Victorians! discussion

New Grub Street
This topic is about New Grub Street
22 views
Archived Group Reads 2015 > New Grub Street Part 3 - Chapters XVI-XXII

Comments Showing 1-42 of 42 (42 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Pip (new) - added it

Pip | 817 comments For discussion of part three of the novel.


Helen_in_the_uk | 109 comments Oh what drama in part 3! I certainly didn't see the Reardon's change of circumstance coming. I know Edwin does at times seem a bit pathetic, but I really feel sorry for the situation he finds himself in.

I wondered how Amy would fair at her mother's as it seems there is not as much money available as it appeared. Then another shift of circumstances and I wonder how it will impact The Reardon's and Marion/Jasper. I'm loving the story so far :)


message 3: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1877 comments Mod
I kinda want to punch out Amy's brother and Marion's dad. They're awful in different ways, but both deserve a smack. Poor Mrs. Yule! And, poor Edwin, too! They are far too sensitive to deal with such bullying.


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I'm only part way through this section, but I'm getting very tired of Amy and Reardon. Whine, whine, whine all day long. After awhile it becomes enervating to read, and I want to just shake them and tell them to grow up, take hold of themselves, and get on with it.

Or, as Mrs. Chick told Fanny, they need to rouse themselves and make an effort. "This is a world of effort, you know."


Peter The motif of rejection carries on in this section. Biffen is rejected by his fiancée and Reardon is rejected by his wife. To what extent are these rejections based on their lack of potential, their lack of social position and the reasoned desires of their partners wanting someone who can create a life beyond what these struggling authors can offer? The novel, to me, and to this point, continues to raise very important questions in a manner much different from other Victorian novelists. As Reardon goes to sleep with the sounds of the workhouse bells in his ears, the future seems bleak.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Was interested to read, early in Chapter 13, that one theme of Alfred Yule's book was "that journalism is the destruction of prose style."

I wonder whether it was true at the time. For today, I think it depends a lot on the journal. The New Yorker, for example, is quite the opposite, as are, for instance, Harpers, Atlantic, and a number of other journals. But political journals do tend, in my experience, to destroy good prose style -- from the National Review on the right to The Nation and Mother Jones on the left, their writing tends to be intentionally inflammatory and often execrable.

But E.B. White's prose style for The New Yorker is still some of the best nonfiction writing ever done.


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Loved this from chapter 14: what on earth is "fine quality rubbish"?


'And what's the value of it all?' asked Maud.

'Probably from ten to twelve guineas, if I calculated.'

'I meant, what was the literary value of it?' said his sister, with a smile.

'Equal to that of the contents of a mouldy nut.'

'Pretty much what I thought.'

'Oh, but it answers the purpose,' urged Dora, 'and it does no one any harm.'

'Honest journey-work!' cried Jasper. 'There are few men in London capable of such a feat. Many a fellow could write more in quantity, but they couldn't command my market. It's rubbish, but rubbish of a very special kind, of fine quality.'


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Is it usual that women love men for their faults, not their virtues? From Chapter 14, Marian ruminating on her relationship with Milvain:

He was as far as possible from representing the lover of her imagination, but from the day of that long talk in the fields near Wattleborough the thought of him had supplanted dreams.... The first man who had approached her with display of feeling and energy and youthful self-confidence; handsome too, it seemed to her. Her womanhood went eagerly to meet him.

Since then she had made careful study of his faults. Each conversation had revealed to her new weakness and follies. With the result that her love had grown to a reality.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I think I finally had enough of Reardon with this:

"If he had lost Amy's love, and all through the mental impotence which would make it hard for him even to earn bread, why should he still live? Affection for his child had no weight with him; it was Amy's child rather than his, and he had more fear than pleasure in the prospect of Willie's growing to manhood. "

How can one have any respect for a man who cares nothing for his own child?


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments The quarrel in Chapter 15 between Amy and Reardon seems to me very well written, very realistic. It's exactly the way that intelligent married people who are still trying to love each other would quarrel. An excellent piece of writing.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I'm ambivalent about the way in which Gissing brings poverty into such a strong element of the Reardons life. On the one hand, the lives of the rich do seem much better to some of the poor than their own lives. They think that if they just had more money they would be fine. And when you can't afford the basic necessities of life -- food, clothing, shelter, books -- it's true that having some more money will improve your life.

But whether you are rich or whether you are poor, you are still the same person. If you are a happy person, you can be happy even in rags; if you are an unhappy person, you will be unhappy even if dressed in silks and furs. I wonder whether Amy would really be much happier if they had more money. She would think she was, but would she really be?


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I mean, look at Biffin. He's just as poor as Reardon, but he's happy (except for the loss of his fiancee), he has learned to appreciate what little he has and not yearn after what he doesn't have.

