Dara Salley's Reviews > New Grub Street

New Grub Street by George Gissing
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Aug 03, 11

Read from July 25 to August 03, 2011

Nineteenth century novels tend to be the sort of thing that you either like or you don’t. If you, like me, enjoy novels from this time period, you will probably like this one. This novel is about an issue that many authors of that time were coming to terms with, which was the increasing commercialization of literature. Due to newspapers, global commerce and popular serialization authors could reach a wider audience than ever before in human history. This new reach, however, came with an increased pressure to be marketable and popular.

George Gissing confronts this dilemma in narrative form in New Grub Street. The main protagonist, Jasper Milvain , celebrates the commercialization of literature to a humorously extreme degree. He approaches his nascent literary career with very little sentimental feeling. He sees writing as a skill to be learned, where you learn certain tropes and then apply them in different variations, to mass acclaim and monetary rewards. Then there is Reardon, Jasper Milvain’s unfortunate, romantic counterpart. Reardon embodies the ideal of standing by your artistic principals, even if you go down in flames. Much of my interest in this novel was curiosity as to which worldview would be validated at the end of the novel.

An interesting aspect of this novel is its disparagement of writing as a career. Throughout the course of the novel literature is something that ruins lives, breaks bodies and spirits and leads to moral decay. I’m not familiar with George Gissing, or his point of view, but it seemed to me that he was expressing his disgust with the literary establishment of the time in no uncertain terms.

The characters in this novel were wonderful. None of them could be set up as a role model and they all had copious faults. They suffer through many of the financial, intellectual, moral and personal struggles that many do when trying to establish themselves in life, especially in a creative career. The novel was very prescient of the society we live in today, where the lines between high art, tasteless crap and commerce are more blurred than ever. It is a reminder of the uneasy relationship between art and money that has always existed, and the havoc it can wreak upon the artists who try to navigate it.
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07/25/2011 page 23
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