Johns Hopkins University Press

Naturalism is an under-acknowledged posthumanism, and George Gissing's New Grub Street helps to reveal its ontologically and formally intricate aesthetics. Posthumanism challenges conventional humanism in insisting on the self as materially embodied, situated, and impinged: the self is not transcendent or etherealized, as in Cartesian philosophy. Gissing's Darwinian fiction often, interestingly, implies the premise of human non-specialness through stories of love and marriage. This essay claims that New Grub Street—with all its attention to writing, the print marketplace, and consumer appeal—metafictionally suggests the popular love story of the marriage plot as a particularly delusive product in that it encourages the false notion of human species distinction. New Grub Street's characters absorb this plot as a pattern for their own lives, which then fools them into thinking that a mere emotion, love, has a grand power to shape their futures, whatever their material circumstances. In other words, Gissing represents the feeling of love as a rhapsodic exaggeration of interiority and of interiority's supposed freedom from embodied conditions. But New Grub Street does not simply satirize its characters' ontological mistake. Rather, it demonstrates naturalism's complicated formal tendency to oscillate between two scales: the macroscale—deep, long species history—and, every bit as important, the microscale, or characters' small, daily, felt sense of their lives. Naturalism holds both versions of reality as equally valid; it is a fundamentally dual, dynamic form of realism, whose aesthetics, moreover, also works dynamically with readers themselves, implicating them, too, in a perplexed account of human being.

Posthumanism revolves around our situatedness in the world and the question of how much its materiality defines us. By contrast, humanism, in its classic liberalist formulation, frames us as separate, rational, autonomous agents: we act on the world; we are not of it. Descartes' mind-body distinction—Cartesian dualism—is one of the main propositions that posthumanism revises (though not always straightforwardly).1 Whereas in humanism, mind exalts the human as subject over an object world, including our created tools and technologies, and over other living beings, a monistic—rather than dualistic—vision reminds us that our being, too, is materially embodied. Our subjectivity is not unitary and lordly but instead [End Page 69] fragilely continuous with that object world. We think we are our own cause, but in fact we are always being caused.

Recent critics have productively defied a view of nineteenth-century culture as simply humanist. The Victorians felt kinship and likeness with, not just alienation from, machines, as Tamara Ketabgian reveals; John MacNeill Miller observes in the novel's social consciousness a keen sense of ecological collectivity. But no Victorian fictional development more directly captures the posthuman vision than late-century naturalism. Drawing extensively on Darwinism and ideas of heredity, this genre's main advocates—Émile Zola and, in Britain, authors such as George Gissing and Thomas Hardy—accentuate bodily need and destitution, levelling humans with animals in survivalist struggle, robbing us of our specialness.2 Naturalism's keynote is materialist determinism—that lack of personal causation. Plots enfold humans in biology and in economic structures, so much so that characters' lives are not their own. Striving to assert will, they are nonetheless dominated by circumstances, defeated again and again by the imbricating world.

Gissing's New Grub Street (1891) suggests humanity's materialism in a twofold way, at once leaning on evolutionary principles and translating them into the industrial workings of late-Victorian print culture. Gissing situates his characters in conditions of scarcity; the publishing world is a brutally competitive ecosystem wherein authorial prosperity depends on consumer desire. Jasper Milvain, who has cannily gamed the profession, looks with friendly superiority on the other protagonist, Edwin Reardon, for his goal of writing in a way that does not pander to the reading public. Spiralling down into poverty, Reardon separates from his wife, Amy, because he cannot support her, then succumbs to a mortal illness, while Milvain ends the narrative on his way to wealth—and married to his friend's widow.

As much as this novel is transparently Darwinian, tracking the besting of the weak by the strong, it is also, to a surprising degree, focused on love and marriage. Not only is much of Reardon's storyline concerned with his failing relationship with Amy; Milvain's, too, is routed through love. He finds himself tempted off his careerist course by his engagement to Marian Yule but ends up dropping her when, losing part of an inheritance, she proves an unsalutary financial prospect. Notably, Gissing's novels are often preoccupied with marriage plots and their fallout. The Odd Women (1893), In the Year of Jubilee (1894), and The Whirlpool (1897), for example, all depend narratively on wedded or almost wedded couples driven to unhappiness. There is something about the tale of love entanglement that encapsulates what Gissing as a naturalist author is trying to represent.

New Grub Street, though, presents a special case in its focus on the literary market, as I will argue here. This novel draws out the attractive, consumable idea of love, an idea with wide popular appeal. The love plot is a mass commodity, like all other writing imagined in this novel. At one point, Amy Reardon loudly resents this massification: "novels are all the same. [End Page 70] Nothing but love, love, love; what silly nonsense it is! Why don't people write about the really important things of life? … What rubbish is printed about love! … Think of the very words 'novel,' 'romance'—what do they mean but exaggeration of one bit of life? … there is so little love in real life. That's the truth of it" (359). Amy is probably thinking of her own failed marriage when she scoffs at the idea of "love being a woman's whole life; who believes it, really?" (359). But additionally, her speech points up the love romance as susceptible to commercial processes—a made, peddled thing. New Grub Street hardly ever otherwise refers directly to the marriage plot as a saleable product. Nonetheless, I would claim that that plot lurks behind all the novel's events, forming the aspirations of its characters and how we as readers read their lives.

In its metafictional attention to the stories we tell and the stories that sell, Gissing's novel puts characters within the marriage plot, and that positioning is crucial to its view of humans' material, in-the-world existence. New Grub Street is about the fantasy of immaterial selfhood and how hard it is, on an everyday level, for humans not to think of this identity as real. It is also about how essential emotion—especially love—is to that fantasy and about the compelling misreading of ourselves that follows from love's popular narrativization. The narrative of being in love is truly a narrative of being, in that love is such a beatified, legendarily obstacle-overcoming kind of interiority; this reputation makes it especially conducive to the Cartesian fallacy of disembodied humanity. The romance promotes species falsities, over-privileging the power of fine feeling innerness—longing for someone, wanting a certain future—to shape a life. In New Grub Street, emotion is not adjacent to ontology. Emotion is ontology.

