on 11 February 2011
This immaculately produced book has a detailed introduction by Pierre Coustillas and the text of the two volumes of the novel as it was published in 1886. There are helpful notes and copies of ten first edition reviews indicating that Gissing was already regarded as an important novelist, although the novels for which he is better known today were published later.
The book will be of interest primarily to scholars and to Gissing enthusiasts. I suggest that any reader should try to put preconceptions about the author aside. As is often the case with classics it may be a good idea to read the novel, which will be new to many, before studying the learned introduction.
I was most struck by the lightness of tone and the careful and detailed way the leading characters are introduced and developed. The author occasionally intercedes on behalf of his creations, suggesting that the reader should not judge even the most opportunistic rogue too harshly. A sense of irony is apparent at times, as well as humour. The novel has its moments of sadness and as might be expected the path of true love is a pretty uneven one.
Human characteristics and social circumstances, with some interventions by random events, dominate the narrative. Gissing's creations remain true to themselves. The extreme and unwarranted jealousy of the hero may seem to be stretched to the limit and some of the plot devices are a bit creaky. Gissing saw society and human nature with a clear vision. Both the reader and even possibly the author may occasionally hope that things will turn out differently. But Gissing resolutely avoids false dawns and in the context of this novel, given the occasional hint that all is not necessarily for the worst, he seems to have got it right.