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New Grub street by George Gissing

New Grub street (original 1891; edition 1891)

by George Gissing

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964188,971 (3.91)85
Title:New Grub street
Authors:George Gissing
Info:Leipzig, B. Tauchnitz, 1891.
Collections:ebook, Your library

Work details

New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)

  1. 10
    A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf (DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: Both addressing, in their different ways, the relationship between financial security and the writing of fiction.
  2. 00
    Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett (peterbrown)
    peterbrown: Although published 32 years after 'New Grub Street' Bennett also looks at life in North London (Clerkenwell) is concerned with the world of books, as well as class and poverty, particularly hunger.
  3. 00
    Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood (stevanderman)
  4. 11
    The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (Booksloth)

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New Grub Street presents in a realistic narrative, the contemporary working conditions of a new class, the professional author. George Gissing, born the son of a chemist in 1857, was as an author breaking important new ground, as well as responding to significant cultural change in the literary generation after Dickens and Thackeray. His naturalistic style provides an urban alternative to the rural novels of Thomas Hardy.

The eponymous hero of David Copperfield is also a writer, but Dickens focuses primarily, and in some detail, on Copperfield's childhood, not his career as a novelist. He does not delve into the gritty world and threadbare texture of Victorian literary life. This may be partly due to the social and cultural upheavals inspired by changes in the culture of British education in the latter decades of the Victorian era. George Gissing's career as a man of letters was the product of this. For the rest of the century, the lives of writers and readers would undergo a profound transformation which would permanently reshape the British literary landscape. Henceforth, high and low literary culture would increasingly diverge. This is one of the main themes in John Carey's important critical study The Intellectuals and the Masses. It is also the animating idea of New Grub Street.

Gissing was hardly alone in finding the role and conduct of the modern writer an urgent topic in late Victorian literary London. A year before New Grub Street, Henry James also published a novel, The Tragic Muse, about "the conflict between art and 'the world'", though James focused on painting and the stage more than literature. Even in our era with the internet revolution promoting another paradigm shift, Gissing's subject remains as topical as ever, and addresses timeless themes in the everyday life of the full-time, professional writer.

In New Grub Street, the narrative is set in the literary world with which Gissing himself was intimately familiar; the title refers to the London street that, in the eighteenth century world of Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne, was synonymous with hack writing. By the 1890s, Grub Street no longer existed, though hack writing, of course, never goes away, with timeless imperatives. As one character puts it: "Our Grub Street of today is supplied with telegraphic communications, it knows what literary fare is in demand in every part of the world, its inhabitants are men of business, however seedy." (p 9)

The novel's protagonists are a contrasted pair of writers: thoughtful Edwin Reardon, a shy "literary" novelist with few commercial prospects; and Jasper Milvain, a hard-driving young journalist who treats his writing as the means to an end in a ruthless literary marketplace. "I speak," he says, "only of good, marketable stuff for the world's vulgar." Reardon will face continual difficulties while Milvain will flourish in literary London ("I write for the upper-middle-class of intellect, the people who like to feel that what they are reading has some special cleverness").

New Grub Street is Victorian in its realist depiction of a society in transition, but modern in the way it harks forward to the imminent new century with its portrait of the artist as an existential character making his solitary way in the world. For example Reardon ponders on memories of moments with his wife Amy on their honeymoon, remembering their voices:
"The voices seemed to be lingering still, in a sad, faint echo, so short a time it was since those words were uttered.
His own fault. A man has no business to fail; least of all can he expect others to have time to look back upon him or pity him if he sink under the stress of conflict. Those behind will trample over his body; they can't help it; they themselves are borne onwards by resistless pressure." (p 212)

The resistless pressure of life is ultimately too much for Gissing's sad protagonist. He is like the hero of Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy's final novel; Jude Fawley is a working-class boy who dreams of becoming an Oxford scholar. Hardy's Jude is Reardon's West Country equivalent. While Gissing's natural world is depressing his literary depiction of it is brilliant - a truly great novel. ( )
  jwhenderson | Dec 14, 2015 |
This very long classic is an interesting look at the lives of struggling writers during the Victorian era. What I found fascinating, is that the writers fell into 3 categories: successful 'literary' writers, writers who made a living by churning out articles and books that would appeal to the masses, and writers who wrote carefully crafted works, but either lacked talent, or were never discovered, and basically were starving artists. In many ways, the art of writing has not changed. Today, we have those few successful literary writers who might win recognition with Pulitzers, Mann Booker awards, or other coveted prizes. And then there are those financially successful writers who churn out many books a year and have a staff of writing assistants who help them produce these instant best sellers. But the majority of writers, go unrecognized and do not make money. The only thing that has changed from Gissing's era is that now people can be self-published pretty easily. Although I found the topic interesting, I thought the flow of this book was slow and it lacked the charm or emotional tug of a Trollope or a Dickens. I don't know why this is on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die; I could have skipped this one, but, at least it's checked off. ( )
  jmoncton | Apr 5, 2015 |
I struggled with this book a little at first, especially when I had a hard time liking some of the main characters. Most of the men in the book were quite unpleasant or even despicable in some way, whereas the women seemed more interesting to me, as they struggled to be independent of and respected by the men in their lives.

The story focuses on a number of people with some connection to writing or publishing in some form. Some of them are struggling to do good work, while others just want to gain some notoriety. I found some of the "industry" issues interesting, as a few might as well be happening today (the idea of writing shorter, easier to read pieces for a less attentive audience, for example).

