The early works of novelists are particularly interesting and I wonder how a late 19th Century reader, perhaps a fan of Wilkie Collins, would have responded to this book. I rather think they would have enjoyed it. There is a good plot, there are two highly contrasted young females for the love interest, there is the disadvantaged hero who at least for a while overcomes adversity, and a couple of toffs who behave badly. The scene setting is always dramatic, the young Gissing new his stuff when it came to the slum areas of London, and much of the writing is vivid.
The youthful energy and determination that led to the creation of this long novel in difficult circumstances is almost hard to credit. The effort made to achieve a work worthy of publication underlined by the self-belief indicated by his own financial investment in the project is astounding.
Nevertheless I feel it fair to add that some of the romantic interest is marred by over-elaborate dialogue. The novel sometimes veers dangerously close to the sensation genre and the extensive notes provided suggest that the 19th Century reader might not have got all the drift or appreciated some of finer philosophical points on offer. The secularly minded but saintly Helen is too good to be true and the thought of poor misguided Carrie being subjected to a regime of lessons is, even if drawn from life, either rather sad.
This novel will be of great interest to the Gissing enthusiast but I suspect that the author himself in later life would have been well aware of its failings.
The print on demand volume is beautifully presented, with a useful map of the area of that area of London where the action occurs. I look forward with anticipation to future publications from the same source.