Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"All She Knew Was, That She Wished to Live": Late-Victorian Realism, Liberal-Feminist Ideals, and George Gissing's in the Year of the Jubilee

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"All She Knew Was, That She Wished to Live": Late-Victorian Realism, Liberal-Feminist Ideals, and George Gissing's in the Year of the Jubilee

Article excerpt

Toward the beginning of In the Year of the Jubilee, George Gissing's 1894 novel about a young, middle-class woman who struggles with her identity in a non-traditional marriage, the narrator draws for his readers a picture of the heroine, Nancy Lord. Through his external view of her, the narrator characterizes Nancy as happy and healthy, "a well-grown girl of three and twenty, with the complexion and the mould of form which indicate, whatever else, habitual nourishment on good and plenteous food" (12). From this view, Nancy seems content, but once the perspective shifts from that of the narrator to that of Nancy herself, a somewhat different picture emerges: "Nancy hated it," the narration reads. "She would have preferred to live even in a poor and grimy street which neighboured the main track of business and pleasure. Here she had spent as much of her life as she remembered,--from the end of her third year." Living in a middle-class world where there are few opportunities for single women other than marriage leaves Nancy feeling confused and frustrated about her future. Despite her education at a well-reputed day-school, she is subject to her father's ideals about roles for women, and, as he imposes his plan that she will be supported by him until she marries, Nancy realizes that this mode of living is unacceptable to her. While she is unsure about how to live her life as an independent woman, she does know one thing. "All she knew was, that she wished to live, and not merely to vegetate" (14).

Given this early focus on Nancy' s awareness of the conditions of her life and her attempt to assert agency in a world that does not value her independence, discussion of Gissing's representation of woman' s agency should be central to criticism about Jubilee. Yet the limited criticism about this novel more often focuses on Gissing's satire of middle-class life, and, when these articles do discuss Nancy's status as a woman, they usually characterize her as a female character who fails to assert agency in any significant manner. The sole exception to this general trend in Jubilee criticism is Constance Harsh's 1994 article, "Gissing's In the Year of the Jubilee and the Epistemology of Resistance," which reads the novel as a more sympathetic representation of woman's agency than most critics acknowledge. Correctly characterizing most criticism of Gissing's work as obsessively occupied with establishing a "stable authorial point of view" for Gissing through biographical criticism that identifies him with his male characters, Harsh argues that, in Jubilee, we see how the lack of narrative control most critics attribute to Gissing's strong identification with his male characters actually functions to create space for expression of agency by Nancy (854-55). Harsh identifies three ways in which Gissing makes Nancy the central character in the book, as central as her male partner Lionel Tarrant: he thematically associates Nancy with modernity through her attendance at the Jubilee celebration, which suggests that she is capable of feminist revolt; he builds her character through "free indirect discourse," which results in an "epistemology of resistance" on the part of Nancy; and he depicts Nancy as essentially female, aware of "woman's biological destiny," which becomes a way for her to resist Lionel Tarrant's masculinist perspective at the end of the novel.

Harsh does much to shift the attention of Jubilee criticism to a detailed discussion of Nancy' s agency, but her analysis of the novel does not address how Gissing's representation of Nancy in Jubilee fits into the wider range of representations of woman's agency seen across his larger body of work. While a discussion of all of Gissing's novels and the women in them is beyond the scope of this article, a more direct placement of Jubilee in relation to the development of Gissing's representations of women over the course of his career is possible-and necessary for an accurate measure of the degree of agency asserted by Nancy in Jubilee. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.