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Three Stories by George Gissing: Lost Tales from Chicago ROBERT L. SELIG Purdue University Calumet THE SEAKCH FOR LOST FICTION from Gissing's youthful exile in the United States has lasted now two thirds of a century—a work of intermittent bibliographic excavation. He himself planted a clue about his forgotten American pieces in a passage of almost straight autobiography from New Grub Street's chapter 28 (1891): Whelpdale's account of publishing short stories in Chicago's leading newspaper. The first exploration of this hinted-at quarry appeared with the publication by a group of American scholars of Sins of the Fathers and Other Tales (1924) and Brownie (1931)—volumes containing four proven stories by Gissing and seven attributed to him on the basis of thematic evidence. Shortly afterwards, scholars learned of three more stories from America certainly by Gissing,1 and there matters rested for nearly half a century until Pierre Coustillas and I found two more Gissing stories in the Alliance—an obscure Chicago weekly—signed with his early pen name, G. R. Gresham.2 For the past few years, I have continued this search and have discovered two more unsigned pieces from Chicago most probably by Gissing—from the Daily News and the Post.3 Now I wish to claim as his three more unsigned stories from the Daily News, all on the subject of painting and all with strong resemblances to known works by him. "The Portrait" (Chicago Daily News, 18 June 1877) stands as the first of the three anonymous News stories on the Gissing-like theme of painting. Gissing himself had a gift for drawing, and his very first publication was an art review for Boston's Commonwealth.* Throughout his career he filled his fiction with many painter-characters. In view of this throng of fictional Gissing artists, three consecutive Daily News stories about the theme of painting would hardly seem surprising from him.5 "The Portrait" shares a distinctive plot device with a proven Gissing story, "Gretchen" (Chicago Tribune, 12 May 1877): an aesthete 's discovery of his ideal woman after first having glimpsed just 277 ELT: Volume 33:3, 1990 her painted likeness. In the News variation, the portrait shows the heroine as a seven-year-old child with a sweet "dream-face," but when he discovers the model herself, she has become a beautiful and fullgrown woman. In "Gretchen" the hero rhapsodizes in a quite similar way over the sweetness of the unknown heroine's portrait: "All that is sweetest in womanly beauty, all that is tenderest in womanly love, all the holiness of innocence, and the pathos of humility shone in that perfect face. . . ."6 Both stories idealize their painted and actual heroines—a tendency persisting in Gissing's fiction until at least 1890. In addition, a scene in "The Portrait" provides a very striking analogue to one from The Unclassed (1884), Gissing's second novel: the passage where Ida Starr asks Osmond Waymark to guard her from sexual harassment from a cad in the street.7 In the News story Annie Bartlet asks Robert Southey's "protection" from a skulking man who "has followed" her down the street. Both bystanders save their damsels in distress by walking arm-in-arm with them to scare away the attacker. And each hero ultimately marries the woman whom he has protected from sexual harm. One other plot device occurring in "The Portrait" seems extremely Gissing-like: at the very moment when the hero happens to meet the painting's lovely model, her mother happens to find a long-lost will. Throughout his entire career, Gissing kept returning to this well-worn convention of sudden inheritances and handouts from the dead. Legacies and wills play a central role in ten of his twenty-two novels and each of his first four. And only five Gissing novels completely avoid all complications of inheritance. Thus "The Portrait" juxtaposes within a very short span a number of Gissing-like characteristics along with his frequent theme of painting and idealization. The second anonymous story dealing with paintings—"The Mysterious Portrait" (Chicago Daily News, 6 July 1877)—has a heroine called Helen, a name closely linked with...


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pp. 277-282
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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