Class and culture in the selected fiction of George Gissing and of other novelists of the period, 1880-1914.
2015-11-19T09:00:51Z (GMT) by
The work of Gissing provides the clearest and broadest perspective on the tensions generated by the pressure of certain ideological and social forces upon traditional values and forms of authority. Ideas about culture and individuals' actual experience of it were altered in ways fundamental both to society and to fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gissing's fiction is not unique in its enactment of these types of significance and thus can only be defined within both a historical and literary context. Wells's novels formulate a comprehension of culture which prevents its survival in a positive way, both inside and outside society; the pessimism connects with James's The Princess Casamassima of the 1890s. Lawrence's work envisages the possibility of culture being sustained by the single individual; the heroic emphasis connects with Hardy's Jude the Obscure. In Forster the pressure is constantly to end the conflict between true culture and the elements working against it, and here the relationship is with Gissing, for whom these elements are too deeply embedded for the liberal stance to be a genuine one. His novels of the 1880s embody a series of positions within which the crucial relation is that between his particular attitudes and concerns and the fictional, structures that express, reflect and resist them. The resolution of the tensions between his fixed ideological commitment and his sense of historical reality occurs in Thyrza and The Nether World. With New Grub Street a new maturity is apparent which enables Gissing to fully explore the implications of an emerging mass society. Throughout his work the figure of the intellectual is of central importance.