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Gissing, George

Gissing, George (1857–1903). Novelist. Gissing made a career out of his own misery. Born in Wakefield, he seemed destined for brilliant academic honours, winning prize after prize at school and at Owen's College, Manchester. His progress ended abruptly at 18, when he was sent to gaol for a month for stealing from friends at college to support a prostitute, Nell Harrison, whom he subsequently married. She did not reform and died of alcoholism in 1888. Meanwhile Gissing had moved to London to scrape a living from authorship, achieving some success with Demos (1886), a fierce attack upon the demeaning effect of poverty. The same theme was pursued in New Grub Street (1891), the autobiographical element in his early work giving it a persistently lugubrious character. Gissing compounded his difficulties in 1891 by a second marriage to a working-class girl, who became a shrew and died in an asylum. His third (and bigamous) marriage in France was more successful, but Gissing complained that his mother-in-law starved him. His novels received some comment and considerable praise and he was compared with Zola, but they did not sell well. His later work showed greater variety of subject-matter and a more cheerful attitude in By the Ionian Sea (1901) and Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903). His finances were improving when he died of lung congestion at 46. The final twist of fate was when his novels began to attract much attention in the 1960s because of his interest in class relationships.

J. A. Cannon

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Gissing, George

George Gissing (gĬs´Ĭng), 1857–1903, English novelist. His promising future as a scholar was curtailed by his expulsion from Owens College (later the Univ. of Manchester) because of his association with a young prostitute whom he later married. Years of poverty and hard work followed. He visited America in 1876–77 and wrote several short stories for the Chicago Tribune. Gissing was the foremost English exponent of naturalism often focusing on social issues—poverty, the exploitation of women, the effects of industrialization. His personal bitterness at his years of unhappiness often surfaces in his novels. New Grub Street (1891), his best-known work, depicts the dilemma of the poverty-stricken artist in an alien world. Other works include Thyrza (1887), The Nether World (1889), Born in Exile (1892), and The Whirlpool (1897). In By the Ionian Sea (1901) and in the somewhat autobiographic Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), Gissing reveals his love of books and the past. His excellent critical study (1898) of Charles Dickens, whose works greatly influenced him, is still read.

See studies by F. Swinnerton (3d ed. 1966), and P. Coustillas and C. Partridge, ed. (1972); G. Tindall (1974).

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