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The Nether World (Oxford World's Classics) 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199538287
ISBN-10: 019953828X
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Stephen Gill is Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science, York University, Toronto and a former Distinguished Scholar in International Political Economy of the International Studies Association. His publications include The Global Political Economy (with David Law, 1988), American Hegemony and the Trilateral Commission (Cambridge University Press, 1991), Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations (as editor, Cambridge University Press, 1993), Power, Production and Social Reproduction (with Isabella Bakker, 2003) and Power and Resistance in the New World Order (2003, and second edition 2008).

From the Back Cover

This is a tale of intrigue, as rapacious schemers try to wrest a fortune out of a mysterious old man who has returned to their midst, and of thwarted love. There is no sentimentality. This is a world in which the strong exercise power against their own kind, scheming and struggling for survival, a world from which, Gissing bleakly maintains, there can be no escape. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019953828X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199538287
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. George on May 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In "The Nether World," Gissing gives you another one of his hard, realistic looks at life in London in Victorian times. This time he focuses on the poorest of the poor in the Clerkenwell area of London. These are people whom England's infantile labor laws generally can't help. If/When they can find work, they often work 16 hours per day all week, and the wages they earn hardly cover rent for a very small room in disreputable housing. It's a world where unwanted children multiply like rabbits, and the death of any family member is usually seen as a relief of one less mouth to feed.
For all these reasons, this world - this nether world - is a world about which the upper and middle classes are happily ignorant. Those born into these lowest levels of humanity often rail about the injustice of being born into such circumstances. However, their cries for social reform, their desperate attempts to better themselves, and their pitiful needs for simple pennies are never really heard or understood by those more comfortably off.
Within this novel, then, Gissing explores the lives of a range of characters as they deal with being born in the nether world. While he focuses on the heart-warming characters of Jane Snowdon and Sidney Kirkwood, Gissing competently develops the storyline of a large number of other Clerkenwell characters whose lives intertwine with Jane's and Sidney's. In his distinct manner, Gissing is mercilessly honest and yet generally compassionate with the characters whose lives he examines. Thus, he offers a glimpse of the slums - full of love, ambition, corruption, greed, and despair - in a manner that many of us would never know otherwise.
Many compare or try to compare this kind of honest look at the rougher side of London with Dickens.
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I'm not commenting on the novel itself here (although it is an interesting, if problematic, look at London's underworld), but I do want to warn readers against buying this Echo Library edition. There is no contextual material (no intro, afterword, or notes), which would have been useful, but more annoying is the fact that the copy editor for this press appears to have been asleep while editing this edition. There are three or four major typos on every page (glaring typos-- periods in the middle of words, apostrophes instead of commas, mispelled words). Sometimes there are even words missing, which makes the prose difficult to follow. This novel is worth reading, but try to find a different edition.
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It is fortunate indeed that Gissing, while exploring the seediest region of the capital of the British Empire at the close of the 19th century, and relating the loathsome conditions of its denizens, neither lost himself in maudlin meanderings as Dickens was wont to, nor did he, like Hardy, ordain every possible, however improbable, reason for distress to befall a single character. Gissing doles out calamities widely, plus, rather than resorting to prolix ramblings to point out what disgusts him, he makes concise remarks: "Society produces many a monster, but the mass of those whom, after creating them, it pronounces bad are merely bad from the conventional point of view; they are guilty of weaknesses, not of crimes" (chapter XXIX); "Poverty makes a crime of every indulgence" (chapter XXXI).

Now, in terms of framing the drama, Gissing is, as honest and loyal Sidney Kirkwood professed himself in chapter XXXI too, "not one of those people who use every accident to point a moral, and begin by inventing the moral to suit their own convictions."

While the human baseness and general ordeal of the penurious population laid bare in this volume appalled me all along, its phrasing fascinated me: even those descriptions of the most gruesome environments and reflections on utter anguish are simply gorgeous if astonishing also. For instance:

"On all the doorsteps sat little girls, themselves only just out of infancy, nursing or neglecting bald, red-eyed, doughy-limbed abortions in every stage of babyhood, hapless spawn of diseased humanity, born to embitter and brutalise yet further the lot of those who unwillingly gave them life. With wide, pitiful eyes Jane looked at each group she passed.
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Gissing's novel about working class life, bleak and angry, published in 1889, shares a main plot element with Dickens' Great Expectations: an expected inheritance, here from a returner from down-under. There was a trend in Victorian fiction to write about the `condition of England'. Gissing was one of the bleakest contributors: he offered no optimism, no way out, no reason for optimism. His endings were of the kind that we saw recently in the movie Winter's Bone: deceptive little meaningless pseudo triumphs, not more than moments of rest. People don't rise from the nether world. Upper and nether worlds don't have any permeable interfaces.

Central hero of this decently depressing master piece is a qualified worker in the jewelry industry, with some lost illusions about talent in art and with a failed young love.
While still a young man, `he reached the stage of confident and aspiring radicalism, believing in the perfectibility of man, in human brotherhood, in anything you like that is the outcome of a noble heart sheltered by ignorance'. That stage was gone now, `to give place to nothing very satisfactory'. The man tries to stay decent, to have friendships, to help people worse off than he is himself...

Gissing's Pip-equivalent is young Jane, the grandchild of the old man who came back from Ossiland and who is expected to leave something to her. At the outset of the novel she is 13 and she is for all practical purposes a domestic slave in a boarding house, mistreated by a sadistic tyrant of a teenage daughter of the owner.
We get to meet rather many un-nice people down here in the nether world. Poverty is not conducive to social graces, and decency is challenged hard under miserable conditions.
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