Paying attention to this affective species philosophy helps us, moreover, to trace the novel's form, which operates intricately, dynamically within the text and also, in turn, in relation to its own audience. Like the targeted word-commodities it imagines, New Grub Street reaches outward to the reader through its built structural working, enabling a certain perceptual experience. Internally, this form is dual, and the duality is most profound when the focus is love. I call it dynamic, then—moving, shifty—because the reader is asked to follow and be interested in love in two ways nearly at once: against the characters' humanist delusion (in recognition of the unfavoured creatures they are), but also within it. There is a persistent oscillation between these competing ontologies, one so quick that it occasionally implicates readers themselves in its confusions. In all of this, I will suggest further, New Grub Street reveals something about the form of naturalist fiction more generally, about how it meditates on species being. For all its seeming knowingness, naturalism is less an outright rejection of humanist self-perception than a constant dance with the emotion of its mistakenness. Embedding us with character, this genre asks us, strangely, both to know and to forget, to feel a wrong reality as truth. [End Page 71]

New Grub Street's posthumanization of love derives, first of all, from its insistence that writing is product, seamlessly integrated into the market's material flows. Seeing writing in this way de-etherealizes textual elements that we usually think of as immaterial—ideas, story, language. So far from exalted brainstorm, what authors create derives from piecemeal, clockwork construction. We glimpse as much in Reardon's storyline, in which the struggle to write means "ticking off his stipulated quantum of manuscript each four-and-twenty hours." The narrator underscores the sheer tangibility of his labour:

He wrote a very small hand; sixty written slips of the kind of paper he habitually used would represent—thanks to the astonishing system which prevails in such matters: large type, wide spacing, frequency of blank pages—a passable three-hundred-page volume. On an average he could write four such slips a day, so here we have fifteen days for the volume, and forty-five for the completed book.


New Grub Street stresses the materiality of print media within a generally materialized technological environment.3 This then makes what is written—even as concept, even as imagination—a good just like other goods: the output of embodied manufacturing.

Even style, the way words are ordered, which seems so rarefied, like the airy je ne sais quoi of taste, is a manufactured product. As Jasper knows, style is nothing more than an accumulation of language into assembled form. It is a replicable packaging rather than an aesthetics. Jasper is successful because he has thoroughly mastered this form's necessary recognizability. Like genre, with which it is closely related, style is a demand phenomenon. Lacking a knack for novels—"If only I had the skill, I would produce novels out-trashing the trashiest that ever sold fifty thousand copies"—Jasper trains himself instead to another form, the bourgeois periodical piece: "I shall write for the upper middle-class of intellect, the people who like to feel that what they are reading has some special cleverness" (13–14).

Savvy authors such as Jasper understand the precise relation between iterable form and audience response. Note that his writing gratifies how people "like to feel" about themselves when they consume a "special cleverness." The hot commodity Jasper is selling, an unusually intangible and psychical one, comprises not only thought, a smart take, but also feeling: people's enjoyable self-satisfaction in knowing it. Emotional self-impression is, then, another supposed ethereality produced from processes of supply and demand. Significantly also, Jasper's market brief implies that the print industry's affective relationship with the public is bi- rather than one-directional. That is, the masses are not just agents of demand, clamouring for a certain kind of writing. Rather, their demand is constantly being [End Page 72] engineered, encouraged, reupped through product by authors, like him, who reliably give it to them, whetting their desire. "[W]hen one kind of goods begins to go off slackly," Jasper says, the successful author "is ready with something new and appetising" (9). The structure we can picture here is a feedback loop, in which the public want more and more of what sells because of the way it makes them feel, and their feeling informs the next supply. In the twentieth century, the feedback loop would become an important concept in cybernetics, the early field of artificial intelligence, which reimagines human consciousness as mechanically replicable. I call out this similarity in structural imagining not because I want us to think of New Grub Street's print marketplace as a cybernetic machine, but instead to emphasize this novel's crucial overall assumption that human subjectivity is made as well as distributed, rather than singular and apart: it is all mixed up in the material system that it only seems to be acting, as a separate, unique essence, upon.4 The readers Jasper writes for no doubt think of themselves as conscious agents making deliberate choices about what to buy. But in reality, he is always feeding them what they want, moulding the design of language to ensure that they continue to want it.

If the print commodity does things internally to reader-consumers, begetting feeling that exceeds the control they think they have, the most important such commodity in New Grub Street is the altar-bound romance. Its influence over characters is tacit but pervasive, intimated in the prescriptive, presumptuous manner in which they reflect on their encounters with love. It is as if they view their own lives as plotted form. The narrative of romantic intrigue has seeped into their psyches, giving them a highly ordered sense of what to want and how to process life's turns of events. Gissing's wryest treatment of this theme concerns Whelpdale, a minor character who virtually only ever pops onto the scene to talk about love. Whelpdale's anecdotes are suspiciously marked by numeracy and pattern. He has been engaged to a hyperbolic degree—a lot. A fiancée who runs off with another man is, along with all the others, an ordinal possibility: "Do you know that this is the third time I've been engaged to be married?—no, by Jove, the fourth! And every time the girl has got out of it at the last moment. What an unlucky beast I am! A girl who was positively my ideal!" (218). Besides a distinct repetitiousness, Whelpdale's proposals are marked by an inflated emotionalism. His high, hopeful feeling never wears thin. Every new experience is a freshly exciting story; the story itself powers the hope. When, near the end of the novel, he finally makes a lasting engagement with Jasper's sister, Dora, Whelpdale backreads his past disappointments as so many alternate, interchangeable plot lines: "And when I think that I might have married fatally on thirteen or fourteen different occasions. … Eternal gratitude to all and sundry of the girls who have plunged me into wretchedness!" (508).

As industrialized form, the marriage-plot template originates in raw material—the physicality of paper and ink, like that Reardon toils over—but [End Page 73] the first, rawest material is words. Generic packaging requires treating words like a manipulable substance. That even language is caught up in a crass production system is key to New Grub Street's posthumanism because of the particular species value we accord to it. This novel is self-conscious about the idea of humans' capacity for language, against animals' supposed non-capacity, as a main ingredient in our privileged being. Gissing's characters vaunt wordiness—most obviously in their writing, but also in their personal lives, especially in their intimate relationships. They over-depend on language to share themselves with others, even as the novel is constantly revealing it as opportunistically cobbled form. Thus at any given moment, New Grub Street represents language dually: as worldly and manufactured and as, in the flawed perspective of its characters, an exalted carrier of personality, a medium of self to self.

