Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Back On The Horse

Sorry for the gap - too much to write about rather than too little!

Just finished George Gissing's New Grub Street, a late Victorian novel focused on the struggle between art and commerce, with the latter, justifiably or no, the clear winner. No character in the book who does not have money ends up anything other than dead or obscure and the characters who become well-to-do by luck, initiative or both, continue to prosper as we wish harder and harder that the novel's deeply cynical point of view were not so vindicated.

It is also, in a sense, a meta-novel, as the characters themselves, all striving in the literary world of their time, continuously debate the relative merits of M. Zola's naturalism versus Dickens' use of farce and melodrama to make his novels tick. Gissing himself, considered a naturalist who evolved into a realist (someday I'll really understand that distinction) is not above a bit of farce and melodrama himself when it serves to keep the plot moving, ennoble an otherwise doomed character with a dignified death and so on.

Although it is not an accepted literary school, Gissing might best be called a pessimist. He is not dispassionate enough in his presentation of grim realities to hide the fact that his sympathies lie with the losers, yet the two main characters who come out on top at the finish (and who he has constructed skillfully enough that we can't actually despise them, at least I don't think we are supposed to), end the book with this bit of dialog:

"Ha! isn't the world a glorious place?"
"For rich people."
"Yes, for rich people. How I pity the poor devils!"

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