Gissing

Gissing

Gissing

Gissing

Excerpt

'WHO are the men that do things?' cries Captain Shotover in Bernard Shaw Heartbreak House , and answers his own question: 'The husbands of the shrew and of the drunkard, the men with the thorn in the flesh.'

No thought of George Gissing is at all likely to have been in Shaw's mind when he made that generalization, yet it is exactly applicable to Gissing. He was the husband of a drunkard and, twice, of a shrew, and the thorn of poverty was his almost lifelong torment. But though the story of Gissing's life lends itself to use as a cautionary tale with an adjustable moral, those who have wished it other than it was have been moved by considerations unrelated to literature. Since his death in 1903 he has been the object of commiseration and condemnation alike: moralists attribute his miseries to his own faults and follies; others ascribe them to injustices of the social system.

Students of literature, however, grow accustomed to the necessity of accepting each and every author as the creature he is--saint or sinner or whatever grade of human character between those extremes. If we proceed to ethical judgement, we must conclude that, for example, Byron and Shelley were scoundrels, and be horrified because Sir Thomas Malory--purveyor of the Arthurian stories which have occasioned high spiritual aspirations in many during the past five centuries--was guilty of murder, rape, sacrilege, and repeated robbery with violence. Appreciation of an author's writings does not usually depend upon familiarity with his personal life-story, yet no writer is able to make a complete separation between his creative impulses and his individual experience of living: there is inevitable, if not obtruded, interaction. With George Gissing there was more than interaction, there was the closest interweaving. While there is certainly no need for morbid dwelling upon . . .

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