Indeed, Gissing's characters most rely on words when they are desperately clinging to an idea of ardently shared subjectivity. New Grub Street hints that sentimentally engaged reading is the effect of careful linguistic arrangement and that without that proper arrangement, people cannot glean the feeling they recognize as love, including in their own lives. Their literary standard of feeling is then exported, surreptitiously, into their personal encounters, subtly determining their emotional expectations with real people. Even Marian Yule, her father's thankless factotum, who knows exactly how the literary sausage is made, is vulnerable to the allure of just the right romantic words. During Jasper's proposal, she gently invites him to a troth—"But tell me, what is your aim in life? What do you understand by success?"—but his response, focused on money and class ease despite her baiting, depresses her ("And that's all?") because he has deviated from an expected script: "She did not want truth such as this; she would have preferred that he should utter the poor, common falsehoods. … it seemed as if he knew no word of the language which would have called such joyous response from her expectant soul" (329–30). Later, she sheepishly renews her plea—"Do you think it foolish? I live only on those words"—but is dejected again: "She hid her face against him, and whispered the words that would have enraptured her had they but come from his lips. The young man found it pleasant enough to be worshipped, but he could not reply as she desired. A few phrases of tenderness, and his love-vocabulary was exhausted" (396). The sheer weight Marian is conferring on repetitious language is remarkable. The craving for confirmatory "I love yous" is understandable to most readers, then and now. But New Grub Street is unusually aware of the verbiage's familiarity, along with the irony that its apparent sincerity comes from its triteness. Jasper predictably laughs off Marian's pressing for mere words—"And you couldn't go away contentedly unless I repeated for the hundredth time that I love you?"—but his comparison of them to "pea-nuts" "sound[s] to her like a profanity" (396). [End Page 74]

Moments of love difficulty redouble the perceived need for language to communicate the soul. Notably, the Reardons' unhappy marriage happens almost exclusively as pages-long fights—lingering conversations. In this moment-to-moment unwinding of talk, the novel is implying an unquestioned faith in self-verbalization as a supposed human species entitlement. Not surprisingly given his profession, Edwin Reardon, of the two, is especially over-faithful. To an almost comical extent, he pressures language to do the work of intimacy. As if drafting, he obsesses over just the right words before saying them:

[I]t seemed to him he had the choice between two ways of uttering his emotion—the tenderly appealing and the sternly reproachful. … His desire was to impress Amy with the bitter intensity of his sufferings; pathos and loving words seemed to have lost their power upon her, but perhaps if he yielded to that other form of passion she would be shaken out of her coldness.


For Reardon, words must be perfect because they are absolute in their potency, even words withheld—not said. At one point he tries active silence to convey his hurt feelings; his strategy backfires: "[O]n Amy's return he resolved not to speak to her. … She, surprised that her friendly questions elicited no answer, looked into his face and saw a sullen anger of which Reardon had never seemed capable. Her indignation took fire, and she left him to himself" (191). What his wife says or does not say is likewise an object of fixation. "[Y]ou have let me know what your thoughts were, even if you didn't speak them," he charges; "I can't recall one word of encouragement from you, but many, many which made the struggle harder for me" (194).

Reardon is not wrong to believe that words matter. In fact, their mattering is the whole point of this novel's focus on the publishing ecosystem. His error is believing that words convey "what your thoughts" are in some pure realm above, where life actually happens. It is striking how much his focalization implies the humanist ghost in the machine: an inviolable insideness untouched by embodied circumstances. The state of marriage is, for Reardon, measurable by how much that insideness is or is not transferred, like a spirit-freight, to another mind: "He had learnt that Amy was not to be told the whole truth about anything as he himself saw it. It was a pity. To the ideal wife a man speaks out all that is in him" (127); "Between him and her there was no longer perfect confidence" (156). Reardon fetishizes interiority as hypothetically moveable if two people are really in love, and strong against all corporeal conditions, including poverty.

While Reardon is indifferent to his and Amy's physical being, the narrative itself is not. Indeed, their scenes together feature an exceptionally [End Page 75] detail-oriented visuality and palpability, which, along with that lingering, creates for readers a slow, felt, kinetic world. I think of these truly as scenes, like those in drama or, later, cinema, because of this languorous moving-picture quality, set in one place, the Reardons' home, and one set of moments. The scenic character is important to the spatio-temporality of the representation. We as readers are invited to dwell with the Reardons right in their small, daily object world. In other words, Gissing adopts a deeply phenomenological mode of description. And that descriptiveness itself contributes to the novel's ontological exploration: it emphasizes the material enworldedness of their relationship, together with the fault of Reardon's not acknowledging it.

Gissing denies love metaphysics with the Reardons by giving affect all the force of its combined meaning: it is both emotion and sensation, codeterminatively. Embodied perceptual experience unconsciously makes emotion, and vice versa. It is no coincidence that in chapter 4, "An Author and His Wife," the reader's very first entrée into their life is a minute tracing of Amy's perceptions as she moves toward their home:

Eight flights of stairs, consisting alternately of eight and nine steps. Amy had made the calculation, and wondered what was the cause of this arrangement. The ascent was trying, but then no one could contest the respectability of the abode. …

A sitting-room, a bedroom, a kitchen. But the kitchen was called a dining-room, or even parlour at need; for the cooking range lent itself to concealment behind an ornamental screen, the walls displayed pictures and bookcases, and a tiny scullery which lay apart sufficed for the coarser domestic operations. This was Amy's territory during the hours when her husband was working, or endeavouring to work. Of necessity, Edwin Reardon used the front room as his study. His writing-table stood against a window. …


The Reardons are immediately defined by the very specific little world in which they can walk and turn around. Importantly, this description does not boil down to a Barthesian reality effect, in which statements about objects, such as the location of Reardon's writing-table against the window, verify the scene as plausible through the objects' very insignificance. There is no "backdrop" in Gissing's realism because, as posthumanist, it makes no distinction between self and physical surroundings, nor between self and temporality. In the next paragraph, the narrator gives us the couple's precise diurnal behaviours: a low-paid servant comes from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the two have lunch in that period, Reardon gets down to writing around 3:00 p.m., and he continues writing till around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. It is "in many respects an awkward arrangement, but enforced by the man's temperament [End Page 76] and his poverty" (46). These are the habits that make up everyday wedded intimacy, as opposed to a theory or dream of life.

This couple's marriage does not survive because their attitudes toward each other flow directly out of their existence in this too close, barely affordable flat. For Amy in particular, frustration develops, not always consciously, from where the body finds itself. This narrative linkage is why, in the novel's first scene of their marriage, the narrator places us in the room with the Reardons and gives us tiny kinetic details, wrapping their talk in the slightest of movements and sense perceptions.

Presently the door opened, and a young, clear voice made inquiry:

"Don't you want the lamp, Edwin?"

The man roused himself, turned his chair a little, and looked towards the open door.

"Come here, Amy."

His wife approached. It was not quite dark in the room, for a glimmer came from the opposite houses.

"What's the matter? Can't you do anything?"

"I haven't written a word to-day. At this rate, one goes crazy. Come and sit by me a minute, dearest."

"I'll get the lamp."

