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The Nether World

(The Nether World)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  794 ratings  ·  65 reviews
The Nether World (1889), generally regarded as the finest of Gissing's early novels, is a highly dramatic, sometimes violent tale of man's caustic vision shaped by the bitter personal experience of poverty. This tale of intrigue depicts life among the artisans, factory-girls, and slum-dwellers, documenting an inescapable world devoid of sentimentality and steeped with peop ...more
Paperback, Oxford World's Classics, 404 pages
Published February 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press (first published 1889)
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Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Nether World is another great book by George Gissing, the unsung hero of the Victorian age. His New Grub Street exposes the writing world and its horrors and The Nether World examines the world of the poor. Poverty, then and now is thought of as the responsibility of the poor. As if you could somehow get a better job or if only you worked harder or kept to a straight path with no deviations you could pull yourself out of it. There was virtually no upward mobility then or now, but people born ...more
Katie Lumsden
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-stars
A brilliant, brilliant read - one of the best and most-underrated Victorian novels. Although a bleak story, it examines the lives of the urban poor in 1870s London so brilliantly and paints such real portraits its characters that I can't help but adore this book.
robin friedman
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Nether World

In his novel "The Nether World", George Gissing offers an unsentimental, grim, and uncompromising portrayal of life in the London slums in the last third of the nineteenth century. Gissing (1853 -- 1903) was a late Victorian English novelist who deserves to be better known. As a promising young student, Gissing fell in love with and stole to support a prostitute, Helen Harrison ("Nell").After a prison term and a subsequent stay in the United States, Gissing returned to England an
May 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant novel and George Gissing deserves more credit. He should be as famous as Dickens or Eliot. As the title suggests it is about the working class, set in Clerkenwell which was, in the Victorian era,one of the most deprived areas of London. Gissing came from a middle-class background and this shows, but his life was a difficult one and he experienced poverty at first hand. There are many characters, all strongly drawn and if some tend to be a little grotesque, this reflects the h ...more
Nov 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This evocation of the poorest people in the poorest parts of Victorian London does of course bring Dickens to mind. Yet this has none of young Charles’s sentimentality – we have little hope and no happy ending forced upon the characters. This probably comes from the differing biographies of the authors: Dickens was poor as a child but spent nearly all of his adulthood in affluent circumstances, while Gissing was constantly hard-up. This is reflected in the texture of the book, with the author vi ...more
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: london
I had read other reviews of this before I started it, and so had been warned that it was bleak, but I hadn’t anticipated quite how bleak it would leave me feeling.

The poor are depicted in the main as being hopeless, greedy, criminal, lazy, and profligate. Completely lacking in any moral fibre, they breed excessively and squander their resources on booze, puddings, and worthless entertainments.

In a society without the safety nets of a health service or state benefits system, the odds are stacked
Antoine Vanner
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've known of George Gissing's novels by reputation for many years but I was always put off reading them by the impression that they were depressing to the ultimate degree. I finally bit the bullet and read "The Nether World" recently and found that I could hardly put it down - I finished it in half-a-dozen sittings. Yes - the story is depressing, but it has such energy about it that carries the reader with it. Gissing has the gift of making one really care about the characters and hoping that a ...more
Ricardo Jasso Moedano
Jul 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mentors
splendour in squalor

It is fortunate indeed that Gissing, while exploring the seediest region of the capital of the British Empire at the close of the 19th century, and relating the loathsome conditions of its denizens, neither lost himself in maudlin meanderings as Dickens was wont to, nor did he, like Hardy, ordain every possible, however improbable, reason for distress to befall a single character. Gissing doles out calamities widely, plus, rather than resorting to prolix ramblings to point o
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As other reviewers have written, this is a fascinating sociological document of working class Victorian London. I decided to read this book because of Fredric Jameson's discussion of it in his Political Unconscious. Biographical details matter: Gissing floated between nether- and upper worlds - and his relationship to the working classes was deeply ambivalent.

