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ELT 36 : 1 1993 Gissing's Lost Stories George Gissing: Lost Stories from America. Robert L. Selig, ed. Lewiston: Edwin Meilen Press, 1992. 185 pp. $59.95 GEORGE GISSING'S EARLY LIFE has fascinated generations of scholars, common readers, and novelists. Who would not be attracted to the story of a prize-winning college student in Manchester who saw his academic ambitions dashed when infatuation with a seventeen-year-old prostitute betrayed him into petty theft? We know almost nothing about his month in prison following his arrest in 1876, and only a little about his subsequent year in the United States, where he was sent to ride out the scandal and, it was hoped, forget the girl at the center of it. In the first half of this century, searches of Chicago newspapers turned up some fourteen short stories signed by Gissing or attributed to him by the editors of two volumes published in 1924 and 1931 and a Notes & Queries item in 1933. In 1980 Robert Selig discovered two more signed stories with the help of Pierre Coustillas, to whom he dedicates this volume. Since then Selig independently has found six more unsigned stories that he attributes to Gissing. In his introduction to a baker's dozen of these Chicago tales, most of them never before reprinted, Selig points out that the city Gissing knew in 1877 was economically depressed, in part the result of the great fire six years earlier. At first he had neither friends to rely on, nor useful introductions, and only scant funds. Discouraged by his recent failure to sell essays to Boston editors (he had placed one work of art criticism), in Chicago he pinned his hopes on the newspaper market for short fiction. This took courage, for though he had already written some sketches of Manchester life, he had almost everything to learn about creating plot, character, and dialogue. No one reading the tales reprinted here would claim that they are superior to most popular fiction of the day, but as Selig points out, Gissing's four months in Chicago constituted not only a valuable literary apprenticeship, but also taught him "the uses of adversity and also of a strong will." Those lessons would serve him well when he returned to England. There he continued to write fiction, eventually novels, and at times was almost as lonely and poor as he had been in America. But having reinvented himself as a writer, he never looked back during his struggles to surmount poverty, prudery, domestic unhappiness (he mar78 BOOK REVIEWS ried his prostitute sweetheart with disastrous consequences), and occasionally writer's block. Since Professor Selig wrote the Gissing volume in Twayne's English Authors Series in 1983, and lives in Chicago, he was obviously the right man in the right place to follow Gissing's paper trail in that city. In addition to making his own important discoveries of unsigned stories that in theme or style he feels confident are Gissing's, he rejects some of the attributions made by earlier editors. Having studied Chicago journalism in the nineteenth century, he is able to describe graphically two of the six newspaper offices to which Gissing delivered his work, and give details about three of the editors he dealt with, one of whom proved to be extraordinarily kind. Towards the end of his stay in Chicago, Gissing had a story accepted by Appleton's Journal in New York, and received $45 for it, more than twice what that most benevolent Chicago editor had paid him for a contribution. This prompted Gissing to try his fortunes in New York, but after disappointments there and elsewhere in the state he sailed for home. Selig divides his volume into two parts: the first reprints six stories signed or traced to Gissing (four never before reprinted); the second reprints seven that are unsigned but which Selig attributes to him on the basis of themes common to his other works, names that later recur, and stylistic mannerisms. It might be argued that by forgoing chronological arrangement of the stories, Selig makes it inconvenient to trace development in Gissing's work, but it seems clear that though the fiction is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 78-80
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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