"No; come and talk to me; we can understand each other better."

"Nonsense; you have such morbid ideas. I can't bear to sit in the gloom."

At once she went away, and quickly reappeared with a reading-lamp, which she placed on the square table in the middle of the room.

"Draw down the blind, Edwin."


This description braids together thought, sense, and the action of the instant. The little struggle over the lamp exemplifies the emergence of love, or love trouble, in tangibility. Although the couple are still getting along at this point, Gissing is already establishing how much basic corporeal being in space and time determines patience, impatience, mutuality, or its opposite. Later in the conversation, after Reardon complains of writer's block—he has written two chapters but hates them as "stupidly artificial"; "I haven't a living character in it"—Amy's reply trails off into a curt feeling of their in-the-room embodiment: "The public don't care whether the characters are living or not.—Don't stand behind me, like that; it's such an awkward way of talking. Come and sit down." Her sensory vexation at Reardon's hovering behind her simply is her vexation at being married to him. This is what marriage has turned out to feel like in an ordinary moment on an ordinary [End Page 77] day. Where he puts his body next is also part of the vital affective flux of their coupledom, and it bodes ill: "He drew away, and came to a position whence he could see her face, but kept at a distance" (49).

The Reardons' marriage reinforces that humans never exceed their material facticity, even though they tell themselves they do all the time. The lack of transcendence is rooted in the novel's main Darwinian premise, and in that sense, the pair's claustrophobic flat, metonymizing a condition Amy especially hates—"Dear, I love you with all my heart. But I am so afraid of the future. I can't bear poverty; I have found that I can't bear it" (196)—is really a kind of cage. The narrative indicates as much during their climactic separation scene, when Reardon proposes making ends meet by taking a low-paid clerk's position. Amy angrily refuses—"Is this a joke?"; "I shall not consent to this"—and he responds, we're doing it anyway. The narrator is attentive to the couple's agitated, response-ready embodiment.

"Amy, are you my wife, or not?"

"I am certainly not the wife of a clerk who is paid so much a week."

He had foreseen a struggle. … in a man to whom such-assertion is a matter of conscious effort, tremor of the nerves will always interfere. … He lost control of himself; Amy's last reply went through him like an electric shock, and for the moment he was a mere husband defied by his wife, the male stung to exertion of the brute force against the physically weaker sex.

"However you regard me, you will do what I think fit." …

He met Amy's full look, and was conscious of that in it which corresponded to his own brutality. … she glared like the animal that defends itself with tooth and claw.


Their quiet stares simmer with violence. Amy's especially suggests a regression back to the animal always remembered within the human.5 Reardon feels an impulse to use his male strength in abuse, while she, in fact the stronger one (the novel asserts this repeatedly—her constitutional firmness versus his frailty), is undaunted, ready with "tooth and claw." The allusion to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H.—bloody "Nature, red in tooth and claw"—is key to the scene's revisionary monism (57.15). Mourning his dead friend Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson cries out against the revelations of a pre-Darwinian evolutionary materialism. The macroscopic evidence of the rocks and the stars—geology and astronomy—manifests that humans are unexceptional, not divinely superintended, and perish through Nature's destructiveness just like any other creatures. Tennyson's elegy ends positively, reclaiming faith in an immortal spiritual essence. But New Grub Street's naturalism sticks with the gist of his original fear: that humans are only their bodies [End Page 78] and that love's will is therefore pointless, even torturous in its futility. The battle of wills between Amy and Reardon is truly a battle—visceral, bestial, a complete undermining of the idea of souls who touch (as do Tennyson and Hallam in the climax of In Memoriam) beyond the corporeal frame.

I have spent so much time looking at the Reardons at home because New Grub Street's formal attention to their ontology is more complicated than it first appears—not just a simple Darwinian clampdown. And that complication reveals something important about naturalism's form generally. Consider that the Reardons' conversation about the clerkship impels us to read their species identity in two very different ways. On the one hand, the narrator is implying the atavistic shadow of their animal being. But on the other hand, the scene traces with extraordinary, talky precision the divigations of Edwin and Amy's affections, resentments, and future plans, and in that sense the novel takes their interiority, that ennobled cogito, seriously, prompting our interest in them as more-than-animal. I suggest that these two ways of reading character amount to two forms of space, time, and matter—two scales of being—and that the text encourages us to take either scale as real. New Grub Street juggles a macroscale against a microscale: long, deep evolutionary time, in which human creatures have histories that they can never possibly conceptualize, against the small, daily feeling of reality that they themselves think of as real. I am arguing that the text does not, as we might expect, simply favor the macro over the micro view. Rather, as part of its realist species philosophy—its look at what humans are—it gives us two equal views, offering a fundamental duality. It encourages us to occupy, with some confusion, both of these spatio-temporal scales—to oscillate between them.

New Grub Street, like other naturalist fictions, is shiftily fashioned to jostle back and forth between these frames of reference. As a representation of organismal life, naturalism is often seen as an epistemological, on-high form. It seems to hover knowledgeably above the human—distant, scientifically observant, or cosmically pitying. Characters are so many worked-upon creatures in an "experimental novel," in Zola's classic terms, or else Nature's tragic pawns. But the idea of this hovering, systems-wide view dismisses the fact that naturalism, though apparently defined by what it knows, is also correlatively defined by error, the product of on-the-ground feeling: what the human senses, mistakenly, in its little embodied, perceptual world, to be actuality. The reason for Gissing's phenomenological tracing of the Reardons' life in their flat is that he is trying to give us their own feeling of their inhabited life. This is a deliberate putting us at scale. We as readers sink into this couple's quotidian environment, including the sentiments it generates. In effect, Gissing, still animalizing even at the microscale, is inviting his readers to share what animal researchers and theorists call umwelt. This is a species' own perception of its being in its environment, an experiential impression that cannot be communicated from one species to another (we [End Page 79] cannot truly know how a ferret or ant or whale perceives its world). In the case of the human species, New Grub Street implies, umwelt includes the impression of interiority—intellectual control and emotional intention. Thus our dwelling at scale with the Reardons means wallowing with them, believing with them that this little realm of furniture and gestures is the only reality and that their anxious effort to problem-solve their lives will be significant, even though it will not.6

