Monday, 26 September 2011

In the Year of Jubilee

In The Forsyte Saga John Galsworthy chronicled the upper middle classes for the lower middle brow reader. The opening of the novel is set in 1886 which is one year before the jubilee of Queen Victoria. In the Year of Jubilee George Gissing writes about the lower middle classes. His audience is perhaps upper middle brow. There is no chance whatever that his work will be turned into a superior soap to beguile the winter schedule with a Christmas episode.

The close attention to class and the minute division in those classes that are opaque to the outsider is a theme of Gissing’s. In general his people are ill fed, ill housed and ministered to by mutinous servants. When introduced in the novel they are sketched in like types from a Lombroso catalogue.

A younger girl of much slighter build with a frisky gait, a jaunty pose of the head, pretty, but thin-featured and shallow-eyed; a long neck, no chin to speak of , a low forehead with the hair of washed-out flaxen fluffed all over it.

Due to the new universal education they, the 3 French sisters, are able to read but to what end.

But on tables and chairs lay scattered a multitude of papers, illustrated weeklies, journals of society, cheap miscellaneous penny novelettes and the like.

The 3 are living in De Crespigny Park, more genteel than their previous residence on the Camberwell Road. The husband of the eldest Ada is Arthur Peachey who is a leading light in a manufactory dedicated to disinfectant. Their deceased builder father left them some money.

Beatrice and Fanny had learnt to support themselves, Beatrice in the postal service, and Fanny, sweet blossom! by mingling her fragrance with that of a florist’s shop in Brixton; but on their fathers death both forsook their employment and came to live with Mrs. Peachey.

The other family in the novel are the Lords, Stephen the father, Nancy and Horace the children. Fanny French has designs on Horace whom she reckon will come in for half of the plunder when the old boy dies. He is a dealer in pianos, a lucrative trade when every parlour that fancied itself had to have one.

One thing about Gissing; if you want to know how people lived when the Empire straddled the globe and the Old Queen reigned he’s your man. Interiors, food, hairstyles, dress both male and female he covers everything with special attention to the shoddy and the tawdry. He’s much the better writer than Galsworthy in the rendering of texture. His depiction of the squalid and evil conditions of Victorian England distorting the lives of the masses is excellent. His women are fell creatures, his men mostly hapless. All his works are on Gutenberg. Recommended: New Grub Street, The Odd Women. I am at present reading The Nether World about life in the tenements. Not many jokes.

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