New Grub Street, written by George Gissing, is a perfect example of Victorian realism, which brings me to the reason for my studying it. I studied this novel as part of a module called ‘Literature in History’ at University. The point of the module was to place the text in the point it was written in history and discuss what affects that may have on the text. Many Victorian texts are what we call ‘realist’ texts as they contain aspects of real life in an attempt to somehow represent reality. Writers do this by creating daily routines for their characters and including mundane and banal details, however, it is because of this that realism can be stereotyped as ‘boring’. Realism is still a genre in the 21st century but usually it is adapted in some way to make it more accessible to a modern readership, this includes mixing with other genres and ‘recreating’ realism. For example, the term ‘magical realism’ has been introduced and a novel by Angela Carter called Nights At The Circus, which I will discuss in a few posts time, is labelled under this genre.
New Grub Street tells the story of a group of writers trying to make a living in London. One of the main characters is a man named Jasper Milvain, who moves his sisters into London when his mother dies in the hope they can make their own living also using writing as a profession. Mr Milvain has numerous relationships and courtships with suitable women in London but the woman who really steals his heart is Marian Yule. The novel explores the progression of his profession, his friendships and his relationships.
Another of the main characters is a man named Edwin Reardon who lives with his wife Amy, and forgettable son William, in a cheap flat in London. Reardon’s struggles to make money cause problems in their marriage and they struggle on, though not united in their difficulties, until a tragic end.
Most of the characters are all acquaintances with each other and move in the same circles, making it a kind of Victorian age soap opera. This makes the novel interesting as it is a reflection of life in London during this time but is not ‘raw’ realism, in the sense that it does not describe minor banal details in extremes. The writing purely gives the reader a sense of time and place without exaggerating the minorities.
This is not an action packed novel in the exciting sense but it does have similarities to a soap opera in the sense there are twists and unexpected deaths to shock you and keep the reader entertained. For this reason and the fact that it meanders through the life of writers in an almost biographical and ‘truthful’ way, I would recommend this novel.