As ontological form, naturalism is interested in humanist fallacy as much as posthumanist truth and in luring us into this oddly dual account, life versus Life. Most basically, the duality involves a conflict over causation. New Grub Street recognizes the love story as particularly conducive to fallacy because it makes romantic interiority into an autonomous cause. It is not incidental that Gissing follows so closely and at such great length his characters' emotional wanting. I take wanting in New Grub Street as a latent perception of causality, inseparably with time: feeling entices into temporal expectation. Wanting is feeling as anticipation—what one hopes will come next. Wanting to be married because one is in love—or to stay married, in the Reardons' case—implies that the future could actually bend to that desire. Again, further, New Grub Street does not ask us as readers to be knowingly supercilious about that affect, dismissing it as insignificant, but rather to experience it at scale, with characters: to feel the world as they do. When, for instance, after one of the Reardons' fights, Edwin is still up at 2:00 a.m., and "without the warning of a footstep, the door open[s]" and Amy enters in her nightclothes with her "hair … arranged for the night" and asks, "Why do you stay here?" and he can hear that her voice is "not the same voice as before" and see that "her eyes [are] red and swollen," we are meant, through these exact tactile, bodily, and temporal coordinates, to share in the feeling of the scene, down to Amy's sad desperation (195). We might call the appeal to us here "sympathy," but if so, Gissing's usage intriguingly alters how we normally think of that term in relation to realism. This is sympathy with no moral charge whatsoever—sympathy only as formal, positional effect. Gissing is asking us, merely, to put ourselves somewhere, at the level of character, and experience its phenomenal sense of its being.7

New Grub Street's life/Life distinction, resting on different scalar perceptions of causality, is most apparent in its main conceit of the marriage plot. Gissing is hyper-aware of this plot as a predictable form that seduces characters into an over-hopeful, doomed wanting. The crux of the seduction is the form's linear path to a set end—its happy teleology.8 This teleology amounts to a ratification of love as destiny—fate—and New Grub Street concentrates its oscillation on that future-oriented dream. That is, the novel sets up a contest between fate and Fate. The latter, a common idea in the naturalist novel, is a destiny that lies simply in the subsistence and cravings of the body, and it is actually a misnomer in implying directionality or end purpose at all. What is Fated to characters is grotesquely chaotic—not the neat line of the [End Page 80] marriage plot, nor in fact any definable shape—only the sickening, haunting ever-presence of material circumstance.

Gissing milks the confusion of fate and Fate for all its worth. New Grub Street's characters inhabit a text-marketplace world that, converting their wanting into commodity, lulls them into false expectations, concealing the actual precarity of Life. As we learn in a narrative flashback, during Reardon's engagement, he mentally narrativized his courtship with Amy. "Even in mid-rapture of his marriage month," he had premonitions of his constitutional weakness and hence inability to support a wife in a competitive environment, yet "fate had hitherto rescued him … and it was hard to imagine that this culmination of triumphant joy should be a preface to base miseries" (56; emphasis added). Hopefulness in a storybook "preface" to later bliss led him to brush off possible outcomes; his focus on the marriage ceremony as a "culmination"—an end meaningful in itself—duplicated the marriage plot's blithe teleology. Then, still within this flashback, Gissing's narrator shifts from this free indirect discourse to merge fully (oddly) with the first person, as if to capture better Reardon's misperception in rhapsodizing about the nuptial ceremony as terminus: "Is it not well done to make village-bells chant merrily when a marriage is over? … for us, my dear one, all the roaring life of the great city is wedding-hymn. Sweet, pure face under its bridal-veil! The face which shall, if fate spare it, be as dear to me many a long year hence as now at the culminating moment of my life!" (67; emphasis added).

Linking hopeful wanting to a market system's fabricated teleology, New Grub Street's marriage-plot motif anticipates what Lauren Berlant calls "cruel optimism": a normative pull toward a "fantasy of the good life" (1), a fantasy fed by capitalism, despite this attachment's actual toxic prevention of personal thriving. For Berlant, this feeling toward a "cluster of promises" (romantic love, among others) constitutes a "structure of relationality" (23, 13) to the world, and this structure is formally traceable by the literary critic. Gissing's naturalism is, comparably to Berlant's project, a formalist noticing of the chutes and channels of socio-economically produced dreams that leave characters miserable. Her account begins around the 1990s, indicting a neoliberal era of literature and popular narrative in which promises of life fulfillment through capitalism began to wear thin. Gissing, though, writing a full century earlier, in the 1890s, is already eager to show the liberalist economy's defeating affective machinery. That is, his novel is already keenly aware of the market's ruthless self-sustaining creation of class standards9 intertwined with personal, home-lived expectations for the future. Additionally, New Grub Street's optimism is even crueler than Berlant's. What makes New Grub Street seem so harsh even now is not just its backdating of the mythology of liberalism; it is that Gissing's own affective theory is both socio-historical and not. As an example of naturalism, this theory is also starkly ontological, which makes it more inescapable. New Grub Street's toxic wanting happens because of late-Victorian print culture's fervid economics, [End Page 81] but also, implicitly, across time, space, and society—whenever, in fact, at least some people can cling to an aspirational narrative that promises to distance them from the body's materiality. This is a species mistake, not a culturally particular one, of believing that humans have a special disembodied will that can overcome everything or anything.

Of all New Grub Street's characters, Jasper Milvain best understands Fate: that the only thing one can do is not to fight it but instead to follow it where it courses. His success in swerving with Fate depends on certain implied conceptions of both self and futurity. Whereas Reardon regards the self as a solid, communicable agency, Jasper, arrogant as he is, nonetheless views it as a being in process: necessarily nimble in the face of circumstances—the whims of the market, the turns of a love affair. In other words, he understands the mercuriality of his circumstantial milieu, a basic structural idea that, as Gillian Beer highlights, Darwin helped to uncover: "We tend to think of the individual organism as dynamic and the environment as static—but the environment, being composed of so many more varied needs than the individual, is prone to unforeseeable and uncontrollable changes" (23). I see this structural idea as a core notion uniting Darwinism with other posthumanisms, in linking a principle of monism to a principle of distributed, ever-changing causality. Retaining few illusions about causality, Jasper belittles the idea of romance as destiny and of a spiritualized essence that would earn it. When, on his wedding day, Whelpdale expresses that he does not deserve his happiness, Jasper is quick to correct him: "success has nothing whatever to do with moral deserts. … let us recognize causas rerum. … You have exercised ingenuity and perseverance; you have your reward" (507–08). This is a lauding of the self as materialized, in-the-world action, an ability to meet the times at all times, like the tiger that "ingeniously" sniffs the air to hunt, or the river that feels the physics of the rocky channel to "persevere" in flowing. Jasper of course cannot see the Fatal macroscale that demands his animal dexterity. But he intuits it, in one of the only ways that humans can, which is as chance. The perfect modern Grub Street man, denizen of the modern city, a locale defined by its sprawling complexity and by the unexpected, Jasper harbours little resentment of chance, rather accepting what it brings, again and again, calling it opportunity.10 This is precisely what Whelpdale has done in his love life, in Jasper's view. Be persistent enough, play the odds long enough, thirteen or fourteen times, and you win.