If Amy and Reardon could learn this from him, they would be a lot better off. But I think Gissing gives us this contrast on purpose to point out the different paths that people in poverty take.


Peter Everyman wrote: "I mean, look at Biffin. He's just as poor as Reardon, but he's happy (except for the loss of his fiancee), he has learned to appreciate what little he has and not yearn after what he doesn't have...."

I fully agree with you on this point. Reardon is beginning to wear on me. He is becoming more myopic to his surroundings and less engaging as a character. I wonder to what extent this was Gissing's planned intent?

Biffen is much more engaged with both his art and his life. He is both grounded in the reality of his life and in the pursuit of writing something of worth, meaning and lasting value. "Rubbish of a very special kind" would never tumble from his pen consciously.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Peter wrote: "..."

Nice to have you back. These threads have been too quiet. I don't know where everybody is, although I recognize that only two people voted for this. Still, it's a very worthwhile book to read and I wish more people were reading and discussing it.


message 15: by Pip (new) - added it

Pip | 817 comments Everyman wrote: "Peter wrote: "..."

Nice to have you back. These threads have been too quiet. I don't know where everybody is, although I recognize that only two people voted for this. Still, it's a very worthw..."


Well, I'm glad you brought this up. I was one of the two, and had long wanted to read it. However, I'm finding it awfully hard going and I can't really say why. I'm certainly not engaging with any of the characters, perhaps that's it. I'm still only in section two, and was considering chucking it in as I've got Little Dorrit on the go (loving) and The Bone Clocks winking at me cheekily from my bookshelf....

It's definitely worth persevering with, then? I find the subject matter fascinating, just the folk that deal in it wearing.


message 16: by Pip (new) - added it

Pip | 817 comments I should clarify that the "folk" I refer to are the characters in the book, not the fabulous members of this group, who are doing a sterling job of keeping the discussion going. Ooooooofff....


Peter Everyman/Pip

NGS is neither a fast or pleasant read, but I am plodding along. I have found the anecdotal information that has be provided and discussed to be very engaging and enlightening, dare I say more informative and enjoyable than the novel itself? Still, the book is worth the read for me because it has removed me from my "comfort zone" of Victorian novelists.

The last sections of the novel do pick up the pace somewhat, and a few surprises and twists await us, although Gissing has been continually telegraphing the final events throughout the earlier sections.

Pip. I hope you enjoy The Bone Clocks. I admit to bailing early on in the novel.


message 18: by Madge UK (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 140 comments Peter wrote: Biffen is much more engaged with both his art and his life. He is both grounded in the reality of his life and in the pursuit of writing something of worth...

I feel that Biffen is too much of an idealist to succeed and he might suffer a setback from which he cannot recover. Of the characters I think only the cynical Milvain has 'got what it takes' to succeed within the punishing 3-volume system they labour under.

Collin's ending of the novel has been criticised here as being too rushed and he has Rearden desperately calculating the minimum amount of text necessary to fill up a few “well spaced out” volumes, which is probably what he was doing himself. Biffen, on the other hand, is likely to suffer for putting his pursuit of writing something of worth before the publishers' requirements. Will his optimism survive possible rejection?


message 19: by Helen_in_the_uk (last edited Feb 06, 2015 12:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Helen_in_the_uk | 109 comments Pip wrote: "I'm certainly not engaging with any of the characters, perhaps that's it. I'm still only in section two, and was considering chucking it in as I've got Little Dorrit on the go (loving) and..."

Pip, I'm in exactly the opposite position - currently enjoying NGS and struggling with Little Dorrit, but persevering because it is a group read!

Biffin is a much more positive person in general, but he was yearning for a comforting wife figure when he was taking tea at the Reardon's a few chapters back. Optimists/realists life Milvain and Biffin will always make the best of situations, but I like the contrast with Amy who is fed up with trying and Edwin who is a pessimist and will probably always be miserable.

I feel that this novel has made a good attempt at describing Edwin's decent into depression. The one flicker of 'light' was the job offer and Amy was swift to quash Edwin's hopes of a way out. I feel for him.


Helen_in_the_uk | 109 comments Everyman wrote: "Affection for his child had no weight with him; it was Amy's child rather than his, and he had more fear than pleasure in the prospect of Willie's growing to manhood..."

I didn't take this passage as meaning Edwin had no feeling for his child. I thought that Amy had taken sole possession of the child and it's welfare and therefore made him 'feel' as if it wasn't his child. I can understand his fears about bringing a child up in an uncertain world, especially in his struggling financial situation. After Amy leaves and Edwin talks to her brother he is quick to make as full a financial contribution to her and Willie's upkeep as he can.


message 21: by Dee (last edited Feb 06, 2015 03:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dee | 129 comments Everyman wrote: "I wonder whether Amy would really be much happier if they had more money. She would think she was, but would she really be?"

