In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Book Reviews Gissing Letters IV The Collected Letters of George Gissing: Volume Four. 1889-1891. Paul F. Mattheisen, Arthur C. Young, Pierre Coustillas, eds. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993. xxxii + 362 pp. $55.00 LONELINESS is the dominant theme of this volume. It opens with Gissing in Florence, "splendidly" housed and well fed for sums even he can afford. He thinks briefly of settling in Italy, reasoning that though he knows no one there, the same is virtually true in London. His wife has been dead for almost a year and in any case they had long been living apart. His school friend Morley Roberts is often out of the city, and Eduard Bertz, with whom he had enjoyed evenings of intellectual conversation, has returned to his native Germany. Gissing is not totally without acquaintances, of course: for instance, he seems to have enjoyed several bohemian evenings in 1889 with Roberts, W. H. Hudson, and Alfred Hartley, an artist. But for days on end there is only his charwoman to talk to. When he can afford it, he travels as an antidote to loneliness. Eight months after returning from Italy in March 1889, he goes to Greece, and comes home by way of Italy in February the next year. These two trips fulfill his old dream of seeing the classical sites, but the pleasure is marred: "Always the same trouble with me; my solitude spoils everything." That same solitude accounts for the detail of GiSsUIg1S letters, and for the diary (published by Professor Coustillas in 1978) from which some passages seem to derive. An intellectual, Gissing needs to formulate his impressions. His main correspondents are his sisters Margaret and Ellen, living with their mother in Wakefield; his brother Algernon, now earning a precarious livelihood writing fiction; and the faithful Bertz, another impecunious novelist. With them he can be candid about his enthusiasms and prejudices, confident of their sympathy. It is clear that Gissing's greatest delight in Italy and Greece lies in coming upon visible evidence of the ancient world and studying the 208 BOOK REVIEWS classics in the appropriate places: "At Rome one reads Horace; at Athens one reads Aristophanes." He also takes pride in speaking Italian—and thereby getting better prices than do most tourists. In Athens the difference between the pronunciation of modern and classical Greek precludes the same satisfaction, though he can understand much in the local papers. The negative side of his intense interest in classical Italy is his scant appreciation of Renaissance religious painting in Florence and Venice. Moreover, much in modern Italy and Greece appalls him. Extensive building in Rome threatens the city's picturesqueness, and the dust in Athens causes "great discomfort." Still, Gissing is alive to beauty everywhere, and describes scenery and sunsets in lyrical prose. In their judicious introduction to this volume, the editors call attention to the elitism of the travel letters. They quote Gissing's diatribe against English people he has noticed in Roman galleries—"What business have these gross animals in such places?"—and observe that other commentators, then and now, have deplored the boorishness of the average tourist. But what also deserves noticing is the continuity in Gissing's thought. He is not politically correct at home either. His outrage at the vulgarity of London crowds earns him a chapter in John Carey's important new book, The Intellectual and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia 1880-1939. Isolated by his relentless intellectuality, his poverty, and his uneasiness with respectable people like his former employers Mrs. Gaussen and the Frederic Harrisons, Gissing during these years settles for an emotionally stultifying routine he depicts in one letter. Mornings he attends to his correspondence, reads—often a classical text—and walks about the neighborhood. Then he has dinner in a "dirty little eatinghouse in Edgware Road," followed by a look at the newspaper and "reflection." In mid-afternoon he begins his seven or eight-hour writing stint, interrupting it around eight for a bit of bread and butter and cold tea. No wonder he feels obliged to get away every so often. In addition to the two trips to the Continent in 1889, there is...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 208-211
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Ceasing Publication
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.