Marian Yule is also schooled about causas rerum by Jasper, more grievously, when he nudges her toward ending their engagement because of her downturned finances. Being with Jasper teaches Marian the devastating insignificance of wanting. "You have made me understand that you regard our engagement as your great misfortune," she says in their breakup scene—another pages-long, drawn-out one. When he weakly, guiltily offers to give her the "happiness you deserve," she scoffs: "Deserve! … Why do I deserve it? Because I long for it with all my heart and soul? There's no such thing as [End Page 82] deserving. Happiness or misery come to us by fate" (502–03). There is no determinativeness of fate or fortune in what the "heart and soul" long for. Love does not exist outside circumstances; it dwells within those circumstances; it is endlessly made and remade by them. I also want to underscore that this scene is so excruciatingly lengthy because—as with the plotting of the Reardons—Marian's emotional pain is a key scalar alternative in New Grub Street's realism. Just because this pain is stubbornly human, that does not mean that we as readers are not meant to take it as any less valid than the novel's macroscale. The implied reality of both scales is what it means for naturalism to oscillate. This formal imperative also explains why Gissing (like Thomas Hardy, for instance) is such a characterologist, so careful with psychology and emotion. The importance of the character view is easier to grasp when we think of recent Victorianist scholarship that parallels the nineteenth century's changing ecological awareness with today's climate-change and environmental discourse. As Tina Choi and Barbara Leckie as well as Grace Moore have accentuated, the Victorians' confrontation with a massive threatening or threatened Nature was, like ours today, as much about emotion, feeling, and personal belief as it was an intellectual attitude. Allen MacDuffie proposes, further, that Victorian literary treatments of Darwinism closely resemble a current sense of "double reality" (in Kari Marie Norgaard's phrasing; qtd. in 543) or everyday disbelief in scalar realities beyond the average human ken: there is a "cognitive dissonance involved in trying to, in H.G. Wells's phrase, 'live as though it were not so'" (545).11 The form of naturalism, I am proposing, is thoroughly defined by this dissonance. Being so attentive to what characters feel, it both does and does not grant the status of reality to that feeling. When we focus on what naturalism feels, not just what it knows, we see its form better. The genre is always moving between two equivalently treated realisms, an oscillation that creates perplexity, an engineered disorientation, for characters and readers alike.

New Grub Street, in its metatextuality, is especially tricky in this regard. Noteworthy here is the character of Harold Biffen, a writer even more resistant to the public's flighty desires than his friend Reardon. Biffen's principled authorial mode is a hard-core verisimilitude. Biffen develops a "theory" of "absolute realism" that obstinately embraces "ordinary vulgar life": "I want to deal with the essentially unheroic, with the day-to-day life of that vast majority of people who are at the mercy of paltry circumstance" (144). Biffen's discussions of his theory revolve, significantly, around love and marriage. He recounts passing a couple having an ordinary conversation: "Now, such a love-scene as that has absolutely never been written down. … Other men who deal with low-class life would perhaps have preferred idealizing it—an absurdity. For my own part, I am going to reproduce it verbatim. … The result will be something utterly tedious. … If it were anything but tedious it would be untrue" (144–45). In that devotion to truth, Biffen pens a novel called Mr. Bailey, Grocer. The titular character's daily economic "struggle" [End Page 83] is linked to a convenient marriage to a 42-year-old widow, a "big, coarse, squinting creature" with a little savings from selling "cat's-meat." "It'll be a great book—a great book!" (211). Slyly, the story within a story of Biffen's manuscript confirms New Grub Street's overall point, that, as with the Reardons, the marriage dynamic is always secretly animal, and never more so than when people are pushed to extremity or need. Mr. Bailey's story is a parable of wedlock as beastly survival. He endures despite a bad first year in business having married a widow who profited from cat food, which is made from slaughtered horses. Grocer → widow → cat → horse: it's exploitation of the weaker by the stronger or more resourceful, all the way down.

But then why, later in the very same scene, do we learn what a love-story fan Biffen is? His head is turned by Whelpdale's "romantic narrative" of engagement: "Whenever he heard of a poor man's persuading a woman to share his poverty he was eager of details; perchance he himself might yet have that heavenly good fortune" (214). Nor is this the only instance of Biffen's romantic tendencies. Critics often associate Biffen with his extreme realism, but an equally important characteristic is his extreme infatuation with Reardon's wife, Amy. Biffen regards Reardon as "supremely blessed" in having married Amy, the "perfect woman" (147, 486). His Mr. Bailey, grocer, is purely pragmatic in marrying a widow. In a telling contrast, though, Biffen is overwhelmed by Amy's loveliness in her own widowhood: "He could scarcely speak; her beauty, as she stood before him in the graceful black dress, was anguish to his excited nerves, and her voice was so cruel in its conventional warmth. When he looked at her eyes, he remembered how their brightness had been dimmed with tears, and the sorrow he had shared with her seemed to make him more than an ordinary friend" (487). Finally, he is driven to suicide—not, significantly, by writerly failure, but by the realization that, because he is poor, Amy can never be his.

Gissing adorns descriptions of Biffen's feelings with a bland gauziness. These are the free indirect expressions of a high emotional abandon. Their very familiarity—such phrases could be lifted from any romance—reinforces the imperious reach of the well-marketed form's forming of love. New Grub Street is yet again self-conscious about the print industry's scripting of the self. Though he never states it explicitly, Gissing implies a fascinating consequence of that industry: it infiltrates inner life irrespective of actual textual encounter—regardless of what one has actually read or not read. Biffen, our absolute realist, is unlikely to be a romance novel reader, yet even he has not escaped a love dream whose massification gives it the force of culture. Just as other iterated narratives produce socially saturating paradigms that define self-identity—an internalized sense of gender or race, for example—popular fiction structures Biffen's psychical life. It encases emotion for him, telling him what he is feeling.