Shallow pleasures are enough to satisfy shallow minds.

Dorothea, in Middlemarch, much like Amy also marries an "intellectual" of sorts only to be disappointed when he doesn't live up to her hopes and ambitions. But where Dorothea has a profound respect for scholarship, human endeavor and bettering humanity's lot in general, Amy doesn't care if Reardon's novels are brilliant unless they bring in money and society's recognition.


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Pip wrote: "It's definitely worth persevering with, then? I find the subject matter fascinating, just the folk that deal in it wearing. "

That's about it. The look (fictional, yes, but also I think factually representative) into the creation of many of the Victorian novels we love is indeed fascinating. But the characters. If you're only in Section 2, you still have some slogging to go until things start getting more interesting later in section 3. I'm hanging in there, but barely. (But it's a nice antidote to Ulysses, which is excellent but requires serious mental effort. NGS requires little or none.)


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Dominika wrote: "Dorothea, in Middlemarch, much like Amy also marries an "intellectual" of sorts only to be disappointed when he doesn't live up to her hopes and ambitions....."

Nice contrast. Though I had to say that Dorothea married a man with money, so while she had the profound disappointment of his intellect, she had the comfort of wealth to fall back on (and the presence of a more appealing young man who was more of an intellectual). She also had intelligence in her own right.

I like your comment that shallow pleasures are enough to satisfy shallow minds. It really does fit Amy.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Gissing drops in these little gems from time to time, such as at the start of Chapter 16 where, referring to critics, he comments on "these remarks, which, however inept, define an author and his work to so many people incapable of judging for themselves." Zing! But true even today for too many readers (though of course none here!)


message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Gissing tells us that Reardon and Amy are not churchgoers, which may have been unusual at the time. And perhaps was an element of their problem; according to the very liberal Huffington Post, research has shown that those who attend religious services regularly are happier than those who don't, have higher levels of wellbeing than non-religious people, and that thinking about religion (this in a Canadian university study) has been linked with practicing greater self-control in a non-religious task.

Not to say, of course, that if they had been regular churchgoers they wouldn't have had the same problems, but they might have dealt with them differently. I wonder whether Gissing inserted this comment because he had some insight into the link between religious belief and wellbeing. It seems more than just an aside, since he has a practice of opening his chapters with quite relevant points.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Love that Gissing (Reardon, of course, but also Gissing himself?) believes that "the indispensable companions of a bookish man who still clings to life [are] his Homer, his Shakespeare." There are lots of others, of course, that I would cling to, but those two are great starters.

Homer, of course, has come up before; Reardon apparently had at least two editions (one of which he sold, but the second of which he retained and refuses to sell). Will we see Homer again before the book ends?


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments One thing that strikes me is that Amy and Reardon both seem to know themselves fairly well. Amy is quite clear that she can't live with a man who isn't both successful and at least comfortably off. Reardon, in his reflections in Chapter 17, also shows that he knows himself; he knows that the proposed three month "vacation" won't do any good, that if he is to survive financially the acceptance of the clerkship, however humiliating it may be to Amy, is a lifeline to his survival.

They both have fairly acute self-knowledge, but neither really understands the other and their needs. Amy doesn't understand why Reardon won't go with her program, and Reardon doesn't understand why she doesn't love him enough to accept and support what his life has to become, at least for the time being.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments The opening of Chapter 18, describing Mrs. Edmund Yule, shows clearly that in her case, the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Amy is made very much in her mother's mold.


message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I find John Yule a breath of fresh air -- none of this gloom and doom of the other characters, but just a delightfully cynical self-centeredness whose main concern is whether bringing Amy and her child into the house is going to diminish his comfort or reduce the amount of money he can get his mother to spend on him.

"John's natural procedure, when beset by difficulties, was to find fault with everyone all round, himself maintaining a position of irresponsibility.
'It's all very well, mother, but when a girl gets married she takes her husband, I have always understood, for better or worse, just as a man takes his wife. To tell the truth, it seems to me Amy has put herself in the wrong. It's deuced unpleasant to go and live in back streets, and to go without dinner now and then, but girls mustn't marry if they're afraid to face these things.'"

Ah, such sympathy for a beloved sister! [g]


Peter Everyman wrote: "I find John Yule a breath of fresh air -- none of this gloom and doom of the other characters, but just a delightfully cynical self-centeredness whose main concern is whether bringing Amy and her c..."

Everyman wrote: "One thing that strikes me is that Amy and Reardon both seem to know themselves fairly well. Amy is quite clear that she can't live with a man who isn't both successful and at least comfortably off...."

