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New Grub Street

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | New Grub Street.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    George Gissing(Author)

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4.5 (12103)
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Book details

  • PDF | 214 pages
  • George Gissing(Author)
  • CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 5, 2017)
  • English
  • 2
  • Literature & Fiction

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Review Text

  • By H. Schneider on January 29, 2010

    I always wondered what the missing link between Dickens and Orwell might have been. There was clearly an evolution, but how did it move forward, or rather, sorry, how did it get from one to the other? (I expect that hundreds if not thousands of people have answered this question before, but since I am purely an amateur lit-historian, I needed to find out first hand myself.)Now I would put my first bet on Mr.Gissing. There is so much that Gissing and Orwell share.New Grub Street is late-Victorian naturalism. It lacks the humor of Dickens (but is not entirely unfunny) and is too bulky for Orwell's times (which had commercial reasons that are explained in the book as well as in the introduction.) One might say that Orwell's aspidistra hero is derived from good Edwin of this Gissing novel, while Jasper's sisters moved straight from Gissing to Orwell's Clergyman's Daughter, however without keeping up their dignity quite as well intact as they did in Gissing.The introduction to this Penguin edition calls Gissing a very good second rank writer. While that sounds a little mean, it is, in fact, the truth. No first rank writer would be quite so keen on introducing his protagonists with straightforward physical description, right up to giving physiognomic interpretations. A better writer stays away from that and wraps up whatever description is needed in bits and pieces strewn all over the place, so that you, the reader, wonder in the end, why you have such a clear idea of a person that you know only from a book or play.Gissing's prose was not admirable, you could not lose yourself in it with rapture, but at least he was not cursed with being funny at all cost, which is a major drawback in many English writers (as Orwell himself also said in his 1948 essay about Gissing.) He had a keen eye and ear and he understood social relations. If you want to have a fuller picture of London in the 1880s, this book is right for you.I read Gissing now mainly because an amazon friend has reviewed a whole lot of Gissing's books, until I gave in and bought one, at random. The New Grub Street is considered GG's masterpiece by some, also by Orwell. I enjoyed it. It is worth my time. I learned from it. (Would you believe that even families that considered themselves 'poor' in this novel have servants working for them?) I do believe it is not top notch though. In other words, make this a 5 star (minus) rating. I have found often that interesting but flawed books provide very profitable investments of my time!The book is in essence a juxtaposition of 2 contrarian characters from the `literary world'.Jasper is the calculating, ambitious, scheming, opportunistic, insincere would-be writer who plans to skim the market. What a fool, but he succeeds. We hate him.Edwin is the idealistic, conceited, clumsy, overly honest, rather pretentious, stubborn `artist', who wants to succeed by shear honest work. What a fool. We can't quite like him.There is a version Edwin II, in the person of the aging and failing writer Alfred, who is thoroughly dislikable, but who provides the plot with his lovely daughter, who is our main hope for humanity in the story. Her fate is tragic, she would have deserved so much better.Should writers marry? If so, what kind of woman? This is all too biographical for my taste. Gissing proposed the principle that writers should shun the book market and in order to do so they should marry working class girls who will not distract them by unnatural middle class ambitions. Or marry rich, then the problem walks away. Well, well.In fact, the whole book moves on the edge of autobiography, more than is good for it. My suggestion: it is better to ignore whatever you know of Gissing's odd personal life.Gissing's social views were not necessarily in line with his underclass observations. His criticism of certain social facts did not make him a social critic, he was by no means a socialist. He makes a few social statements that may be worth debating, though they don't automatically define his position.The relatively poor are so much worse off than the absolutely poor. (Another touch of Orwell here!)Education to them (the relatively poor) is in most cases a mocking cruelty.Poverty does not allow of honorable feeling.These are all observations which could be called realistic, not necessarily reactionary. But then there are also some aspects that rather irritate me. Throughout the book, teaching is considered and commented upon as the lowest possible occupation for a human being. I do not find here an explanation for this odd attitude. It must come from some experience, which may be shared elsewhere.Similarly, his condescending observations about working class women are irritating. Take good Mrs.Yule; she is shown in her family life, where husband and daughter treat her like a pariah, and she fully accepts this role in life. The thing is, GG himself takes the husband's side unfailingly, despite his criticism of social snobbery. When we watch her reading something, we learn about her `slow apprehension, the heart's good-will thwarted by the mind's defect'. Hm.Not sure I would have liked George Gissing had I met him.

