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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sour, Dour, and Petty ..., January 27, 2011
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
... might be the names of partners in an accountancy firm in a Dickens novel, but in George Gissing's "New Grub Street" they are merely appropriate adjectives to describe both the major characters and their creator's attitude toward them. This is a novelist's book about novelists, redolent of the author's own disappointment and frustration with his career. No reader could possibly doubt that Gissing is 'mining' his own biography and personality in his depiction of both principal characters, the dismal literary 'failure' Reardon, whose promise has been thwarted by poverty and marriage, and the cynical opportunist Milvain, whose romantic entanglement with a woman of no means threatens his rising career as a hack journalist. The two writers are friends, and the women of their lives are in fact cousins. Inheritances, or the expectation of inheritances, are involved. Actually, "New Grub Street" is in many ways a conventional 19th C British novel of marriage and manners; it's not the story structure but rather the bitter depiction of literary society that distinguishes this novel from others. Reardon's consistently iterated theme is that success in a literary career isn't based on true artistry with language but on image and access to influence -- money and back-scratching, to be blunt. Given how rife the publishing world of today is with cronyism and pettiness, there's no reason to distrust Gissing's scornful portrayal of the same industry in Victorian England as replete with bickering, jealousy, toadying to fashion, and triviality. It's surely intended to be ironic, on Gissing's part, that the last chapter of this novel is titled "Rewards." There are no rewards worth the anguish in such a mediocre career.

"New Grub Street" is also a novel about pernicious class consciousness and about the degrading effects of poverty on human character. Gissing's world-view is a kind of inverted Calvinism. Wealth isn't a visible token of God's favor, nor is poverty a result of moral weakness and unworthiness. Just the opposite: poverty is the cause of moral weakness, and wealth is what allows the wealthy to be virtuous. I have to say, there's some truth to that. The most decent character in the novel -- Marian Yule, the daughter of a cantankerous rancorous old pedant -- has this to say about her father: "" It is poverty that has made him worse than he naturally is; it has that effect on almost everybody. Money does harm, too, sometimes; but never, I think to people who have a good heart and a strong mind."" Elsewhere, the economically failing and morally flailing talented writer Reardon declares: ""The curse of poverty is to the modern world just what that of slavery was to the ancient. Rich and destitute stand to each other as free man and bond."" Once again, there's some truth to that, but I'm not sure it's a truth that bears repeating as often and as doggedly as it is in this bleak and repetitive narration.

New Grub Street is conventionally regarded as "George Gissing's finest novel." It says exactly that on the back cover of this Oxford edition. It has its merits, to be sure, in terms of its tough-minded treatment of literary pretensions and its precise psychological insights into the motivations of its characters. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it less than any of the other Gissing novels I've read: The Odd Women, The Nether World, Eve's Ransom. I suppose I'll have to confess myself to be one of the "quarter-educated" readers in the audience of tasteless philistines whom Reardon spurns and Milvain aspires to please.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Life and Death, October 13, 2010
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This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
"New Grub Street" is considered to be George Gissing's finest novel, and it is indeed a unique piece of Victorian literature. Gissing perfectly captured the hopes and dreams of writers who struggled to make their living through their literature in the 1880s. "New Grub Street" evokes the time and temper of the period perfectly and allows readers to follow the trials and tribulations of a variety of characters, almost all of whom are actually rather hard to like.

The main plot focuses on Jasper Milvain and Edwin Reardon. Milvain has great plans for his life and fully expects to carry them out, if only he could have the money to do so. Sponging off his near-destitute mother at the expense of his sisters, Milvain devotes his London life to research and writing for periodicals. Steadily and slowly, he manages to make a name for himself, but continues to pursue the hope of attaining money quickly - by marrying a woman of means. His friend, Edwin Reardon, is the opposite of Milvain. He has experienced success as an author of novels, married a woman he loves desperately, but now has found himself at a dead end, out of creative juice. Writing for him has become a tedious task that causes him to question whether he wants to live or not. Money would certainly make his life easier, but Reardon is rather simple-minded when it comes to financial matters, and not malicious like Milvain. Added into the mix is Alfred Yule, a man who struggles to write literary critiques for the papers with the help of his daughter Marian, a beautiful girl who captures Milvain's eye (but not necessarily his heart), and Reardon's wife, Amy, a woman who finds the possibility of encroaching poverty horrible and coldly helps to seal her husband's sad fate. The majority of these characters, while vividly drawn and extremely realistic, are also highly unlikable. Indeed, the only truly likable character is the extremely poor writer, Harold Biffen, who knows and accepts his place within society even if it might lead to a bitter end.