"Every tear [Amy] shed watered a growth of passionate tenderness in the solitary man's heart. Parting from her at length, he went to hide his face [End Page 84] in darkness and think of her—think of her" (486). The stuttering dash reinforces the narration's free indirect rendering of Biffen's sentimentalism. But there is another, suspicious edge here, especially when combined with that earlier mention of "excited nerves." The same is true for Biffen's more general thoughts about women: "The poor fellow was so lonely. Yes, but his loneliness only became intolerable when a beautiful woman had smiled upon him, and so forced him to dream perpetually of that supreme joy of life which to him was forbidden" (486); "He could not bear to walk the streets where the faces of beautiful women would encounter him" (490). What exactly is this "loneliness"? Why does simply passing women propel him into such agony? I take Biffen's feeling as sexual arousal. Hence his "gaz[ing] at Amy with uncivil persistency" (147). That private relief after their meeting so that he can "think of her—think of her" is also more telling at a second glance. The "growth" of his passion, the "hid[ing] … in darkness," the rhythm of that dash: all suggest masturbation. So, too, does the description of his "fantasy" of Amy as his "idlest self-torment"—self-abuse: "he had gone too far in this form of indulgence. He became the slave of his inflamed imagination" (488). Eventually, the narrator concedes that for poor Biffen, yes, Amy is a placeholder for all her sex, and some pretty basic urges:

It was doubtful whether he loved Amy, in the true sense of exclusive desire. She represented for him all that is lovely in womanhood; to his starved soul and senses she was woman, the complement of his frustrate being. Circumstance had made her the means of exciting in him that natural force which had hitherto either been dormant or had yielded to the resolute will.


Biffen's suicide looks like a tragedy of unrequited love. But really it is the last resort of hungry, "starved … senses" in a "frustrate being." The narrator describes his will to death as a remarkably primal response to nagging Nature: a "simple longing for extinction" (491).12

Buried in pretty language, these hints of raw sex instinct are easy to miss. Indeed, based on the lack of critical commentary, it seems that New Grub Street's own readers have not much questioned the linguistic alchemy of Biffen's bodily desires into heartfelt longing. This brings me back to the novel's representation of language as both mouldable and dynamic—as a carefully crafted substance that exerts a force on readers, creating their feelings and expectations. We, New Grub Street's own audience, are not exempt from this dynamic force. The novel is doing a number on us through the conventionality of a "tender vocabulary." It is implicating us in its point about the conduciveness to misprision of a stock generic style. We read about Biffen's "loneliness" with half a brain because we think we already know what we are reading, falling prey to the same ingrained, distracted habits of [End Page 85] narrative consumption that give a template to the willing and wanting of the novel's characters. That confused reading also implicates us, moreover, in the make-believe of humanity's difference from other species. It is so much more gratifying to read "loneliness" as unrequited love unsullied by the body. Who would want to recognize that Biffen's skulking off to the heath to die—"he pressed into a little copse, and there reclined on the grass, leaning against the stem of a tree" (493)—for what it really is, the last act of a suffering animal?

The reader's own relationship to New Grub Street's posthumanism is, then, dual and complicated. "There'll be nothing bestial in it, you know," Biffen proudly declares about his book, Mr. Bailey, Grocer (211)—a complete irony given the actual animalism of the Baileys' marriage—and the same inaccuracy characterizes his image of himself in love. But this is not dramatic irony: the audience is not more perceptive, for we also overlook signs of animalism. New Grub Street has sometimes been seen, in its writerly self-consciousness, as Gissing's mockery of or reluctance toward realism as an effete mode at the turn of the century.13 On the contrary: this novel shows how complexly malleable realism is, in bifurcating it—holding the human view and that which surpasses it as both real. If, as Ian Duncan argues, the realist novel form has always been concerned with human nature, but not simplistically—its pliable aesthetic accommodating more than progressive exceptionalism, to include ideas of impinged, fluctuating being and transformation—New Grub Street, like other naturalism, takes this formal feature to the limit in its through-and-through duality.14 This novel is dynamically uncertain about what its characters are, and it situates us, the audience, within that uncertainty. I take this essence of naturalism as an extreme case of what Namwali Serpell calls mutual exclusion, in which "the reader/viewer … is utterly stymied about what exists and what actually happens" (42). Serpell describes a felt, motional sense of "oscillation" between two incompatible interpretations of the basic plot: with a "vibrating … affective energy," the mutually exclusive fiction "swings between belief and disbelief" (44), pitching the reader from one "diegetic ontology" to another (55). Gissing's diametric ontologies are as foundational as possible—about species self-identity. And the difference between them lies in how readers interpret endearment, hope, and a longing toward marriage: how special we, as humans, think these ways of attaching ourselves to the world mean we are.

Finally, think of one more love story in New Grub Street, Jasper and Amy's. This one is intriguingly aberrant. After all its falsifying of the marriage plot, the novel nonetheless fulfills the genre by giving these two a happy marriage. In fact, New Grub Street exaggerates the marriage plot's teleology in devoting the novel's very end to the Milvains' pure domestic satisfaction. "If I don't mind, I shall fall into Whelpdale's vein, and talk about my 'blessedness,'" Jasper observes, while asking Amy—"my nightingale!"—to take her place at the piano, leading to the novel's last line: "So Amy first played and then [End Page 86] sang, and Jasper lay back in dreamy bliss" (515). This hyperbolic finale is all the more notable in that both the Milvains previously demeaned the idea of loving wedlock, Amy in her tirade against romance novels and Jasper in stating, "I haven't much faith in marrying for love. … I believe it's the very rarest thing for people to be in love with each other. … This is what makes me impatient with sentimental talk about marriage" (305–06). But that reference to Whelpdale's pat life-packaging is the clue that undoes the novel's seeming contradiction in its formal conclusion. The Milvains' telos is more of Gissing's self-conscious plotting of love fantasy, but here with the addition of its actual material substrate. For of course the reason Jasper marries Amy is that she has come into a fortune; the reason she marries him is that he, with his thriving career, is a vast improvement on her former husband. The novel's two most socio-economically pragmatic characters, the Milvains themselves know exactly where happiness comes from. "Ha! Isn't the world a glorious place?" Jasper asks. "For rich people," Amy responds. "Yes, for rich people," he agrees (515).