I did have a hard time seeing this as happening in the 1880s though, mainly because the writing style seemed a little more modern to me, at least compared to other works from this time. I kept thinking they were in the 1900s at the very least, or perhaps a little later. I also kept making comparisons between some of the characters and those in The Forsyte Chronicles (Alfred Yule and Soames Forsyte, Jasper Milvain and Michael Mont, etc.).

The writing style, although it felt a little more modern, was a bit of a slog at points. The dialogue between certain characters felt extremely formal and overdone, and not enough like natural language. And some of the philosophical tangents were a bit dull and heavy-handed.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting, albeit not very uplifting or happy, book, but I didn't really enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to. But I think I'll still look into some of Gissing's other books, after this initial introduction. ( )
  digitalmaven | Jun 21, 2014 |
It took me forever to read this book as I was reading it on my phone, mostly a few Kindle pages here and there. So I kept forgetting what had happened previously. But I very much enjoyed the book and would have happily have read more about the characters, especially Amy and Marian. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Mar 17, 2014 |
Poverty has many faces in this novel, but they are always grim. While not, with a few exceptions, suffering from the deadly poverty of the utterly destitute, the characters nonetheless experience the grinding and soul-destroying lack of enough money to pay for the necessities of life as they see it. Gissing captures the indignities and choices of poverty: the man who keeps his overcoat on because he has jacket to wear under it; the man who lacks a penny to buy a loaf of bread locally and has to walk farther to buy a cheaper one, or the man who carefully keeps one decent set of clothes to wear to work and an infinitely shabbier one to wear all the rest of the time. Clothes may not make the man, but they reveal his finances and how far he has fallen since well-made clothes take longer to become shabby than cheap ones.

Primarily this novel is about the literary world of 1880s London and, by extenseion, the conflict between art and commerce. The would-be novelist Edward Reardon (loosely based on Gissing himself according to the introduction to my Penguin edition) aims only for art, while the up-and-comer Jasper Milvain seeks to exploit the new gossippy world of periodicals to become literarily and financially successful. Contrasting with hem is Alfred Yule, an older man who had been a classical scholar and literary success in an earlier era and who has trained his adult daughter Marian to do his research and write for him. Rounding out the characters are Marian's cousin Amy, who marries Reardon because she'd like to have a famous novelist for a husband; Milvain's two sisters who he sets to writing children's books as they have no income after their mother dies; Marian's mother who came from a less educated background than her husband and is shunned by him; and several other aspiring and poverty-stricken writers. It is the interactions of all these characters, and their rising and falling fortunes, that form this complex and depressing novel.

The characters in this novel often behave in ways that, as with Jude the Obscure (which also involves a young man forced to abandon his dreams because of poverty) that made me want to slap them and tell them to shape up. Why is Reardon so stubbornly self-destructive in so many ways. Why is Yule so cruel and unfeeling to his wife and daughter? Why is Milvain so cold and calculating? I am not complaining about Gissing's characterizations; rather my reactions show how real the characters became for me. When the possibility of both Marian and Amy receiving bequests upon the death of an uncle becomes a reality, the characters show what they are really made of and the money clarifies what had been partially hidden.

In addition to presenting the literary scene and its conflicts (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose) and a vivid portrait of what poverty looks like, both for the utterly poor and for those who desire to remain "respectable" and "genteel" when their income cannot support it, Gissing provides a look at the role of women, the mechanics of publishing in the era, and the class distinctions among what we would now call the middle and lower classes. But overall what he creates in this novel is an overwhelming feeling of gloom, mirrored by the fog that so often envelops London.

As an additional note, the Penguin edition I read was enhanced by an insightful introduction that helped me understand the structure of the publishing world and Gissing's role in it.
10 vote rebeccanyc | Feb 5, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George Gissingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arata, StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bergonzi, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As the Milvains sat down to breakfast the clock of Wattleborough parish church struck eight; it was two miles away, but the strokes were borne very distinctly on the west wind this autumn morning.
... at one-and-twenty he [John Yule] obtained a clerk's place in the office of a London newspaper. Three years after, his father died, and the small patrimony which fell to him he used in making himself practically acquainted with the details of paper manufacture, his aim being to establish himself in partnership with an acquaintance who had started a small paper-mill in Hertfordshire. His speculation succeeded, and as years went of he became a thriving manufacturer.
All these people about her [in the British Museum Reading Room], what aim
had they save to make new books out of those already existing, that yet
newer books might be made out of theirs? This huge library, growing into
unwieldiness, threatening to become a trackless desert of print -- how
intolerably it weighed upon the spirit! ... A few days ago her startled eye
had caught an advertisement in the newspaper, headed "Literary Machine"; it
had then been invented at last, some automaton to supply the place of such
poor creatures as herself, to turn out books and articles? Alas! the machine
was only one for holding volumes conveniently, that the work of literary
manufacture might be physically lightened. But surely before long some
Edison would make the true automaton; the problem must be comparatively such
a simple one. Only to throw in a given number of old books, and have then
reduced, blended, modernised into a single one for today's consumptions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140430326, Paperback)

In "New Grub Street" George Gissing re-created a microcosm of London's literary society as he had experienced it. His novel is at once a major social document and a story that draws us irresistibly into the twilit world of Edwin Reardon, a struggling novelist, and his friends and acquaintances in Grub Street including Jasper Milvain, an ambitious journalist, and Alfred Yule, an embittered critic. Here Gissing brings to life the bitter battles (fought out in obscure garrets or in the Reading Room of the British Museum) between integrity and the dictates of the market place, the miseries of genteel poverty and the damage that failure and hardship do to human personality and relationships.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:47 -0400)

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The Victorian novel presents a picture of a society in which literature has become a commodity and its production a mechanical business.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140430326, 0141199938

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