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Thread: Gissing's interesting life

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Gissing's interesting life

    I was reading a bit about George Gissing last night. He idolized his father who died when he was thirteen, but did not get on so well with his mother. His father was intellectual; his mother was a hard-working, rather moralistic housewife. After his father died, he was sent away to school where he worked extremely hard and won a whole series of scholarly prizes, enabling him to attend Owens College, now Manchester University. He seems to have been a sensitive lad, but not entirely so. He discovered girls in a big way at Manchester. In particular he discovered young prostitutes, and he was not the only one of his friends to do that. I read a letter one wrote to him, joking about the symptoms of gonorhea, or syphilis. Then he started stealing quite large sums of money from other students' coats in the cloakroom. The police set a trap for him: they put some marked money in someone's coat and laid in wait. Gissing had to do a month's hard labour, was stripped of his scholarship prizes and expelled from the college. The college authorities seem to have been more upset that the students were seeing prostitutes than anything else. Other students were forced to hand over letters and to testify against Gissing, although maybe they were also upset about having money stolen. The author of the biography said the story that Gissing was stealing the money to save a prostitute had to be treated with caution, because it came from another student under a cloud, an acquaintance of Gissing's, who later wrote an unauthorised and possibly unreliable biography of Gissing after he had died. After his explusion, Gissing's relatives seemed to have sent Gissing to make a new start in America. He stayed a while in Boston, and went to Chicago. He wrote articles for local newspapers, and he got quite a well paid job as a teacher ($800 a year), but that suddenly came to an end. The writer of the biography speculates the school authorities discovered what Gissing had been expelled from Owen College for. After a year in the US he came back to England. It often surprises me the ease with which people crossed the Atlantic in those days.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Eiseabhal
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    It is pretty well documented that he did steal for a prostitute. He had a knack for getting himself into relationships that were ... complicated. I have some of Gissing that I still need to read but to tell the truth there are passages I find flat. Sometimes I think his life was more interesting than his art. That could be said of several writers.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    The biography I have been reading says that some of the stories relating to Gissing's first marriage cannot be wholly relied on, because their source was Morley Roberts' quasi-biography, The Private Life of Henry Maitland. Morley Roberts was writing from memory thirty years after the events, not from documents. Gissing's first marriage broke down very quickly. His wife Helen was mentally and physically unwell it seems. It was also implied she drank a lot, and possibly paid for it by prostitution. OTOH, Gissing was not a man who liked being tied down, who lived for reading and writing, and was a "professional bohemian". I will have to note the author of this biography when I read the next chapter. He seems to take her side somewhat.

    Gissing does have his admirers. In particular, Pierre Coustillas seems to have devoted much of his career to writing about him.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    This is a nice review from The Telegraph of a biography of Gissing by Paul Delaney (link).

    And here is an article from The New York Times written in 1991 about New Grub Street. (link) Did newspapers publish stories on the internet in 1991?
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I read another chapter of a biography of Gissing's life in the library yesterday. It described how he met and married his second wife, Edith Underwood. According to the biography, Gissing had become desperately lonely and sex-starved. Ideally, he wanted an educated wife he could talk to, but could not afford to keep one in the style to which she was accustomed. Gissing was making about 150 a year from his books, and no posh girl would look at a man with an income of less than 400 a year (at least according to Gissing). He had proposed to another young woman, but she turned him down. He then hit the plan of marrying a young, working class girl, and training her up, a bit like in My Fair Lady, I suppose. It did not work out. At the time this was going on, he was writing New Grub Street, which was largely about relatively poor, but educated men and their search for wives. I doubt Gissing's sardonic view of marriage, expressed in New Grub Street, would be something a young woman contemplating marriage would want to read. In New Grub Street, there is a character who had married a working class girl in his youth and blamed her for many of his troubles. She was unpresentable at shmoozing events, such as dinner parties with influential people. Doesn't that imply that Gissing suspected Edith might be a drag on his own career? Incidentally, another Edith, Edith Sichel, an independently wealthy woman, had started writing to Gissing. She was interested in his writing. They established a friendship, but for some reason, nothing more.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Finished the biography on Gissing. Poor old chap, he really made life difficult for himself. The biographer seemed to take his second wife, Edith's part, but she did seem a right harridan. Eventually, she was put in a mental asylum, which had nothing to do with Gissing because he was long gone by then. He had met and was living with a nice French woman called Gabrielle Fleury in Paris. That must have been very modern in 1900. Interestingly he was good friends with H.G. Wells, who was also very modern. Gissing died in 1903 from a lung disease, but he seemed to be reasonably happy for the last few years of his life. I felt rather sorry for his sons. After leaving England, he never met them again. The older one died fighting in WW1, but they younger one was still alive when the biography was written in 1977.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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