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Hailed as Gissing’s finest novel New Grub Street portrays the intrigues and hardships of the publishing world in late Victorian England In a materialistic class conscious society that rewards commercial savvy over artistic achievement authors and scholars struggle to earn a living without compromising their standards “Even as the novel chills us with its still recognizable portrayal of the crass and vulgar world of literary endeavor” writes Francine Prose in her Introduction “its very existence provides elouent encouraging proof of the fact that a powerful honest writer can transcend the constraints of commerce” This Modern Library Paperback Classic is set from the text of the 1891 first edition


10 thoughts on “New Grub Street

  1. 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; when one kind of goods begins to go off slackly he is ready with something new and appetizing He knows perfectly all the possible sources of income The above uote is from this unforgettable 500 page British classic set in 1880s London about the men and women working as part of the literary hub of New Grub Street Indeed we encounter some of the most articulate refined educated people in society; however since these genteel men and women of letters lack the benefit of either family fortune or private wealth they must continually use their pens to stave off grueling poverty and starvation as they attempt to stake their claim in the world of books and publishing Not an easy task even when their writing is going well a fact author George Gissing 1857 1903 knew first hand since circumstances hurled him into much the same plight; matter of fact his earliest published novel Workers in the Dawn hit bookstores in 1880 when Gissing was a mere twenty three years old a semi autobiographical three volume novel recounting the unhappy life of a struggling half starved London artist married to a prostitute Incidentally when the author read the first book review of Workers he became so outraged he described literary critics as “unprincipled vagabonds” Ooooo George If you were alive today I hope you wouldn’t lump me among those nasty filthy English cadsAnyway New Grub Street is also a “triple decker” that is a novel in three volumes which was standard fare at the time almost predictably the reason for this format was money rather than purchasing novels the reading public typically used circulating libraries and these circulating libraries could make a separate charge for each volume checked out One of the main characters Jasper Milvain bemoans how such a demanding structure is “a triple headed monster sucking the blood of English novelists” And Milvain isn’t even a novelist; rather as we come to know in much detail his literary focus is entirely practical and utilitarian – acknowledging his turn of mind and skill level he writers columns for literary periodicalsAs counterpoise to all these literary folk there’s old John Yule a wealthy retired merchant who would very much like to see literary production abolished since by his reckoning the writing and especially the reading of books makes men weak flabby creatures with ruined eyes and dyspeptic stomachs men who should spend their leisure hours not reading but out in open air exercise But alas John is fighting a losing battle since in 1880s England reading has caught on like wildfire – books journals magazines and newspapers are all the rageOne of the novel’s overarching themes is the hierarchy of social class A prime example is John’s brother Alfred Yule a literary man and journalist who disgraced his family by taking a humble servant woman for his wife Then when Mrs Yule gave birth to daughter Marian Alfred forbade his wife to speak to her daughter since he was horrified at the prospect that Marian might be infected with his wife’s faulty grammar and hackneyed diction No no no – as soon as humanly possible Marian was separated from her mother and sent off to a day school Then some years later after hearing her mother’s grammatical errors young Marian innocently asked her father “Why doesn’t mother speak as properly as we do?”Along somewhat the same lines in conversation with his hyper class conscious wife Amy young novelist Edwin Reardon stresses the biggest difference in all the world that the man with money thinks “How should I use my life?” and the man without money thinks “How shall I keep myself alive?” Reardon goes on to ruminate that if he should fail to make a great name for himself as a novelist how such a fate would be a grievous disappointment to Amy However when we first encounter the novelist around age thirty the promise of fame is very much alive as he did write and have published two marginally successful novels prior to his marriage But shortly thereafter as we read further on a crisis is at hand sensitive high principled Edwin Reardon encounters the ever looming nightmare for a poor novelist attempting to make money in order to support a family by the publication of his work writer’s block In many respects the drama of Edwin Reardon’s personal and artistic integrity is at the heart of the heart of Gissing’s compelling taleAnother writer with integrity is Reardon’s friend Harold Biffen a habitually half starved scarecrow of a man who has a vision for a realistic novel a novel depicting life as it truly is specifically the grimy nitty gritty of an everyday drudge in his case a grocer living hardscrabble in the poorest section of the city This literary skeleton man despises romantic novels with their heroes performing predictable heroic acts so it is something of an irony that Biffen performs the most singularly heroic act in the entire novel Listening to Harold Biffen’s philosophy on realism and the realistic novel I hear echoes of this very three volume George Gissing a novel realistic in the extreme reminding me much of the Paris destitute depicted in Émile Zola’s The Gin Palace than any Charles Dickens misty eyed yarn with a happy ending At one point a demoralized forlorn Edwin Reardon shares with Harold Biffen the highpoints of his life a time prior to his marriage when he was traveling As he relates “The best moments of life are those when we contemplate beauty in the purely artistic spirit – objectively I have had such moments in Greece and Italy; times when I was a free spirit utterly remote from the temptations and harassings of sexual emotion What we call love is mere turmoil Who wouldn’t release himself from it forever if the possibility offered?” The novelist’s statement accords with Edmund Burke’s philosophy of the sublime the magnificent experience of beauty and overwhelming majesty out in nature so distinct from the toil of even a creative expression such as novel writing an endeavor forever bound to the pressures of schedule and the anxiety of possible rejection Also Edwin’s words speak to English society as a whole in the nineteenth century where the vast majority of men women and even children were condemned to a life of unrelenting toil forever bound to the wheel of Ixian slaving from dawn to dusk as if they were nothing than beasts of burdenYet again another aspect of nineteenth century British society takes center stage with the unfolding events in the life of Marion Yule How free is Marion and how eligible is she as a lover and future wife? The answers to these uestions are closely tied to how much money if any she will receive in her inheritance from her rich uncle John Yule along with to what degree she will be obliged to care for her ailing father With Marion Gissing provides us with a clear perspective on how a woman’s life and possible tragic fate is so dependent on outside forces especially the letter of the lawToward the end of the novel we listen in on a discussion of the future face of publishing with Jasper Milvain and others as the forward looking Mr Whelpdale proposes a change in the name of a paper “In the first place I should slightly alter the name; only slightly but that little alteration would in itself have an enormous effect Instead of Chat I should call it Chit Chat Chat doesn’t attract any one but Chit Chat would sell like hot cakes as they say in America” With this brief exchange George Gissing conveys how well worn conventional notions of culture are rapidly transforming how success in literature is becoming Americanized along with everything else how what people read will be driven by catchphrases and slick marketing Utilitarian optimistic pragmatic materialist Jasper Milvain is all for it The I reflect on Gissing’s novel the I discern distinctly how the entire current day mass media is the new literary New Grub Street