I think it is an interesting move that we never meet any characters from the upper world: these are only shadows. There are only various n
This is my very favorite Victorian novel and would definitely be in my top 3 of all time favorite books ever.

It is far more brutal, depressing, violent, miserable than anything Dickens wrote. The women characters break your heart, and the sense of hopelessness and despair never gives you a second respite. People starve, there is domestic violence, children die, people live in hovels that have more dust and dirt than furniture or bedding.

Thoroughly depressing and grim, but that is precisely why I
Max Fincher
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although some readers may find Gissing's pessimism and lack of humour a turn off, his knowledge of what was the reality of the working poor of London, and Clerkenwell in particular, in the 1880s and 1890s is probably second only to Dickens. At times, it feels as if the shadow of Dickens lurks over Gissing - there are several influences at work, and obvious debts - but undoubtedly, 'The Nether World', like the French realist novelists (e.g. Zola) with whom Gissing was contemporary, shows us an un ...more
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once again, Gissing astonishes me. Why isn't he more well-known? His writing is superb and his subject matter, the effects of poverty and social oppression, are presented from first-hand knowledge. The grueling hardships of Victorian London's working poor test their character, for better or worse, yes, but it's the unrelenting struggle to obtain enough food and coal for themselves and their children that wears down even the hardiest of souls because ultimately, there is no hope for a better life ...more
Nov 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That's really four and a half stars. This is very good, the psychology of the characters complex, the sustained critique of the effects of poverty very cogent. And you've got to love that one of the characters, whose name is "Penelope" but pronounced as three syllables, is called by everyone "Pennyloaf". I smiled every time I read her name despite her (slightly more than averagely) pathetic circumstances.
Stephen Goldenberg
A fascinating story of late Victorian poverty in London . Like so many Victorian novels, it revolves around a will and issues of inheritance. The two central characters are a bit too good to be true and the villains are in the end not quite villainous enough which makes Gissing somewhat of acut price Dickens. Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable novel.
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"... they stood by the side of those more hapless; brought some comfort to hearts less courageous than their own. Where they abode it was not all dark. Sorrow certainly awaited them, perchance defeat in even the humble aims that they had set themselves; but at least their lives would remain a protest against those brute forces of society which fill with wreck the abysses of the Nether World."

At no point in this novel —beginning with its somber first pages of an elderly traveler; shuffling throug
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
George Gissing is an author chronicling Victorian England and, specifically, how the poor lived and coped with their "nether world."
It is often said Gissing does not have a plot, but I disagree. I thought The Nether World was well plotted and the people well described. The entire thrust of the novel, unlike those of Dickens, is that once poor, always poor. Opportunities may present themselves, but success is elusive and sometimes impossible.
Gissing was trying to call attention to the plight
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
When I downloaded this to my e-reader for $2.00 I did not realize that this was the author of New Grub Street which I probably enjoyed more because it dealt with the literary world and was probably a little more autobiographical. However, I am always drawn toward stories of Dickensian slum life. Although Gissing is not as good at creating memorable characters as Dickens, there are no eternally sunny upper-middle-class types to distract me from the interesting parts of the story (ie. the prisons, ...more
Bob Schnell
Although similar to the bleaker books of Charles Dickens, George Gissing's "Nether World"goes a bit darker and adds some editorial comments along the way.