You have offered many great comments and insights above, but the one that interested me most me was the comment about Reardon and Amy knowing themselves very well. As you note, Reardon prizes both his Homer and his Shakespeare. Lear's lament of "Who is it that can tell me who I am" certainly works here. While Lear does not know who he is, both Amy and Reardon seem to know too well who they are, what they want, and how even (perhaps in the future?) to best achieve their goals. My bet is that Homer, in some form, presence or event, will appear again.

Gissing is quite good at cynicism, is he not? While John Yule clearly presents himself to the reader as a cynic, I also enjoy the rather frequent covert cynicism that appears in the novel on subtle feet, but treads heavily in meaning.


message 31: by Madge UK (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 140 comments Gissing himself prized his Homer, Shakespeare and other classics, so much so that even in the depths of his poverty he did not sell or pawn them. In portraying Reardon I think he writes from the heart about poverty and the difficulties of being a writer.


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Gissing himself prized his Homer, Shakespeare and other classics, ..."

I think almost any author of that era would have prized these works. There is a reason they are called classics.


message 33: by Madge UK (last edited Feb 07, 2015 10:31AM) (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 140 comments Indeed. Or any author of any era. But some might have pawned or sold them if pressed for cash. Would you sell/pawn yours if you were on your uppers Everyman? If your wife and children were starving maybe?


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Indeed. Or any author of any era. But some might have pawned or sold them if pressed for cash. Would you sell/pawn yours if you were on your uppers Everyman? If your wife and children were starving..."

Hmmm. Which would I sell first -- my books or my children? Hmmm. That's a tough one.


message 35: by Dee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dee | 129 comments This reminds me of a nice quote:

“My cousin Helen, who is in her 90s now, was in the Warsaw ghetto
during World War II. She and a bunch of the girls in the ghetto had to
do sewing each day. And if you were found with a book, it was an
automatic death penalty. She had gotten hold of a copy of ‘Gone With
the Wind’, and she would take three or four hours out of her sleeping
time each night to read. And then, during the hour or so when they
were sewing the next day, she would tell them all the story. These
girls were risking certain death for a story. And when she told me
that story herself, it actually made what I do feel more important.
Because giving people stories is not a luxury. It’s actually one of
the things that you live and die for.” — Neil Gaiman

Some things you just can't give up, not because they're nice vanities to keep and entertain you, but because they keep you going.


message 36: by Rut (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rut | 55 comments Love the book so far! Honestly. I am reading Ethan Frome too, at the beginning I was sure it would be hard to pick up NGS in the morning to put it inside my bag instead of Ethan Frome, but it has been entirely the opposite at times...No misunderstanding, I am totally hooked on Edith Wharton's story, I am just saying that NGS has got me as well!
Jasper M. is an intriguing character, not really a good son, brother, friend or man but not entirely bad either...I am really interested in what will happen to all these characters. The only sad part is: I'm awfully behind!


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments So, Marian and Amy are legatees. I wonder whether Marian's legacy is enough to entice Jasper to propose.


Peter Dominika wrote: "This reminds me of a nice quote:

“My cousin Helen, who is in her 90s now, was in the Warsaw ghetto
during World War II. She and a bunch of the girls in the ghetto had to
do sewing each day. And i..."


Your comment about how books "keep you going" and the story of the reading in the Warsaw ghetto recalled to my mind an anecdote of the connection and power of reading. In Cuba, back in the 1830's or thereabouts, the cigar rollers suffered from long hours of tedious and boring work. Someone hit on the idea of reading to these workers to lessen their drudgery, and one of the books read to them was Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Christo. The workers loved the book so much they asked for and received permission from Dumas to name a cigar after his novel and so the world famous Montechristo cigar was born.


message 39: by Madge UK (new)

Madge UK (madgeuk) | 140 comments What great stories Dominika and Peter!


Bharathi (bharathi14) | 158 comments I agree Madge. Both Peter's and Dominika's stories were great. I am also listening to this book. I find that since I cannot run over sentences or skip pages while it is plodding, I actually understand the story better. I am liking the novel better now from the 17th chapter. Reardon is definitely my favorite character. He has understood Amy better and has stood up to her. Somehow throughout the book I sympathized with him and now that he is more sensible the book is more enjoyable.


message 41: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments I was a bit surprised at how quickly the vultures gathered around Marian. Not that they did, that's not surprising, but that they did it so immediately and so obviously, even before she had received any money.


message 42: by Renee, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Renee M | 1877 comments Mod
Thank you, Dominika and Peter, for those inspiring stories. A little reminder of the power of storytelling was certainly welcome!

I've finally made it to the end of this section, but it has been hard going. I appreciate that others have shared their struggles with this novel. I feel so much less challenged! :)


back to top