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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gissing's Romance of Real Life, 3 Mar. 2009
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Will Warburton (Paperback)
George Gissing's (1857 - 1903) last completed novel "Will Warburton: a Romance of Real Life" was published posthumously in 1904. Frequently overlooked or downplayed among his works, "Will Warburton" shows marked shifts for Gissing. Moving from his characteristic pessimism, Gissing's novel is indeed a romance that ends happily in a successful courtship and marriage between two people much in love. In the book, Gissing's hero moves from the ranks of the upper-middle class to a lower social strata. The novel is set in London against the background of greed, business speculation and financial ruin. Thus it has a disquietingly contemporary feel.

As the book opens, Will Warburton, young, open-hearted and generous, is in the business of refining sugar with his improvident and scheming friend Godfrey Sherwood. With the businese experiencing difficulties, Sherwood proposes that the pair cut their losses in sugar refining and become involved instead in the manufacture of jam. Warburton acquires the necessary capital from his aging mother and his sister, who sell a treasured family property to finance the venture. To keep them from penury, Warburton plans on paying his mother and sister a varying share of interest from the profits of the jam business. Alas the business comes to naught. Sherwood quickly loses Warburton's capital, as well as his own, in a stock market speculation. Warburton is ruined.

With his small remaining funds and the assistance of a man named Allchief, a brusque individual who tends to engage in fighting when unoccupied with work, Warburton opens a small grocery store under the name of Jollyman. Gissing makes much of Warburton giving up his business dress and wearing instead the apron of a grocer as reflective of his diminution in class. Warburton keeps his new occupation, a distinct step down in his own eyes and in the eyes of others, a secret in order to save his mother and sister from embarrassment. The shop prospers and Warburton is able to pay his mother and sister the promised minimal return on their capital. But Warburton remains ashamed and ambivalent about his new career. He also feels guilty over his secrecy and deception.

The novel sets off Warburton's upper class friends with his newly-acquired friends to the detriment, on the whole, of the former. Warburton's story is contrasted with that of a young painter and friend, Norbert Franks, whose efforts Warburton had encouraged at an early stage of Frank's career with loans. Franks had aspired to serious art, but he becomes a portrait painter who achieves great financial success with no artistic distinction. In his poor days, Frank had tried to win the love of a beautiful amateur painter, Rosamund Evan, who accepts his marriage proposal but then jilts him. Frank then courts a poor but talented artist, Bertha Cross. With the seeming end of the relationship between Franks and Rosamund, Warburton cautiously tries to court Rosamund. She is responsive at first but ends the relationship abruptly when she visits the grocery store and sees that Warburton is the proprietor, Jollyman. Rosamund then returns to Franks whom, up until the discovery of Jollyman, she had continued to spurn. Franks is all-too-willing to leave Bertha for the beautiful Rosamund, even though Rosamund had earlier abandoned him. Warburton begins courting Bertha who is able to look to his heart and not to his grocer's apron. She accepts him. Warburton continues his modest life as a grocer with its independence. He becomes free of social cant and open and accepting about his position in life. The married couple, Franks and Rosamund want little to do with their former friend Warburton, and Gissing is emphatic that Warburton is well rid of them.

In Gissing's best-known novel, "New Grub Street", which tells of literary life in Victorian London, Gissing draws a portrait of a poor, serious writer, Biffen, who does not write to please the multitudes. Biffen works diligently on a work of social realism that has no chance of achieving popularity, a novel called "Mr Bailey: Grocer". The novel explores the lives of those whom Biffen calls the "ignobly decent". In a climactic scene in "New Grub Street", Biffen rushes into a burning building to save the manuscript of "Mr. Bailey:Grocer" from destruction. "Will Warburton" is Gissing's own "Mr. Bailey: Grocer" with its portrayal of the unglamorous but stolidly honest life of the hero. In its portrait of love and romance, "Will Warburton" also bears resemblances to another earlier Gissing work, the short novel "Eve's Ransom"(1895)in which the young protagonist, Maurice Hilliard, loses the woman he loves to a wealthier man but finds peace and independence for himself.

Unfortunately little read today, "Will Warburton" explores Gissing's familiar themes of love relationships, art, and commerce, with a light, humorous touch and, most importantly, a degree of hope. Gissing ended his career fittingly with this novel. "Will Warburton" deserves to be remembered and read.

Robin Friedman
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5.0 out of 5 stars Overlooked classic Gissing, 30 Nov. 2010
light (brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Will Warburton (Paperback)
Will Warburton was published after Gissing's death in 1904 and like many of his books is shamefully neglected. It is great to be able to buy it through these on demand prints.
I really enjoyed this book. It Has many elements of Gissing at his best - exploring social mores and the constraints of class. Tangled love affairs and the effects of money (or lack thereof)in daily life.
Gissing's book really capture something in my heart - his characters are never all good or bad but feel more real than the stock types often found in Victorian literature and his endings are never trite.

In the opening chapters we meet Will Warburton- a very kind and happy chap. His father is dead - his mother and sister live in a nice house in the countryside on a small competency and Warburton's small inheritance has allowed him to become a partner in a sugar importing business with a young man called Godfrey. Warburton thinks only well of people and cannot see that Godfrey is a dissembling, rash gambler. He tips well, pays for convalesing holidays for his landlady's ailing sister and gives large loans to his friend Robert Frank who is a struggling artist engaged to the beautiful Rosamund.

Warburton's comfortable life comes crashing down when Godfrey persuades him to invest his inheritance and also his mothers income in a jam making business. The business is sound but unbeknown to Waburton, Godfrey gambles their stake on the stock exchange before the sale is completed and they lose everything.

Warburton has to find a way to support his mother and himself and decides to takeover a local grocery store. He needs to work in it himself to make a profit and names the shop Jollymans (he becomes known as Mr Jollyman). This is a frightful come down in station and he keeps his new occupation secret from his friends who assume he has become a clerk. The story follows Warburton as he comes to terms with his reduced circumstances and grindingly long hours of toil. He also pursues love and lives with the consequences of his secret life on his mental well being.The story also highlights the hypocrisy of his friends and how kindness does not always go rewarded.

This book is well worth reading.
If you have read New Grub Street the fact that Warburton becomes a grocer chimes with poor old Biffen the author who nearly dies saving his script for "Mr Bailey, Grocer" (a story about a gentleman who becomes a grocer and quite likes it)from a burning house.Perhaps Gissing thought it would be amusing to give the idea a go in real life!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 5 July 2014
Mr. J. C. Moore "Rip it up" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Will Warburton (Kindle Edition)
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