  • By Robin Friedman on January 13, 2018

    I have been a reader of the late Victorian novelist George Gissing (1857 -- 1903) for most of my life and have read or reread much of his writing and reviewed it online. Gissing remains too little known and I focused in my reading and online reviewing on some of his less familiar works which tend to go in and out of print. Unlike most of his books, Gissing's novel "New Grub Street" (1891) has achieved recognition and readership. The book has remained in print, is frequently read and taught, and has garnered perceptive and appreciative reviews from online readers. After a long absence I wanted to revisit New Grub Street through Gissing's book.Grub Street was the center of literary activity and publishing in London. Set in the late 18880's London, Gissing's book offers a sad, pessimistic depiction of literary life in an age of commercialization. The book depicts the heavy competition among writers for publication, recognition, and financial reward and the attendant difficulty of finding and maintaining a sense of individual integrity.Virtually all of the novel's large group of characters are involved in the literary life. The book focuses on struggling young writers usually described as Bohemian. It also enters into the world of scholarly writing, into book editing and publishing, and, a subject important to serious online reviewers, book reviewing. The book explores how with the rise of at least partial literacy in a large population and the perceived attractions of the literary life, writing frequently involved harshness and drudgery and led to poverty. Early in the novel, Gissing describes those who survive by writing and who sit for hours in the British Museum as living in the "valley of the shadow of books." Writing and poverty are at the center of this novel together with the effect of writing on the search for love, intimacy, and sexuality.The primary character, Edward Reardon, is a young novelist whose early writings achieved a degree of success. Reardon has married the lovely, accomplished Amy Yule who wants a materially comfortable life which she believes her husband can provide through his writings. Reardon, however, is in the midst of a writer's block and cannot produce anything up to his own standards. His efforts in the area of popular writing prove unsuccessful as he and Amy quarrel, drift into poverty, and ultimately separate.Reardon's story is juxtaposed to that of his contemporary and acquaintance, Jasper Milvain who likewise is trying to rise from a modest background. Although lacking novelistic talent, Milvain is a young man on the make through networking, writing essays and review, and trying to cater to the public taste. Milvain also seeks a financially advantageous marriage and has few scruples about how he obtains it.A third writer, Alfred Yule, is an aging scholar with large, thwarted ambitions who spends his days in the British Museum and who ekes out a modest living writing articles assisted by his daughter Marian. With the pressures of sexuality and the need for love, Yule married early in life, taking a wife from a poor, uneducated family. The marriage proves unhappy to all concerned.Besides these three characters and their love interests, the book develops some fascinating secondary characters. The most memorable of these is Biffen who lives in abject poverty and who is writing a long, "realist" novel called "Mr. Bailey, Grocer" focusing on the every day, undramatic life of those whom Biffen calls the "ignobly decent". Biffen proves a true friend to Reardon. A character named Whelpdale is a failed novelist and a mostly failed suitor, but he develops an eye for low literary taste and for the reading needs of those who ride buses and subways. He becomes the successful publisher of a gossipy tabloid.Many readers find "New Grub Street" glum indeed. Most fundamentally, the book questions the value of having so many people with substantial gifts and educations struggling to succeed in the overcrowded field of writing when they might make more modest rewarding choices for themselves which would offer the chance of love and sexual fulfillment. Then too, Gissing criticizes shallow, commercial writing aimed largely at turning a profit. Although Gissing portrays the weaknesses of characters such as Reardon and Biffen, he believes writing must aim at value and meaning separate from the marketplace. His icons are the writers of Greece and Rome. This is a difficult belief to maintain because of the education and agnostisim of the characters in this book and the denial of any values beyond those of immanence."New Grub Street" is written in the third person in a narrative voice that tells the reader virtually everything about its characters. Critics have often found that Gissing talks too much about his characters rather than showing them in action. This criticism is overdone, I believe, but the author still has a heavy editorial voice which sometimes reaches out in apostrophes to the reader. The book also includes a great deal of dialogue. In places in the novel, Gissing satirizes his own writing style. Although heavy in places, the writing in "New Grub Street" effectively matches its story. It is in shades of gray and of London fog. Each of the primary characters, male and female, are well and individually developed, showing both their strengths and their inevitable human failings.At one point in the book, Biffen is accompanying Reardon as Reardon responds to an urgent call from his estranged wife. Biffen points out to his friend the folly and obstinacy of his way of life and the need to compromise. He says:"[W]e both of us have too little practicality. The art of living is the art of compromise. We have no right to foster sensibilities, and conduct ourselves as if the world allowed of ideal relations; it leads to misery for others as well as ourselves. Genial coarseness is what it behoves men like you and me to cultivate."Gissing put a great deal of himself into "New Grub Street" as he describes the dilemmas he faced as a writer. Reardon is an autobiographical figure but there is much of Gissing as well in Biffen, Whelpdale and in Jasper Milvain. Readers new to Gissing will not need to worry about these autobiographical references. The book also describes well the London of the late 19th Century and the nature in particular, of literary London.I was glad to revisit New Grub Street and an author I have loved for a long time. "New Grub Street" remains the book of Gissing that will be of interest to the reader seeking to know his work.Robin Friedman


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