Hol's Reviews > New Grub Street

New Grub Street by George Gissing
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May 04, 08

Read in May, 2008

Gissing’s critique of book publishing is pretty savage and still, I think, on target, though the details have changed. The writers in this book worked before the royalty system, so they basically do ill-paid literary piecework, and they find the standard three-volume system for novels a particular burden. (One character advises another that dialogue is a good way to fill pages, which I thought of whenever a conversation in this book went on too long.) Gissing has tremendous empathy. Although all the characters are flawed, none are altogether unsympathetic, and his women are especially complex. He is not much of a stylist--he uses little description or humor or figurative language--but this spareness felt modern to me, as did his economic analysis. I was struck by how the plight of the characters is not just individual but the plight of a certain segment of society at the time. This was also true in the other Gissing novel I read, The Odd Women, about single working women. I can’t think of another writer who so convincingly depicts the corrosive effects of poverty on human relationships or the coin-obsession that goes with insolvency. I thought of an Oscar Wilde quote that appears in Art and Fear: “When bankers get together they talk about Art; when artists get together they talk about money.”
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