. In response to a Christmas Eve telegram, H.G. Wells came to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to be at Gissing's side in his final days and helped nurse him during his last illness. Will Warburton was published in 1905, as was his final publication, the short story collection The House of Cobwebs. Gissing is buried in the English cemetery at Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
Gissing is given prominent space in Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind. Gissing's conservatism was rooted in his aristocratic sensibility. After a brief flirtation with socialism in his youth, Gissing lost faith in the labour movements and scorned the popular enthusiasms of his day. In 1892, he wrote to his sister Ellen, "I fear we shall live through great troubles yet ... We cannot resist it, but I throw what weight I may have on the side of those who believe in an aristocracy of brains, as against the brute domination of the quarter-educated mob." In The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Gissing reflected: "To think I once called myself a socialist, communist, anything you like of the revolutionary kind! Not for long, to be sure, and I suspect there was always something in me that scoffed when my lips uttered such things."
Gissing's early novels were not well received, but he achieved greater recognition in the 1890s, both in England and overseas. The increase in popularity was linked not just to his novels, but to the short stories he wrote in this period and his friendships with influential and respected literary figures such as the journalist Henry Norman, author J. M. Barrie and writer and critic Edmund Gosse. By the end of the 19th century, critics placed him alongside Thomas Hardy and George Meredith as one of the three leading novelists in England. George Orwell was an admirer and in a 1943 Tribune article called Gissing "perhaps the best novelist England has produced". He believed his "real masterpieces" were the "three novels, The Odd Women, Demos, and New Grub Street, and his book on Dickens. [The novels'] central theme can be stated in three words - "not enough money." "
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Workers in the Dawn (1880)
- The Unclassed (1884)
- Isabel Clarendon (1885)
- Demos (1886)
- Thyrza (1887)
- A Life's Morning (1888)
- The Nether World (1889)
- The Emancipated (1890)
- New Grub Street (1891)
- Denzil Quarrier (1892)
- Born In Exile (1892)
- The Odd Women (1893)
- In the Year of Jubilee (1894)
- Eve's Ransom (1895)
- The Paying Guest (1895)
- Sleeping Fires (1895)
- The Whirlpool (1897)
- The Town Traveller (1898)
- Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1898)
- The Crown Of Life (1899)
- By the Ionian Sea (1901)
- Our Friend the Charlatan (1901)
- The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903)
- Will Warburton (1905)
- Veranilda (1903, unfinished)
- Stories and Sketches (posthumous, 1938) with preface by Alfred C. Gissing
- "The Foolish Virgin," The Yellow Book, Vol. VIII, January 1896.
Gissing features as a fictional character in Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.
- Biographers Austin Harrison and Frank Arthur Swinnerton suggested that Gissing travelled to the town of Jena in Germany and studied the works of philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Auguste Comte before returning home. They suggested the journey provided Gissing with the background for a character's visit to Germany in his novel Workers in the Dawn in 1880 but the details were provided by his friend Eduard Bertz and a note about travel plans in Gissing's notebook provides evidence of his direct voyage to England.
- Pierre Coustillas, 'Gissing, George Robert (1857–1903)' ((subscription or UK public library membership required)) , Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online), Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed 17 June 2012.
- Swinnerton, p. 16
- Swinnerton, p. 17
- Stearns, George A. "George Gissing In America," The Bookman, August 1926.
- Swinnerton, p. 19
- Swinnerton, p. 20
- Korg, p. 20.
- Swinnerton, p. 22.
- Swinnerton, p. 23
- Swinnerton, p. 24
- Swinnerton, p. 26
- Swinnerton, p. 28.
- Rawlinson, p. 138.
- Korg, p. 54.
- Rawlinson, p. 3.
- Swinnerton, p. 29.
- Swinnerton, p. 30.
- Swinnerton, p. 31.
- Swinnerton, p. 32
- Archer, William. "Mr. Gissing on Dickens," Study and Stage, Grant Richards, 1899.
- H.G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography (New York: Macmillan, 1934), pp. 481-93. Wells concludes his lengthy discussion of Gissing's life, character, work, and death with these words: "So ended all the flimsy inordinate stir of grey matter that was George Gissing. He was a pessimistic writer. He spent his big fine brain depreciating life, because he would not and perhaps could not look life squarely in the eyes,--neither his circumstances nor the conventions about him nor the adverse things about him nor the limitations of his personal character. But whether it was nature or education that made this tragedy I cannot tell" (p. 493).
- Swinnerton, p. 34.
- Kirk, Russell. "Letters from Grub Street," Modern Age, June 1993.
- "Victorian Web". Retrieved June 16, 2012.
- Kirk, Russell (2001). The Conservative Mind: from Burke to Eliot. Regnery Publishing. p. 381.
- "George Gissing," Tribune, 2 April 1943, reprinted in Two Wasted Years, Secker & Warburg 2001.
- Bader, A.L. (1963). "New Looks at Gissing". The Antioch Review 23 (3): 392–400.
- Swinnerton, Frank (1912). George Gissing A Critical Study. London: Martin Secker.
- Goode, John (ed) (1999). New Grub Street; Chronology of George Gissing. Oxford World's Classics. pp. xxvi–xxvii. ISBN 0-19-283658-7.
- Korg, Jacob (1975). George Gissing: A Critical Biography. Taylor & Francis.
- Rawlinson, Barbara (2006). A Man of Many Parts: Gissing's Short Stories, Essays and Other Works. Rodopi. ISBN 978-90-420-2085-6.
- Clodd, Edward. Memories (Watts & Co., London 1926), Chapter 15, pp. 165–195.
- Collie, Michael. George Gissing, University of Toronto Press, 1975.
- Delany, Paul. George Gissing: A Life, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008.
- Follet, Helen Thomas & Follet, Wilson. "George Gissing," Some Modern Novelists, Henry Holt & Company, 1967.
- Howe, Irving. "George Gissing: Poet of Fatigue," A World More Attractive, Horizon Press, 1963.
- Keahey, John. "A Sweet and Glorious Land: Revisiting the Ionian Sea", St. Martin's Press, 2000 [following in Gissing's footsteps throughout southern Italy 100 years later].
- Kennedy, J. M. "George Gissing," English Literature, 1880-1905, Small, Maynard and Company, 1913.
- Mauck, Helen Sawtell. Problems of English Society as Depicted in the Novels of George Gissing, A Thesis, Kansas State College, 1932.
- McDonald, Deborah. Clara Collet 1860–1948: An Educated Working Woman, Woburn Press, 2004.
- More, Paul Elmer. "George Gissing," Shelburne Essays, Fifth Series, Hoghton Mifflin Company, 1908.
- Yates, Mary. George Gissing, an Appreciation, Manchester University Press, 1922.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Gissing, George Robert.|
- Gissing in Cyberspace
- Works by or about George Gissing at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions color illustrated)
- Works by George Gissing at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)
- Online editions of his works
- The George Gissing Website