"New Grub Street" is an intriguing look at what happened to the novelists and journalists at the end of the nineteenth century in England as the country embraced popular journalism and mass communication. Some writers could adapt themselves to meet this change while others could not. Gissing was an intelligent writer: his novel is peppered with allusions and obscure references and imagery that is almost reminiscent of Dante at times. Gissing perfectly captured the elation and despair of his wide cast of characters, staying true to the realities of the people and the time rather than romanticizing what their lives might have been like.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, November 11, 2010
By 
Mayo "Mayo" (Brooklyn, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Be it person or circumstance, the description of each is woven with such artistry as to cause pause and reflection several times before each page turn. Most notable is Gissing's incredible ability to suffocate you in each character's frustrations. It is life in the raw. But on the page.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Gissing's greatest, September 7, 2009
This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Not for Gissing the frivolities of gossipy goings on in picturesque country towns. "New Grub Street" is the
story of what faced the majority of writers in the latter part of the 19th Century - writing for Mudies, the
huge circulating library and trying to pad out slight novels into three volumes. Interestingly, by the end of
the 1890's (1897) only 4 novels appeared in the 3 volume edition but in 1894, 184 three volume novels appeared.
So when Gissing wrote "New Grub Street" in 1891 he probably couldn't see the end in sight.
I have read this book a few times and Reardon is a character who has always irritated me. The main theme running
through the book is the folly of a struggling writer marrying a girl of a higher class (or in Yule's case
marrying at all). The struggle that Reardon goes through trying to find the creative power to finish his book
(a potboiler as it turns out) before the Christmas rent is due is harrowing and extremely realistic to the
reader. Until the end of the book, when Gissing snatches away the sympathy he had given Amy - she comes across
as a practical wife, who is a wonderful mother to their little boy Willie. Granted, she doesn't have the deep
feeling to be a consolation to Reardon, but he goes through a lot of the book selfishly questioning her love
for him. He even resents the little boy. But "ten weeks thereafter, Miss Yule became Mrs. Reardon" - so Reardon
himself was not prudent. He also gave up his job to write full time. He had come into a small inheritance and
decided to travel, then to come back and write - but then he met Amy and married her almost immediately. I
think his problems started when he left his hospital position. "On Neutral Ground" his one success, had been
written when he was employed and there was no stress about money.
Amy's male equivilant, Jasper Milvain is a likable opportunist. Of course he is the villain of the book because
of his treatment of Marian Yule, but they were never suitable partners and there is a passage at the beginning
of Vol. 2 which shows Marian had so little self confidence that she had built Jasper's compliments up to mean
more than he really meant. However, when Marian finds that she is to receive an inheritance her confidence
grows. To Gissing wealth equates with power and confidence. Marian also has problems with her father, Alfred
Yule, easily the most dislikable character in the book. He has married "beneath" him - a woman who is not his
intellectual equal and whose working class relatives are introduced in a frightening scene with Yule
(frightening, when you realise how he is going to behave to Marian and her mother). This, actually, causes a
turning point between the father and daughter's relationship. Like many of Gissing's characters, he constantly
needs praise and the low point of his character is when he tries to force Marian to use her inheritance to
finance a magazine of which he will be the editor. Marian, knowing her father's temperament, knows it will be
doomed to failure.
Gissing seemed to change Amy's character from one of sympathy to one of hardness almost in the last few pages.
Amy, though, had always admired Jasper but when Reardon died some of her finer feelings surfaced, also her
sympathetic treatment of Biffen. Marian, also bought out Jasper's finer nature. There is a little speech he
gives, just before he breaks his engagement when he says that it is knaves and hypocrites like him who
succeed and idealists who fall by the wayside. Certainly in the book's last scene Jasper and Amy are complacent
and comfortable with each other - they were destined for each other.
I was wondering whether Jedwood is based on the publisher John Maxwell, who was involved with Mary Elizabeth
Braddon, one of the most popular "sensation" novelist of the day. There was a comment about his wife's novels
being "what the public like".
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4.0 out of 5 stars You won't believe how modern this Victorian novel sounds...., October 7, 2013
This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
In the literary world, some authors of fiction are so-called hack writers, who can quickly churn out novel after novel, appealing to the "half-educated," most often offering only trite sensationalistic plots, with little else to recommend them. These authors are pragmatic and commercially minded, tailoring their novels with an eye on monetary goals. Other authors, aiming their writing at the more educated crowd, have more idealistic goals and spend more time and effort, trying to write "important" books which impart universal truths in prose which is exact and graceful. And then there are the literary critics who can create a "buzz" for a book which may or may not be praiseworthy. Who gets the "buzz" is most often a matter of who-knows-who and personal feuds and jockeying for prestige.

