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George Gissing

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.


realists of the late- Victorian era . Biography George Gissing Early life Gissing was born in

George Gissing

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


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 new novels almost every year, but for several years more would earn very little money from his writing (he was notoriously exploited by his publishers, seldom making money from each book beyond a flat fee paid for the copyright). Most of his early novels among them Demos (1886), Thyrza (1887) and The Nether World (1889) dealt with poverty and the working classes, as seen at first hand by Gissing in his life with Nell. In 188889 he spent several months in Italy; his next novel, The Emancipated, was a story of free-thinking English expatriates.

Between 1891 and 1897 Gissing produced his most notable 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, and the situation of emancipated women in a male-dominated society. During this period he also produced almost seventy short stories, having become aware of the financial rewards of writing short fiction for the press. As a result he was able to give up teaching.

George Gissing


In February 1891 he had married another working-class woman, Edith Underwood, and moved with her to Exeter. They had two children together (Walter Leonard and Alfred Charles Gissing), but the marriage was far from successful. Edith understood nothing of her husband's work and was prone to fits of temper and violence. After several more moves, Gissing separated from her in 1897, leaving his two sons with his sisters in Wakefield; in 1902, Edith was certified insane. During this difficult period of his life he met and befriended Clara Collet. She was quite probably in love with him, although it is unclear whether he reciprocated. They remained friends for the rest of his life and after his death she helped to support both Edith and the children.

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 18971898, 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 sought his permission to translate New Grub Street, 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 from the effects of emphysema at the age of forty-six on 28 December 1903 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.


The Unclassed (1884)

Isabel Clarendon (1885)

Demos (1886)

Thyrza (1887)

The Nether World (1889)

The Emancipated (1890)

New Grub Street (1891)

Denzil Quarrier (1892)

Born In Exile (1892)

The Odd Women (1893)

Eve's Ransom (1895)

The Paying Guest (1895)

Sleeping Fires (1895)

The Whirlpool (1897)

The Crown Of Life (1899)

George Gissing


Will Warburton (1905)

Veranilda (1903, unfinished)

Stories and Sketches (posthumous, 1938) with preface by Alfred C. Gissing

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. 165195.

• Paul Delany, George Gissing: A Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008).

• Deborah McDonald, Clara Collet 18601948: An Educated Working Woman (London: Woburn Press, 2004)

Gissing features as a fictional character in Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

Algernon Gissing

Gissing's younger brother, Algernon Gissing (18601937), 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

Alfred Gissing Gissing's younger son

External links

• Works by or about George Gissing [2] at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions color illustrated)

• Works by George Gissing [3] at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)

• Online editions of his works [4]

• The George Gissing Website [5]

• Gissing in Cyberspace [6]

• Gissing's 'The Nether World' [7]


[1] Gissing, George (http://www.archive.org/stream/dictionaryofnati02stepuoft) Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, Vol. II, Faed Muybridge. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1912. pp. 114116. [2] http://www.archive.org/search.

Article Sources and Contributors


Article Sources and Contributors

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