The action starts with the arrival of a mysterious stranger looking for someone by the name of Snowden. As he searches the London slums, we are introduced to several families and figures of the poor neighborhood. The book relates the entwined paths of these people, like a Victorian soap opera, with plenty of drama. There are twists and turns t
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fic-19th-century
This book was a great look at the struggle to survive and make a life in the poor districts of mid-18th century London and a glimpse at the numerous types of people to fill the houses of the poor, as well as being a commentary on the poor quality of living they could never expect to escape from. The Nether World broke my heart, but it was still an excellent book.
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
3.5 stars. In George Gissing I have discovered the cure for Dickens' cartoonish, overly sentimental pap. Here are gritty, honest, realistic depictions of the slums of London. Here are truly empathetic characters who aren't pathetic or patronizing. Here are moments of humor and heartache that never resort to cheap melodrama. Fran Lebowitz once called John O'Hara "the real Fitzgerald." After reading The Nether World, I'd have to borrow that turn-of-phrase and call George Gissing the real Dickens. ...more
Jul 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: residents of London
I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, though if you love dickens, or the literature of the industrial revolution or victorian age, absolutely you should read it, as it stands up both as a historical document and (pretty much -- in its own way) as a novel... but it was a revelation to me, because it's a pretty factual (fictional) account of life in the 1870s in exactly the area of London where I work every day -- it names the streets, it accurately (I'm told by the introduction) describes h ...more
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2011
Okaaaay.... Well, that was cheery. I've read New Grub Street and The Odd Women and they weren't exactly a laugh a minute, but here George Gissing really sets new records in 'literature to slit your wrists to'.

Don't get me wrong - I really like his books (the three I've read) and this really was a fascinating and (too) realistic portrayal of working class life in Clarkenwell in the late 19th Century. And there was a little added interest for me, in that I work near Clarkenwell.'s just th
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. If you desire to read about London during this time period and can't handle Dickens, this is a good alternative. It's a very realistic story and the author doesn't insult the audience with the need to supply a nice, tidy ending. From what I gather, it's a realistic depiction of what life was like before the dole and welfare state.
Jesse Barnes
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of fun. I really like Gissing; one of my favorites is "New Grub Street". This one seemed a bit more raw, but it was interesting to see how harsh Gissing was on what must have peers (at least in childhood). Overall a good exploration of poverty during the Industrial Revolution.
Diana Woolley
Mar 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read about the downtrodden in England. Does a good job of showing what living in poverty was like back in this era. Shows how your choices effect your future. Good character development. I enjoyed it and would recommend it if you don't mind a long read.
K Krause
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Realism at its scary best from across the pond.
Trevor Kenning
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not quite up to the level of New Grub Street or In the Year of Jubilee but a powerful depiction of late Victorian poverty. Relentless.
OK, let me start by saying that the entire time I was reading this book I was reminded of Dickens. It was his London. The Victorian London, but the poor London. However, Dickens gives me moments of laughter, lots of them, and happy endings for at least some of the characters ( the good characters anyway). But not Gissing, no one laughed during entire book including me, and there were no happy endings for anybody. Dickens seemed to use his novels of the poor, for any who were suffering, for socia ...more
Derek L.
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a really awesome introduction to George Gissing. His story of life among London slum-dwellers had me turning the page in anticipation of what was about to happen next. I enjoyed Jane's character the most, and hated Clem the most. There were points scattered throughout this book where the phrase, "Calm your ta-tas, Clem" kept haunting me. In other words, Clem is probably the best Victorian lit "villian" I have ever met and enjoyed hating her character.

I know this is a rather short review
Kevin Varney
I have now read The Nether World, New Grub Street and The Odd Women by George Gissing. Overall, I think The Nether World was the best of the three. Sometimes I find Gissing's writing a bit clunky, particularly when the author steps forward to explain things for his readers. It was quite odd that he felt the need to explain behaviour of his characters, as if they were bushmen from the Kalahari, not working class people from his own capital city. Gissing is superb at bringing his characters to lif ...more
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George Robert Gissing was an English novelist who published 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.

Other books in the series

The Nether World (4 books)
  • The Nether World #1
  • The Nether World #2
  • The Nether World #3

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“Poverty makes a crime of every indulgence.” 16 likes
“She had dreamed her dream, and on awaking must be content to take up the day's duties. Just in the same way, when she was a child at Mrs. Peckover's, did not sleep often bring a vision of happiness, of freedom from bitter tasks, and had she not to wake in the miserable mornings, trembling lest she had lain too long? Her condition was greatly better than then, so much better that it seemed wicked folly to lament because one joy was not granted her.—” 2 likes
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