Authors: George Gissing

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Workers in the Dawn, 1880

The Unclassed, 1884

Isabel Clarendon, 1886

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

The Crown of Life, 1899

Our Friend the Charlatan, 1901

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, 1903

Veranilda, 1904

Will Warburton, 1905

Short Fiction:

Human Odds and Ends, 1897

The House of Cobwebs, 1906

Sins of the Fathers, 1924

A Victim of Circumstances, 1927

Brownie, 1931


Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, 1898

By the Ionian Sea, 1901

The Immortal Dickens, 1925

Letters of George Gissing to Members of His Family, 1927

George Gissing and H. G. Wells: Their Friendship and Correspondence, 1961

The Letters of George Gissing to Eduard Bertz, 1961

George Gissing’s Commonplace Book, 1962

The Letters of George Gissing to Gabrielle Fleury, 1964

George Gissing: Essays and Fiction, 1970

The Diary of George Gissing, Novelist, 1978


George Robert Gissing was surely one of the more unfortunate men ever to achieve a place in the world of letters. Certainly his novels constitute a broad panorama of dismal lives, meticulously recorded without warmth, humor, or hope. After being educated at a Quaker academy, Gissing won a scholarship to Owens College in Manchester. His career as a classical scholar was, however, cut off by an unhappy relationship with a prostitute whom he desperately hoped to reform, and he was briefly imprisoned for theft. After his release he went to the United States, where he sold short stories to the Chicago Tribune. Upon his return to England he entered into a short-lived marriage with the prostitute who had earlier embroiled him in crime. He was, however, determined to become an author. His first novel, since lost, never found a publisher. He published his second novel, Workers in the Dawn, in 1880 at his own expense. When that work failed to find a public, the quality and circumstances of Gissing’s life declined, but before he could become utterly corrupted he was rescued by Frederick Harrison, who made him tutor to his sons. Encouraged, Gissing wrote in rapid succession a number of novels that were Victorian in form but not in subject matter. These included The Unclassed, one of the first environmental studies of prostitution; Demos, a bitter account of social agitation among the working classes; Thyrza, the sordid story of a London working girl; The Nether World, a realistic tale of slum life and the underworld; New Grub Street, an assault on unscrupulous publishers and the stupid reading public; The Odd Women, a view of old age among poor, uncultured, and unmarried women; and almost a dozen similar portraits of despair among the underprivileged segments of Victorian society.{$I[AN]9810000199}{$I[A]Gissing, George}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Gissing, George}{$I[tim]1857;Gissing, George}

Gradual improvement of his personal affairs brought about a slight but perceptible increase of cheerfulness. This is reflected in his autobiographical The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, published in the year of his death, which shows his relief at having escaped to the country after a life that had until then been marked by grinding poverty, illness, and a second unfortunate marriage to a woman who refused to grant him a divorce. Earlier, in The Unclassed, he had written: “Art nowadays must be the mouthpiece of misery, for misery is the keynote of modern life”; in his final work he was able to write: “The artist is moved and inspired by the supreme enjoyment of some aspect of the world about him . . . an emotion of rare vitality.” Gissing spent his last years living in the Pyrenees in the company of a cultured, sensitive, and intelligent Frenchwoman. Apart from his twenty-three realistic novels, Gissing wrote two small collections of short stories, a series of introductions to the Rochester edition of Charles Dickens, an unfinished historical novel of Rome, Veranilda, and an account of holiday travels titled By the Ionian Sea.

Had Gissing’s circumstances been more secure, he might well have become a superior social chronicler, for he read and loved the classics deeply and made several pilgrimages to Italy and Greece. He was the first to write an intelligent and discerning study of Dickens, in which he skillfully analyzed the earlier writer’s realistic characters, particularly his women, and traced Dickens’s stylistic debt to the masters of eighteenth century fiction. Gissing’s own style, which is related to that of the French naturalists of the late nineteenth century, won for him the esteem of such discriminating critics as Henry James, H. G. Wells, and Virginia Woolf.

Gissing’s name sank into obscurity soon after his death. His works had never appealed to a mass audience, who preferred the lighter touch of writers such as Dickens, and many critics of his own time were contemptuous because he did not appear to have clear convictions and offered no solution to the social problems he exposed. However, Gissing was rediscovered in the 1960’s and 1970’s by readers who were more comfortable than his contemporaries had been with the painful truth that there are no “quick fixes” for social problems. By the end of the twentieth century, Gissing’s reputation was securely based on such bitterly truthful works as New Grub Street and The Odd Women. Among these who rediscovered him were feminists, who came to appreciate Gissing’s sensitive understanding of the plight of the dependent, exploited, deliberately stunted women of his time. Others find Gissing’s novels particularly germane to the late twentieth century phenomenon of the “vanishing middle class.”

BibliographyConnelly, Mark. Orwell and Gissing. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. Compares New Grub Street to George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). Also, a chapter on “Doomed Utopias: Animal Farm and Demos.”Coustillas, Pierre, and Colin Partridge, eds. Gissing: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972. A very important research tool for the study of Gissing, containing a large selection of reviews dating from his own time to the late 1960’s.Grylls, David. The Paradox of Gissing. London: Allen and Unwin, 1986. Maintains that paradox is the key to reading Gissing properly. He was attracted to conflicting points of view on various topics, including women, social reform, poverty, and art. His novels express these contradictions, often by a sharp break in the middle. In New Grub Street, Gissing achieved an integration of diverse opinions.Halperin, John. Gissing: A Life in Books. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1982. The most comprehensive work on the life of Gissing. Its dominant theme is that he wrote about his own life in his novels, and much of the book discusses Gissing’s fiction from this point of view.Michaux, Jean-Pierre, ed. George Gissing: Critical Essays. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981. This valuable anthology gives a good selection of twentieth century critics’ discussions of Gissing. Includes an influential essay by Q. D. Leavis, who praised Gissing’s portrayal of the misery of the Victorian world.Moore, Lewis D. The Fiction of George Gissing: A Critical Analysis. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008. This book analyzes Gissing’s fiction, exploring its themes and characters. Moore also differs with many critics by taking the stance that Gissing’s works are not autobiographical. Selig, Robert L. George Gissing. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1995. An excellent introduction, with chapters on Gissing’s major works, his career as a man of letters, and his biography. Includes chronology, notes, and annotated bibliography.Sloan, John. George Gissing: The Cultural Challenge. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Chapters on Gissing’s “Hogarthian beginnings,” his working-class novels, his career from The Emancipated to New Grub Street, and The Odd Women. Includes detailed notes and bibliography.
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