With these two, Gissing posthumanizes the marriage plot. For once, he merges fate with Fate, weaving human "dreamy bliss" into a systemic environment of scarce resources and competitive success. The Milvains'ending may just seem like a particularly cynical twist on a common Victorian tale of inequitable capitalism. But for all its emphasis on hack labour, and even if the Milvains recall other novels about crass matches with rich heiresses, it is too easy to reduce New Grub Street's materialism to socio-economics. This novel is substantially different in never taking for granted species identity, as corporealized in space and time.15 That this is an animal ecosystem is indicated by another of Jasper's earlier speeches to Whelpdale, this one about choosing a spouse: "Let us talk about compatibility. … speaking scientifically, there is one particular woman supremely fitted to each man. … there must be one woman whose nature is specially well adapted to harmonise with mine, or with yours" (306). The emphasis on perfectly "fitted" lovers is not a theory of soulmates—just of mating. The primary goal of the complementarity is mutual resource maximization. Like the Reardons' home, the Milvains' is the home of beasts, but, happily, less a cage than a nest or a den. What Amy brings is, importantly, more than money. It is also up-to-date, hostess-ready grace. This is imperative for a man's career-climbing since, as Jasper has said, the married author "must live up to the standard of the society [he] frequent[s]" and "can't be entertained without entertaining in return" (30). Hence New Grub Street's last chapter features a high-powered dinner party at the Milvains' home at which Amy shines as "a matchless wife" who "would attract men of taste to a very much poorer abode." Here, also, as with her first marriage, the novel attends to the smallest turns of her talk and gesture, intertwining them—but also now un-cramping them, liberating them to a natural suppleness. In a compact descriptive passage, the narrator tracks how she "ben[ds] her head," how her "words [are] uttered [End Page 87] with just enough deliberation," how "she smile[s] with a delicious shade of irony," how her "glance intimate[s] that nothing could be too subtle for her understanding" (511). Amy's fine sensual, verbal acuity precisely complements her husband's environment-ready flexibility. Further, as with his mastering the quick-selling genre, New Grub Street is un-rarefying human polished know-how—taste, style. These are not separate from embodied, phenomenal circumstances, but a responsiveness to them.

The way people smile together, are witty and charm one another, express that they really get one another: all of this, Gissing's novel implies, while seeming above this physical world, actually emanates from it. And love is no exception, even if characters imagine it to be—or we as readers do. To the very end, New Grub Street deftly interacts with our feeling, too, as the basis of a familiar, misleading humanism. Any reader who has felt chagrined by the novel's abandonment of Marian, for example—or had even an ounce of hope that things could actually work out for her with a man like Jasper—has been taken in, proven less wise than the abstract existentialism that says: of course, that's just the way it is. Interestingly, the same can be said for the reader who sneers at Jasper and Amy's economically convenient marriage, judging it as emotional bad faith. Notwithstanding a tendency to satire, New Grub Street defies total cynicism in suggesting an interesting ontological point: the Milvains really are blissful, really are in love—because in this novel, there simply is no love beyond the material, no pure interior feeling that they are somehow missing, in a false consciousness.16 After their dinner party, Jasper and Amy "embrace ardently" and he "gaze[s] into her eyes with profound tenderness." Then they cuddle on the settee "as if they were newly plighted lovers" (513). The Milvains' affective togetherness arises out of their comfort, no less than the Reardons' arose out of their constraint. Their story remakes the love story. It acknowledges the genre's form as a path of wanting, yet, rejecting transcendence, coordinates wanting with immanent being, unabashedly. Perfectly fitted, this couple will stay mutually adoring by continuing to feel and perceive everything, including each other, in deference to Fate. They'll keep sniffing the air.

Jill Galvan

jill galvan is an associate professor of English at Ohio State University. She is the author of The Sympathetic Medium: Feminine Channeling, the Occult, and Communication Technologies, 1859–1919 and co-editor of Replotting Marriage in Nineteenth-Century British Literature. Her major scholarly interests are emotion, communication, aesthetics, realism, and ideas of (post)human selfhood, which come together in her second monograph project, After Romance: Troubled Marriage and the Sense and Time of Character Realism.


1. See, for example, Braidotti on this distinction between humanism and posthumanism around the issue of materiality. On the other hand, as Hayles illuminates, in the field of artificial intelligence, the posthuman revision has itself sometimes aspired to a dematerialized, virtual existence.

2. Strictly speaking, "naturalism" as a term doesn't quite apply to the British context because even extreme realists resisted association with Zola; see Arata. But Joyce underlines an ambivalence toward Zola and argues that he influenced British literary tradition.

4. Rather, I echo Ward's "technological formalism," which deploys artificial intelligence concepts to query humanness in Victorian realism (4–6); she applies the feedback loop to domestic realism (18–41). I find Gissing's representation of the market especially conducive to this method because the Darwinian framework already suggests a systems view wherein individuality is inseparable from material context.

5. On the Victorian pervasiveness of the idea of species memory and its associations with South America, a site of informal empire, see Schmitt.

6. Plotz and Morgan also observe naturalism's oscillation between scales but accentuate sensory perception and aesthetics to the exclusion of what I am arguing is a crucial element of the microscale: (falsely confident) interiority. Indeed, Plotz explicitly denies naturalism's concern with interiority (33–34, 50). Closer to my own reading is Henchman's analysis of Hardy's shifts between the grand scale of astronomy and the small one of human intersubjectivity (129–57).

7. Even when his narrator directly asks the reader for "sympathy" for Reardon and Biffen—"try to imagine a personality wholly unfitted for the rough and tumble of the world's labour-market"—the request has a whiff of merely formal, aesthetic exercise ("imagin[ative]" picture-making) (425). In a deliberately ironic contrast, moreover, only pages later Biffen himself clearly lacks sympathy in the usual humanistic sense: when his building catches fire, he ignores a call to save the passed-out drunk man who started it, rushing past him to save his manuscript.

8. See also Elisha Cohn's important argument that Darwinian theory put pressure on the marriage plot's neat presumptions of individual choice-making and discrete narrative events. The genre's usual teleological progression—"proposal, refusal, betrothal, union"—becomes impossibly messy within an evolutionary world view of diffused ecosystemic action and deep "temporalities that dwarf the human scale of the event" (36, 37).

9. McPherson shows, for example, the novel's focus on underemployment and its dislodging of easy moralism about the personal character of the impoverished.

10. See Fyfe on the frequency of accident in the Victorian city as a provocation to questions about causality, pattern, and design.

11. Broadening the category of naturalism to include authors such as Tennyson and Wells, MacDuffie analyzes "characters who are themselves aware of these scalar ruptures" but are in denial of them (553).

12. Compare the awful marriage of Marian's parents. Alfred Yule's brothers criticized his hasty choice of a socially, intellectually inferior woman, but the narrator implies a sex drive that is as bodily urgent as eating: "they might just as reasonably have bidden him reject plain food because a few years hence he would be able to purchase luxuries; he could not do without nourishment of some sort, and the time had come when he could not do without a wife" (93).

13. See Bar-Yosef, as well as Matz 70–104 for this reading, and Taft for a repudiation of it.

14. By the same token, it resists Kreilkamp's view of realism as essentially anthropocentric and pushed to exhaustion late-century by the presence of the animal.

15. See Michie on this type of marriage as the Victorians' fictional place for contemplating vulgarity and value in a culture defined by commercial wealth accumulation.

16. See Matz.

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