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AN UNPUBLISHED SHORT STORY George Gissing's "My First Rehearsal" With an Introduction by Pierre Coustillas First Edition Transcribed from the original in the Yale University Library and published with the kind permission of Mr, Alfred C. Gissing and the Trustees of the Yale University Library "MY FIRST REHEARSAL" BY GEORGE GISSING: AN UNPUBLISHED SHORT STORY With an Introduction by Pierre Coustillas (University of Paris) On 7 February 1880, when his first novel, WORKERS IN THE DAWN, was still in search of a publisher, Gissing wrote to his brother Algernon: "In the meantime I write hard at small tales, of which I have several in the hands of Magazine editors. If none of these are taken, I shall be au desespoi r." "My First Rehearsal" can with certainty be counted as one of these tales, of which only "An Heiress on Condition" (Philadelphia: The Pennel1 Club, 1923) has ever been printed. The dating of "My First Rehearsal" is easily confirmed. For one thing, the handwriting shows the same characteristics as the letters of the period and the author's signature includes the middle "R" which was to be discarded in December, 1882. Besides, the manuscript bears Gissing's address at the time, i. e. 5 Hanover Street, IsI i ngton N. It will perhaps be easier to realize the position it occupies in Gissing's career if it is considered in the light of all his shorter fictional writings, published or unpublished, belonging to the late 1870's and early 1880's. They can conveniently be classified into three categories. The first includes such tales as "Brownie," "Cain and Abel," and the Dr. Vargrave trilogy; they are all rather clumsy attempts at creating a fantastic, gruesome atmosphere and display such extraordinary and melodramatic devices as fascination by woman or serpent and a fatal clock counting the hours a man still has to live. Poe's influence is admittedly felt in them, but not for the good. Into the second group fall the stories of social and autobiographical inspiration. They develop themes which are closely connected with events in Gissing's life in the year 1876—robbery, imprisonment and female prostitution. Among them are to be found "Joseph Yates' Temptation," "Twenty Pounds," and "The Warden's Daughter." They are probably the most important for the understanding of Gissing's mind after the Manchester episode, and their interpretation may to some extent compensate for the relative scarcity of letters and other personal documents relating to his stay in America. The third group consists of sentimental, mildly adventurous stories written in a much lighter vein. The absence of fantastic elements and social motive as well as the jocose, boyish style in "My First Rehearsal" clearly points to its resemblance to such tales as "An Heiress on Condition" and "An English CoastPicture ," which are youthful, romantic narratives. It might be tempting to see in the hero's position as a solicitor's clerk an allusion to Gissing's supposed stay in Liverpool, where, according to Thomas Seccombe's article in the DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, the novelist-to-be spent a short time after he was expelled from Owen's College. But on this as on various other points, Seccombe seems to have erred. At any rate I have been told by Gissing's son that the information is no more to be trusted than the alleged stay in a German university. So the only detail having any slight connection with his own life is the allusion to the Wakefield Mechanics' Institute, in whose support his father, incidentally, had been very active. The main interest of the narrative lies in the contrast it provides with his novels and mature short stories. Indeed, nothing in it either recalls the earnest tone and fervid social protest of VWRKERS IN THE DAWN or foreshadows the quiet, satirical vein of his novels of the middle 1890's. Yet the boyish sprightliness, the sometimes forced jocosity strike just the same note as, for instance, his letters to Arthur Bowes or some stories like "A Terrible Mistake" (1877) and "An Heiress on Condition" (written in 1880). It shows the same capacity for good-humoured self-detachment; there sounds in it...


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pp. 2-10
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Will Be Archived 2021
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