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The Whirlpool Kindle Edition
|Length: 294 pages||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled||Page Flip: Enabled|
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Top Customer Reviews
The title "The Whirlpool" is the key metaphor of the book. Gissing and his main character, Harvey Rolfe describe the world of late Nineteenth Century London as "a ghastly whirlpool which roars over a bottomless pit" (p. 47)for its ceaseless and senseless activity devoted to the pursuit of money which draws everyone into its maw. In discussing the difficulties of raising children, Rolfe observes that "There's the whirlpool of the furiously busy. Round and round they go; brains humming till they melt or explode." (p.Read more ›
Harvey Rolfe, a typically Gissing protagonist, attempts to enliven his existence by marrying the beautiful Alma Frothingham, but he soon finds that the marriage which was meant to encapsulate the burgeoning equality of 'modern' marriage is not all he imagined, and he instead seeks solace in becoming a very modern father to his beloved son. Alma meanwhile wishes to follow her avant-guarde dream of becoming a professional female violinist, only gradually realising it is her own mediocrity which holds her back. In progressive acts of self-delusion, she attempts to prove her own worth, and becomes increasingly tangled in a web of lust, debt, drug dependency, and the dark and seedy demi-monde of London society.
Backed up by a vivid cast of end-of-the-century casualties, this novel is an exciting, idiosyncratic, depiction of a moment in time. In my opinion, Gissing's best novel, and certainly his most enjoyable!
The real drama centres around Alma, a young girl of 20, who's father's shameful performance lead to the banks losses and his suicide. She has to go abroad to make plans and further her questionable musical career; she has two admirers follow her Cyrus Redgrave a wealthy bachelor (who makes an indecent proposal in the most understated Victorian way imaginable) and Harvey Rolfe (the nice one whom she ends up marrying). Harvey has a close friend Hugh who marries Sibyl. The underlying and all too subtle catalyst is what are Sibyl and Alma may or may no be prepared to do to have Cyrus as a friend and patron?
`Whirlpool' is a misrepresentation of the drama you might expect: it refers more to `life's woes' in general rather than the turmoil of the banking crash which occurs early on. At the outset it has to be said that this should really have been called `storm in a teacup'. There are some interesting parallel stories/characters but quite early you realise that the story has no drive, passion or colour - the society depicted may be rendered in realistic literary classic way but it's so, dare I say it, boring; the low key dry innuendo between the women in the story leading to the all too late (450 pages of close text) finale didn't rescue the story for me. I like Gissing but this really was an un-engaging slog for me: read Odd Women, Nether World or Grub Street first.
I felt I had read the story before and it is remarkably similar to 'Portrait of a Lady' by James written about the same time, which I also didn't rate for similar reasons. So I guess if you liked 'P o a L' then Whirlpool may be for you
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
forgotten. When Gissing wrote "The Whirlpool" he was quite an expert on disfunctional families. The 1890s
were the time of his greatest literary success but privately he was in the depths of despair.
Harvey Rolfe (who was George Gissing's voice in the novel) marries Alma Frothingham. There are ominous signs
before they are wed. Alma's philosophy is that she wants to live life free of duty and obligation (read
selfish). Harvey doesn't see that - in his view she wants to be totally independant, he sees her as a "new
woman". Alma is ultimately a tragic figure, whose love of praise and adulation is eventually her downfall.
Gissing was interested in the "blood will out" view. Alma's father committed suicide but her mother is never
mentioned. Harvey makes different remarks about Alma, maybe inheriting her unstable temperament from her
mother but it is never gone into in detail.
Gissing has some forward thinking ideas - a conversation with Mary Abbott, a widow who he helps
financially when her husband commits suicide. She and Alma's stepmother, Mrs. Frothingham are two women, who
by strength of character survive. Rolfe predicts there will come a day when there will be "establishments for
young children of the middle class" - child care and kindergarten. The strongest relationship in the book is
ulimately the one Harvey Rolfe enjoys with his little son Hugh - he is determined to bring him up and educate
him in a new way, free of the restrictions of old.
A main concern of the author and his main hero is the impossibility of a satisfactory and fulfilling married life. The weakness of the novel in relation to that theme is that GG does not let us come to this conclusion ourselves, but he needs to tell us from the start. When the future couple meets, we know right away that this is never going to work. GG was not devious enough. We are not deceived about the woman in the same way as her future husband is. He picks up with our knowledge fast enough when it is too late, but is a good sport and tries to make the best of it. Not that he is a nugget of a man himself.
And, lest I forget to mention it, having children is entirely inconvenient. That is accepted as a matter of course, hardly a debate about it.
The story starts in the year 1886. Central character is an independent gentleman who came into his moderate fortune only after living more modestly as a business employee. Harvey Rolfe, 37, is not a man who is meant to be liked much. He gets to marry a young beauty without much brains, little purpose of mind, and only middlish talents as a violinist. The marriage happens only because the girl's father commits suicide after his big investment vehicle fails. The father was a sort of minor Madoff with a prehistoric sense of honor, which led to his doing himself away before being put away. Without that, his daughter would have been in the hunt for a millionaire, not content with small fry like Rolfe.
Some have compared Gissing's style and subject to Henry James. I can't agree on that. The main similarity between the two novelists is time and location. Apart from that they are rather far apart, not only in their dominant social setting. HJ was clearly an upper class fellow, while GG had his roots in poorer strata.
Gissing was a much more direct and much less elaborate author. James could have told the same story but it would have been a different story. He would have been less explicit. You couldn't have trusted him the way you can trust Gissing. Gissing tells you his version of the truth. James tells you a story and you must blame yourself if you believe him. Gissing is full of ideas, James never had an idea in his life, as somebody said, approximately. I say this as a James admirer who wants to point out the differences, not to pass judgment. James is certainly the greater novelist, but with Gissing you get more to chew on. Reading Gissing is a dialogue from sentence to sentence. Reading James is like looking at a painting in a museum.