  2. says:

    “That is one of the bitter curses of poverty; it leaves no right to be generous”George Gissing was a young man on his way He had impressive scores at the Oxford Local Examinations and all was going well until he fell in lust with a young orphaned prostitute named Marianne Helen Harrison or Nell He gave her money to keep her from plying her trade and when he ran out of money he stole from his fellow students He was caught expelled and convicted serving a month of hard labor at Belle Vue Gaol What a promising start for a young novelist I'd probably have twenty books written and published if I'd been so foolish to get hooked up with a woman of uestionable morals and went to jail because of it When Gissing got out he married Nell and their relationship became the basis for his first novel Gissing was very bitter about having to make a living teaching and tutoring to support his writing According to his pupil Austin Harrison from 1882 Gissing made a decent living by teaching and tales of his fight with poverty including some of his own remembrances were untrue The issue of his supposed poverty may be explained by Gissing's attitude to teaching which he felt robbed him of valuable writing time which he limited as much as possible and by poor management of his finances George GissingI see from other reviews that people were making comparisons of Gissing with Dickens but to me the book was modern than a Dickens like reading Henry James I knew as I read the book that the chance for a happy ending was beyond impossible I would have been disappointed if Gissing had decided to manufacture a happy ever after conclusion It would have rang untrue like a bell with a crack and certainly would have made unsound all the wonderful work he does in this book to show the devastating mental effects of uncertain income and the fickle chance of fate Grub Street London The setting of the novel is Grub Street It was a street close to London's impoverished Moorfields district that ran from Fore Street east of St Giles without Cripplegate north to Chiswell Street Famous for its concentration of impoverished 'hack writers' aspiring poets and low end publishers and booksellers Grub Street existed on the margins of London's journalistic and literary scene It was pierced along its length with narrow entrances to alleys and courts many of which retained the names of early signboards Its bohemian society was set among the impoverished neighbourhood's low rent flophouses brothels and coffeehouses Now as long as a young writer could keep a couple of coppers in his pocket imagine the uick all inclusive education of the world he could obtain spending a few months on Grub StreetThis book is about writing and the battle with poverty in 1880s London There are really two main characters Edwin Reardon and Jasper Milvain Edwin writes serious novels and views any sensational writing to make money as something he is incapable of He has a wife and child and as the novel progresses we see him slide farther and farther into the grip of poverty Jasper Milvain sees writing as a means to an end His reputation is only of concern to him as that it provides him opportunities to make money He is always scheming and trying to position himself to achieve a better position He really is the exact opposite of Reardon I didn't despise Milvain although I never liked him and certainly would never feel comfortable trusting him I was eually as frustrated with Reardon's inability to make changes that would have at least insured that he could keep his wife loyal to him and his life above the poverty line Interesting enough Gissing did make the decision to do what was necessary to stay out of poverty so one wonders if he wished he'd taken a perceived artistically honorable route of sticking with just writing and enduring the povertyReardon is afraid of poverty and yet ends up feeling secure falling back into it than he does fighting to stay above it The difference he went on between the man with money and the man without is simply this the one thinks 'How shall I use my life?' and the other 'How shall I keep myself alive?' A physiologist ought to be able to discover some curious distinction between the brain of a person who has never given a thought to the means of subsistence and that of one who has never know a day free from such cares There must be some special cerebral development representing the mental anguish kept up by poverty Milvain is always working the angles He is clever and wants everyone to like him but is always looking for a way to elevate himself in the esteem of others sometimes at the cost of his friends Jasper whose misrepresentation was willful though not maliciously so also fell into silence; he did not believe that his conversations with Amy Reardon had seriously affected the course of events but he knew that he had often