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George Gissing

George Robert Gissing (pronounced /ˈɡɪsɪŋ/ - the g in his surname is hard; 22 November 1857 – 28 December 1903) was an English novelist who wrote twenty-three novels between 1880 and 1903. From his early naturalistic works, he developed into one of the most accomplished realists of the late-Victorian era.




Early life

Gissing was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, to lower-middle class parents. A brilliant student, he won a scholarship to Owens College, the present day University of Manchester. He excelled at university, winning many coveted prizes, including the Shakespeare prize in 1875, but his academic career ended in disgrace when he fell in love with a young prostitute, Marianne Helen Harrison. In an attempt to keep her from the streets he gave her money, and when his own funds ran short he began to steal from his fellow students. Eventually he was caught, expelled from the university, and prosecuted for theft; he was sentenced to one month's hard labour in prison.

In October 1876, thanks largely to a few local sympathisers, he was shipped off to the United States, where, when close to starvation, he managed to earn a precarious living by writing short stories for the Chicago Tribune.

Literary career

On returning to England in the autumn of 1877, Gissing married Marianne, and settled down in London to write novels. His first book, Workers in the Dawn, was published at his own expense in 1880; it was a complete failure, and Gissing took up private tutoring to support himself and his wife, who by now had become an alcoholic . In 1883 the couple separated, but he gave her a weekly income on what little money he had until her death from drink in 1888.

In 1884 his second novel, The Unclassed, which saw a marked improvement in style and characterisation, met with moderate critical acclaim. After this Gissing published novels almost on a yearly basis, but earned very little money from his writing and for several more years had to continue working as a tutor. Although notoriously exploited by his publishers, he was able to visit Italy in 1889 from the sale of the copyright of The Nether World, his most pessimistic book. Between 1891 and 1897 (his so-called middle period) Gissing produced his best works, which include New Grub Street, Born in Exile, The Odd Women, In the Year of Jubilee, and The Whirlpool. In advance of their time, they variously deal with the growing commercialism of the literary market, religious charlatanism, the situation of emancipated women in a male-dominated society, the poverty of the working classes, and marriage in a decadent world. During this period, having belatedly become aware of the financial rewards of writing short stories for the press, he produced almost seventy stories. As a result he was able to give up teaching.

In February 1891 he had married another working-class woman named Edith Underwood and moved to Exeter. Despite the marital difficulties (Edith was prone to fits of violence and mental instability) they had two children together (Walter Leonard and Alfred Charles Gissing). After several more moves, Gissing separated from Edith in 1897, leaving his two sons with his sisters in Wakefield; in 1902, Edith was certified insane.

Later years

The middle years of the decade saw Gissing's reputation reach new heights: by some critics he is counted alongside George Meredith and Thomas Hardy as one of the best three novelists of his day. He also enjoyed new friendships with fellow writers such as Henry James, and H.G. Wells, and came into contact with many other up and coming writers such as Joseph Conrad and Stephen Crane. He made a second trip to Italy in 1897-1898, and also visited Greece. Towards the end of the nineties his health declined - he was eventually diagnosed with emphysema - so that he had to stay at a sanatorium from time to time. In 1898 he met Gabrielle Fleury, a Frenchwoman who had approached him in order to translate one of his novels, and fell in love with her. The following year they took part in a private marriage ceremony in Rouen, even though Gissing had been unable to obtain a divorce from Edith, and from then on they lived in France as a couple.

In 1903 Gissing published The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, which brought him much acclaim. This is his most autobiographical work. It is the memoir of the last happy years of a writer who had struggled much like Gissing, but thanks to a late legacy had been able to give up writing to retire to the countryside.

Gissing died on 28 December 1903 aged forty-six from the effects of emphysema, after having caught a chill on an ill-advised winter walk. At his death he left one unfinished novel, Veranilda, which is set in Rome during the sixth century. Gissing is buried in the English cemetery at Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

George Gissing is a 'character' in Peter Ackroyd's Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

Algernon Gissing

Gissing's younger brother, Algernon Gissing (1860-1937), was also a novelist.[1] His books include A Masquerader (1892), At Society's Expense (1894) and The Dreams of Simon Usher (1907). He is remembered today mainly in relation to his brother's life and career.

See also


  1. ^ Gissing, George Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, Vol. II, Faed - Muybridge. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1912. pp. 114-116.  

Other reading

  • John Keahey, "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.
  • Edward Clodd, Memories (Watts & Co., London 1926), Chapter 15, pp. 165–195.
  • Paul Delany, George Gissing: A Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008).

Wakefield band The Ran-Tan Waltz cite Gissing as a major influence. Their track "New Grub Street" is based on the novel of the same name. The track can be heard on their myspace page.


  • 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

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

George Gissing (1857-11-221903-12-28) was a British novelist.


  • It is our duty never to speak ill of others, you know; least of all when we know that to do so will be the cause of much pain and trouble.
    • The Unclassed (1884), ch. 1: School
  • 'A man who comes to be hanged,' pursued Jasper, impartially, 'has the satisfaction of knowing that he has brought society to its last resource.[…]'
    • New Grub Street (1891), ch. 1: A Man of His Day
  • I tell you, writing is a business.
    • New Grub Street (1891), ch. 1: A Man of His Day
  • I maintain that we people of brains are justified in supplying the mob with the food it likes.
    • New Grub Street (1891), ch. 1: A Man of His Day
  • No, no; women, old or young, should never have to think about money.
    • The Odd Women (1893), ch. 1
  • The thought, however, of his girls having to work for money was so utterly repulsive to him that he could never seriously dwell upon it.
    • The Odd Women (1893), ch. 1
  • The insult was thrown out with a peculiarly reckless air; it astounded the hearer, who sat for an instant with staring eyes and lips apart; then the blood rushed to his cheeks.
    • Eve's Ransom (1895), ch. 1
  • How I dreaded the white page I had to foul with ink!
    • The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903): Spring
  • For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every sky has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously.
    • The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903): Winter
  • To be at other people's orders brings out all the bad in me.
    • Will Warburton (1905), ch. 3

External links

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