George Robert Gissing - Encyclopedia

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GEORGE ROBERT GISSING (1857-1903), English novelist, was born at Wakefield on the 22nd of November 1857. He was educated at the Quaker boarding-school of Alderley Edge and at Owens College, Manchester. His life, especially its earlier period, was spent in great poverty, mainly in London, though he was for a time also in the United States, supporting himself chiefly by private teaching. He published his first novel, Workers in the Dawn, in 1880. The Unclassed (1884) and Isabel Clarendon (1886) followed. Demos (1886), a novel dealing with socialistic ideas, was, however, the first to attract attention. It was followed by a series of novels remarkable for their pictures of lower middle class life. Gissing's own experiences had preoccupied him with poverty and its brutalizing effects on character. He made no attempt at popular writing, and for a long time the sincerity of his work was appreciated only by a limited public. Among his more characteristic novels were: Thyrza (1887), A Life's Morning (1888), The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891), Born in Exile (1892), The Odd Women (1893), In the Year of Jubilee (1894), The Whirlpool (1897). Others, e.g. The Town Traveller (1901), indicate a humorous faculty, but the prevailing note of his novels is that of the struggling life of the shabby-genteel and lower classes and the conflict between education and circumstances. The quasi-autobiographical Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) reflects throughout Gissing's studious and retiring tastes. He was a good classical scholar and had a minute acquaintance with the late Latin historians, and with Italian antiquities; and his posthumous Veranilda (1904), a historical romance of Italy in the time of Theodoric the Goth, was the outcome of his favourite studies. Gissing's powers as a literary critic are shown in his admirable study on Charles Dickens (1898). A book of travel, By the Ionian Sea, appeared in 1 9 01. He died at St Jean de Luz in the Pyrenees on the 28th of December 1903.

See also the introductory essay by T. Seccombe to The House of Cobwebs (1906), a posthumous volume of Gissing's short stories.

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