Paul Johnson

On New Grub Street

George Gissing: A Life

By

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George Gissing (1857–1903) was a skilful writer with a thorough knowledge of and love for the classics in Greek, Latin and English. He wrote the first modern critical appraisal of Dickens and his By the Ionian Sea is the best book on Italy ever written by an Englishman (with the exception of Norman Douglas’s Old Calabria – both books, oddly enough, being about the little-visited toe and heel). But he was principally a writer of fiction, producing twenty-two volumes in his lifetime and leaving others in manuscript form for posthumous publication. His overarching theme is the horror of being an intelligent and sensitive male of the English lower middle class, hampered always by lack of money and sexual frustration. This gives his work a peculiarly modern sociological interest, and he has received an enormous amount of attention in the last fifty years. His New Grub Street has become a classic, most of his other novels have been reprinted, his letters and diaries have been published, and there have been biographies. A bibliography, sure sign of a writer’s canonisation, came out in 2005.

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