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New Grub Street  
Author George Gissing
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher London: Elder Smith (3 volumes); Troy, N.Y.: Brewster (1 volume)
Publication date 1891
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0375761101
OCLC 1851102

New Grub Street is a novel by George Gissing published in 1891, which is set in the literary and journalistic circles of 1880s London.

Contents

Plot summary

The story deals with the literary world that Gissing himself had experienced. Its title refers to the London street, Grub Street, which in the 18th century became synomynous with hack literature; as an institution, Grub Street itself no longer existed in Gissing's time. Its two central characters are a sharply contrasted pair of writers: Edwin Reardon, a novelist of some talent but limited commercial prospects, and a shy, cerebral man; and Jasper Milvain, a young journalist, hard-working and capable of generosity, but cynical and unscrupulous about writing and its purpose in the modern (i.e. late Victorian) world.

New Grub Street opens with Jasper Milvain, an “alarmingly modern young man” driven by pure financial ambition in navigating his literary career. He accepts that he will “always despise the people [he] write[s] for,” networks within the appropriate social circle to manufacture opportunity, and authors articles for popular periodicals. Gissing provides a foil to Milvain with protagonist Edwin Reardon, who prefers to author novels of a more literary bent and refuses to pander to contemporary tastes until, as a last-gasp measure against financial ruin, he quickly attempts a popular novel. Even in this venture, Reardon fails, precipitating a separation from his wife, Amy Reardon née Yule, who cannot accept her husband’s inflexibility which finally leads to his fallen status.

The Yule family includes Amy’s two uncles—John, a wealthy invalid, and Alfred, another author—and Alfred’s daughter, Marian. The friendship that develops between Marian and Milvain’s sisters, who move to London following their mother’s death, provides opportunity for the former to meet and fall in love with Milvain. However much Milvain respects Marian’s intellectual capabilities and strength of personality, the crucial element (according to Milvain) for marriage is missing: money. Marrying a rich woman, after all, is the most convenient way to speed his career advancement. Indeed, Milvain slights romantic love as a key to marriage:

‘As a rule, marriage is the result of a mild preference, encouraged by circumstances, and deliberately heightened into strong sexual feeling. You, of all men, know well enough that the same kind of feeling could be produced for almost any woman who wasn’t repulsive.’ Eventually, reason enough for an engagement is provided by a legacy of £5000 left to Marian by John Yule.

Life (and death) eventually end the possibility of this union. Milvain’s initial career advancement is a position on The Current, a paper edited by Clement Fadge. Twenty years earlier, Alfred Yule (Marian’s father) was slighted by Fadge in a newspaper article, and the resulting acerbic resentment extends even to Milvain (an employee of Fadge’s). Alfred Yule refuses to countenance Marian’s marriage; but his objection proves to be an obstacle to Milvain only after Yule’s eyesight fails and Marian’s legacy is reduced to a mere £1500. As a result, Marian must work to provide for her parent, and her inheritance is no longer available to Milvain.

By this time, Milvain already has detected a more desirable target for marriage: Amy Reardon. Reardon’s poverty and natural disposition toward ill-health culminate in his death following a brief reconciliation with his wife. Amy, besides the receipt of £10,000 upon John Yule’s death, has the natural beauty and grace to benefit her husband (by reflection) in the social events beneficial to his career. Eventually Amy and Milvain marry; however, as the narrator reveals, this marriage motivated by circumstances is not lacking in more profound areas. Milvain has married the woman he loves.

Characters in "New Grub Street"

  • Jasper Milvain, an "alarmingly modern young man" who rejects artistic integrity for financial gain and social prominence. After a broken engagement with Marian Yule, Milvain marries her cousin (and Edwin Reardon's widow), Amy, who received a legacy of £10,000 on her uncle's death. By the novel's end, Milvain's sacrifices and tireless work secure an editorship at a newspaper.
  • Edwin Reardon, a talented writer of uncommercial novels. A modicum of early critical praise is disappointed after his marriage to Amy Yule (and fathering of Willie), when Reardon is unable to provide for his family through his chosen profession. After Reardon fails, he takes refuge in the steady income of a clerkship proffered by a friend. Reardon is deserted by his wife, who cannot endure poverty and social degradation. They are briefly reconciled when their child becomes ill and dies; but Reardon, whose health has been broken by depression and poor living, is himself seriously ill, and his death soon follows.
  • Alfred Yule, writer. Yule is a vehement foe of Clement Fadge, the editor who provided Milvain's first break. His frustrations over meagre financial prospects and a stalled career are repeatedly visited on his wife whose lower-class background and limited education are a continual source of irritation.
  • Marian Yule, cousin of Amy Reardon and daughter of Alfred Yule.
  • Harold Biffen, habitually (almost contentedly) down-and-out friend of Reardon. Biffen scrapes an existence from tutoring.
  • Dora Milvain, Jasper Milvain's younger sister, who moves to London following her mother's death. With Jasper's encouragement, Dora enters onto a career writing for children and encounters early success. Eventually, she marries Mr. Whelpdale.
  • Maud Milvain, Jasper Milvain's sister, who also moves to London following her mother's death. Begins writing as well, but is not as ambitious as her sister. She marries the wealthy Mr. Dolomore.
  • Mr. Whelpdale, friend of Milvain and future husband of Dora Milvain. Whelpdale is a compulsive lover with four broken engagements behind him (in each, the woman's choice). Having abandoned fiction-writing, Whelpdale concentrates on a business assisting clients in publishing and revising novels. Eventually, his business finds commercial backing.

In Popular Culture

Wakefield band The Ran-Tan Waltz cite the novel / Gissing as a major influence. Their track "New Grub Street [Invita Minerva]" can be heard on their myspace page.

Publication details

  • 1891, UK, Smith, Elder (OCLC 1851102), hardback (3 volume first edition)
  • 1904, USA, Brewster (OCLC 1690261), hardback (1 volume)
  • 2002, New York, Modern Library (ISBN 0375761101), paperback

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

New Grub Street
by George Gissing
Information about this edition
New Grub Street is a novel by George Gissing published in 1891, which is set in the literary and journalistic circles of late-1800s London. The story is about the literary world of late-Victorian London that Gissing inhabited, and its title, New Grub Street, alludes to the London street, Grub Street, which in the 18th century became synonymous with the "hack writing" that pervades Gissing's novel. The novel contrasts Edwin Reardon, a congenitally uncommercial but talented writer, against Jasper Milvain, a selfish and unscrupulous hack who rejects artistic endeavour for material gain. The novel suggests that the literary world rewards materialistic self-promotion more than serious artistic sensibility. — Excerpted from New Grub Street on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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