This picture of the literary world sounds very current, but it is the premise of New Grub Street, written in 1891, about writing as a profession in Victorian England.

The plot follows two literary men with opposing attitudes toward writing: Edwin Reardon is the "old type of impractical artist" and Jasper Milvain is "the literary man of 1882." Milvain says, "Literature nowadays is a trade. Putting aside men of genius, who may succeed by mere cosmic force, your successful man of letters is your skillful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets...." How modern that sounds. I can think of several current best-selling authors who follow this philosophy.

One very interesting aspect of the novel, which is not applicable to current day, is the picture it gives of the societal pressures created by the class system in England at the time. For an educated person to accept a menial job, even as a clerk, was considered humiliating and permanently lowering in rank and not to be considered even among those living in debt as they tried to hang on to middle-class status. Consequently, some well-educated men who adopted the writing of literature as a profession quite literally starved to death.

All this does not sound very entertaining, but it is, because of the very interesting story (with love conflicts) and the background of England in a time of change. The characters seem very real, although perhaps a bit stereotypical. A distinct thread of cynicism pervades the whole novel, particularly at the ending. It is interesting to speculate where Gissing placed himself in this portrayal of literary professionals.

Recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly wonderful book, August 27, 2013
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For a vivid picture of the literary life in late Victorian London, this cannot be beat. Wonderful characters, much sadness, some humor. It was Gissing's life, and he knew it cold. Right up there with Trollope's The Way We Live Now (to which it bears some resemblance) as a slice of life.

And this Kindle edition contains ALL of the material from the Ocford WC print edition, which I had been hanging onto (rather than move the book to my tablet, which I have tried to do with most of my favorite books) because of the wonderful notes and maps. They are all here, and really almost essential to enjoying the book. So this is the edition to get.
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4.0 out of 5 stars great novel; distracting edition, December 12, 2011
This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
This is a terrific novel, even if bleak, as some of the reviewers claim. And really, the bleakness is leavened by a wicked sense of humor. My only complaint is about this particular edition, the Oxford World's Classic. In their attempt at erudition the editors insert irritating asterisks all too frequently in the text, in order to draw our attention to explanatory notes at the back. The notes are in most cases unnecessary, explaining things most readers would already know, and seem provided more in a desire to justify an annotated edition than out of actual need. In any case, they could have a volume with notes included by page at the back of the book, without placing an asterisk in every paragraph that gets discussed--if we have a question on a particular page we could look to the back and see if there is any explanation for that page. So, this a great book, but I'd get a different edition.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Grub Street = New Digital Convergence, April 10, 2010
This review is from: New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
Gissing carves his characters in extraordinary and engaging relief. Characters are marked, formed by the social dictates of their times, a manner of determined description found in the early writing of Huxley, who was clearly influenced by Gissing (in his very first novels -- before he became a visionary/prophet). One can see a Gissing character amongst one's own relationships and acquaintances, so little has changed in actual fact (amazingly so) in terms of social and economic and class positioning. New Grub Street is the New Digital Convergence for the current creative/writerly class.

It is telling, so telling of the facts of the industry of culture of which Gissing was so perceptively critical and insightful of, that his writing was forgotten, ignored, generally unavailable for quite awhile. Great that Oxford press is putting out this new edition. I wish I had read his books earlier.
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New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics)
New Grub Street (Oxford World's Classics) by George Gissing (Paperback - April 15, 2009)
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