said things to her in private which would scarcely have fallen from his lips if her husband had been present little deprecatory phrases wrong rather in tone than in terms which came of his irresistible desire to assume superiority whenever it was possible He too was weak but with uite another kind of weakness than Reardon's His was the weakness of vanity which sometimes leads a man to commit treacheries of which he would believe himself incapable Self accused he took refuge in the pretense of misconception which again was a betrayal of littleness There is a side theme working in the novel about the emancipation of women A new law allows women to inherit and over the course of the novel we see the importance of that law at work Women are suddenly in a position to make different decisions and do not have to spend the rest of their life under the thumb of a father brother or son if they are lucky enough to be beueathed money and means of their own after Gissing's second marriage ended with his wife committed to an insane asylum he became good friends with Clara Collet Miss Collet seems to have been in love with Gissing but there is no evidence of the feelings being reciprocated Clara was an outspoken advocate of advancing the pay of women and I feel she influenced those sections of the novel regarding the emancipation of women Clara Collet a woman who made a difference The characters in this novel with a change of clothes an iPhone and a brush up on modern language are the same people populating our lives today People regardless of the time period exhibit the same foibles and strengths They have the same desires the same troubles and the same insecurities There are no lazy people in this book Everyone is striving the best they can to be successful but pride plays a big hand during the course of this book and opportunities are lost and irrevocable things are said Deception misinterpretation and debilitating anxiety are the worms that wiggle through the plot of this novel It will have such an influence on you as the reader that you will find yourself suirming with thoughts of your own personal defects and failings


  3. says:

    Sometimes you see those guys on the street with one long dotted line tattoed round their neck and an inscription CUT HERE This is one of their favourite novels


  4. says:

    Gissing’s seminal novel is perched peculiarly on the precipice of modernism and the hard crank of technogeddon is hewn into every toilsome syllable Jasper and Edward are the foolish scribes living by their pens imagine such an absurd notion kicking against the hot fuzz of hackdom and bitchery in their blazing borough Edward the inspiration for cuddly failed writer Ed Reardon in the heretically off point Radio 4 comedy is the “artist” the uality of his novels is never particularly clear crushed by the need to succeed and a disappointed wife whose delusional cheerleadering forces him into paid drudgery If you have ever sacrificed anything at the expense of putting suiggles on a screen this book may cause you to crunch up the little bundle of paper you spent three years organising and salve your soul with cut price supermarket lager and self hypnotise to a happier less pig ugly place where the imagination is valued and rewarded with kegs of champagne and hours of financial freedom


  5. says:

    George Orwell said that George Gissing was perhaps the best novelist England has produced Orwell identified New Grub Street 1891 along with The Odd Women and Demos A Story of English Socialism as Gissing's real masterpieces Orwell as an impoverished writer would doubtless have identified with New Grub Street which discusses the connection between literature and commerce in late Victorian London New Grub Street was not a physical place but an allusion to the original 18th century Grub Street which was once a real street in the Cripplegate now the Barbican area of London and in New Grub Street it is a metaphor for a life of literary penury The main protagonists are a pair of writers Edwin Reardon a novelist reluctant to compromise on his art and Jasper Milvain a hard working hack journalist who perceives his writing as an end to accumulating money Milvain is open about his desire for wealth and status whilst Reardon endlessly frets about the uality of his work and recoils against Milvain's ideas to readily sell his written output The plot examines how these two approaches impact on the friends and families of the two writers Anyone hoping for a happy ending should look elsewhere and the story was clearly borne of personal experience Given Gissing’s downbeat opinion of London's publishing industry it is no surprise that it is the unscrupulous characters who ultimately prosper I thought it was a great plot and credibly captured a society in transition I look forward to reading of George Gissing's work45


  6. says:

    Gissing is fast becoming on of my favourite Victorian writers His writing is so strong his description of people and his observations so well thought out and poignant This is a story that deals will struggling writers within 1880s London and is superbly and heart breakingly written Brilliant


  7. says:

    Two stars means the book is OK not badSo I have now read this long long book and I am having a hard time coming up with interesting things to tell you about it THAT in itself is uite revealingSet in London in the 1880s it is about diverse characters of literary and journalist circles—authors and their critics It is about writing for the love of the art versus writing for what sells and what is profitable I know where I stand in relation to this uestion so I found little food for thought The book emphasizes the destructive forces of poverty Poverty is shown to destroy loving relationships One can consider if perhaps in Victorian times social class and wealth were binding and restrictive than they are today There is one character whose sole aim is to be successful; his goal is financial gain above all else And if he is to marry it will be for financial gain too He works hard to achieve his goals He is self confident unabashedly sure of himself and jovial He knows what he is going for and is not ashamed to declare openly what he is seeking In contrast to this fellow we are given a novelist who has talent but is less self assured and sets high standards for his work His goal is to write literature that he is himself proud of regardless of its popularity or its sale ability or profitability By focusing on two opposite personality types the author ignores those who compromise those who take the middle road those who do not go to such extremes which in my view is how most people actually behave I guess these people though do not make such good stories Around the men circle the women It is assumed they are to marry a few stretch their creative abilities writing light fiction for those of their own sex One woman sticks to her principles and dares to be different The characters are thus varied and pretty well developed Personally I liked Harold Biffen rather than the two central characters Edwin Reardon and Jasper Milvain I cannot say though that I grew terribly close to any of themThe story is on the depressing side lacks humor and definitely goes on too long The prose is fine but nothing extraordinary nothing uniue There are moments of melodrama but nowhere near as much as in DickensNigel Patterson narrates the audiobook It is easy to follow but there is nothing exceptional about the narration either I have given the narration three starsSorry this review is so boring but the book is kind of boring There just is not that much you can say about it


  8. says:

    Literature as a Wheel on Which People’s Souls Are Broken – Both Writers‘ and Readers‘I did not manage to read beyond the first six chapters of New Grub Street a novel which is generally acclaimed as one of Gissing’s finest works and not ever having read any Gissing before I have to say that if I take this praise at face value I’d rather give that author a wide berth from now on since there a pleasanter ways of wasting one’s time New Grub Street is about the literary market in late Victorian England and how writing became and of a trade instead of a calling At the centre of the story there are two opposing characters who are not really characters but – judging from the way they talk of themselves – stand ins for attitudes One of them is Jasper Milvain a young aspiring journalist cynical self complacent enterprising and callous who is determined to become rich by writing exactly the sort of stuff that people demand to read appealing both to the vulgar and to those who preen themselves on their intellect and fine taste Milvain will say a thing like this“‘ Never in my life shall I do anything of solid literary value; I shall always despise the people I write for But my path will be that of success ‘“Or something like this“‘ Literature nowadays is a trade Putting aside men of genius who may succeed by mere cosmic force your successful man of letters is your skilful tradesman He thinks first and foremost of the markets; when one kind of goods begins to go off slackly he is ready with something new and appetising ‘“And he does say things like these constantly chapter for chapter for chapter amen Milvain wants his two sisters to write edifying tracts because he senses there is a market for this kind of books and he thinks that his sisters can earn from this kind of occupation than from giving lessons To round off what little there is of a character he also frankly avows that he will only marry for money Who would have guessed otherwise?His friend and yet his counterpart is to be seen in Edwin Reardon a serious conscientious writer who waits for the kiss of the Muses or the neighing of Pegasus and who simply cannot make his mind engage in writing with a view to his audience’s expectations in writing for necessity but who wants to produce genuine literature He will say things like this“‘ No that is the unpardonable sin To make a trade of an art ‘“Or at his most whining something like this – to Milvain of course“‘Because you are the kind of man who is roused by necessity I am overcome by it My nature is feeble and luxurious I never in my life encountered and overcame a practical difficulty‘“If you like the characters in the books you read parading across the stage and declaim in such a grossly programmatic manner which makes it clear that they are not real individuals but illustrations of thoughts and outlooks and if you have already read John Bunyan then you might like this book It gives you a lot of this repetitive formulaic claptrap To make matters worse the narrative voice is not any better but likes to indulge in the techniue of telling rather than showing spelling it all out for you unless he uses the characters‘ dialogue as a vehicle of these careful spelling exercises Gissing’s style which is totally void of humour wit and beauty – like the lives of his characters – reminds me of another mogul of verbosity’s ie of Theodore Dreiser who made his readers suffer infinitely than his characters in that he did not subject the latter to the overblown humdrum of his uninspired prose And yet notwithstanding this example of how not to do it I might even say that if ever prose was merely prose it must be Gissing’s As I have never read anything else by this author it might be the case that in New Grub Street which is after all a book to denounce the decline in literary uality due to the emergence of a mass market Gissing might have chosen this particular style to illustrate the blandness and triteness of books that are written with the sole intent of making money If this be the case then Gissing is a master of mimickry and the style of New Grub Street is an achievement that can only be topped by the achievement lying in the patience forbearance not to say self loathing of any person willing to go through it all as a reader


  9. says:

     Men won't succeed in literature that they may get into society but will get into society that they may succeed in literature Originally published in 1891 through his fictional characters George Gissing examines the hard life of the 19th century professional author Gissing's two main characters are polar opposites you have the shy literary novelist Edwin Reardon who has had very little commercial success and Jasper Milvain a young journalist who treats his writing as a means to an end Throughout the novel Reardon has a difficult time having his wife accept their poverty while Milvain looks to rise to wealth The latter even encourages his sisters to take up the pen and write pretty little romances Even if Jasper Milvain does appear to be our literary villain I couldn't help but smile at a lot of his behavior Many of the themes explored are just as relevant today as they were in the 19th century There are various critics disappointed writers and the ups and downs of the publishing market New Grub Street shows Gissing's cynical side to the reader and who better than a Victorian English author to show us readers what that life looked like Through my browsing online I came to discover that Gissing himself wrote the novel to pay off his creditors If you are thinking that this is a rather bleak book you would be right However if you are looking for cynicism with snippets of hilarity and a good heroReardon and an entertaining villain Milvain than  New Grub Street is just the ticketIf it's not uite your thing but you are still interested in Gissing may I suggest The Odd Women a delightful novel of the author's I read in university and enjoyed very muchGoodreads review published 230620


  10. says:

    I find myself wavering about this novel Half of me thinks it’s only medium good—standard intelligent late VictorianEdwardian fiction without Stevenson’s uicksilver eye and prose or even Arnold Bennett’s dogged lyricism The other half thinks it’s actually rather powerful in the relentlessness of its vision and almost brutal in an interesting way —in particular with what it does with its not uite heroine Marian Yule New Grub Street opens on a note of literal gallows humor when we see the young Jasper Milvain winding up his sisters by expressing his liking for reading about executions “There’s a certain satisfaction in reflecting that it is not oneself” Jasper has plenty of opportunities to enjoy this charitable sensation as he pursues his arduous path to literary success His rise is accompanied on all sides by the spectacle of less “adapted” writers Darwin is definitely a subtext descending into poverty sickness and despair This makes the novel sound depressing and it should be with this subject matter In fact it’s actually uite an enjoyable read If I can say this without sounding too disparaging it has something of a soap opera feel about it with a fairly broad cast of flattish characters choreographed into satisfying moral and emotional geometries The setting is very interesting and vividly realized the half gentlemanly half cutthroat world of journalism and literary publishing in 1880s London with some details curiously reminiscent of today The appealing minor character Whelpdale finally makes his career with a vanity school for would be authors—“novel writing taught in ten lessons”—and a periodical made up of articles measuring no than two inches in length with every inch broken into at least two paragraphs for readers “incapable of sustained attention”Some of the historical detail in the book I found fascinating There’s a weird account of a morning in a smog filled interior “The thick black fog penetrated every corner of the house It could be smelt and tasted ” And I loved it when three characters had dinner in an “à la mode beef shop” —perhaps the 1880s euivalent of St John? Sometimes the pleasure in these details is made up of dramatic irony In this genre I particularly enjoyed the reference to “one of the most shocking alleys in the worst part of Islington”