Reviews

Spellbound, George Gissing. Volume I: The Storyteller; Volume II: A Twenty-First Century Reappraisal. Ed. Christine Huguet. Amsterdam: Equilibris, 2008. ISBN 978-90-5976-007-3 hardcover; ISBN: 978-90-5976-008-0 paperback. Price: €118/€79[Notice]

  • Ruth Livesey

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  • Ruth Livesey
    University of London

George Gissing was, as several contributors to this valuable double volume point out, one of the most cosmopolitan of late-nineteenth-century British novelists. In Gissing’s own lifetime his early interest in German Romantic writing, later friendship with the German critic Eduard Bertz, and final partnership with the French translator, Gabrielle Fleury give ample biographical support to the notion that this novelist—often identified with narratives of lower-class London—was frequently thinking across the channel to continental Europe. Over the past decade there has been a renewal of interest in Gissing’s works as a result of the Anglo-American turn to historicist studies of the literature and culture of the British fin de siècle. Several contributors to this collection, such as Diana Maltz and Constance Harsh, have played a part in shaping that field with monographs in which the individual author is a means to open out broader narratives of cultural politics and aesthetics in the late nineteenth century. Yet Spellbound, a double volume of eleven reprinted short stories and eleven specially commissioned critical essays, owes its existence to a rather different source of scholarship: the forty-five-year devotion of the French critic Pierre Coustillas to the cause of fostering a community of research on Gissing, through the Gissing Newsletter (later the Gissing Journal) and his own estimable publications. Christine Huguet’s edited collection has been assembled as a Festschrift for Coustillas and his wife Hélène (a noted Gissing scholar in her own right). The tempting, if misleading, identification of Gissing as a naturalist novelist—Britain’s Emile Zola—has always made him a popular subject for Anglo-French literary scholarship. Coustillas’s contribution to the field, however, goes far beyond this starting point. Thanks to him, Gissing scholarship continues to be as cosmopolitan as Gissing’s own interests, with its chief centre of gravity in continental Europe and a thriving output of single-author focussed collections and studies. The unusual format of this double volume is testament to the value of such scholarship. Although bound and marketed as a single book, the first 200 pages are a selection of Gissing’s short stories drawn from the wide span of his career and rarely reprinted after their original publication in periodicals. The stories range from two Gissing stories published during his “American exile” in Chicago and New York in 1877--“Gretchen” and “An English Coast Picture”--to “The Pig and Whistle,” composed in 1900 but published posthumously in 1904. The second volume consists of a critical essay on each of the short stories drawn, for the most part, from regular contributors to the Gissing Journal. The publishers, Equilibris, should be congratulated on supporting this venture, which would be a useful format for studies of the minor fiction of other authors besides Gissing. In its ideal form, such a double-volume publication allows the reader to trace the chronological development of the author’s engagement with the short-story form and then to move on to the companion essays in the subsequent volume. This mode of reading Gissing’s short stories is, however, slightly problematic. Gissing was, to say the least, ambivalent about the aesthetic possibilities of the short story form. His ventures in short-story publication, as the useful appendix to this work makes clear, went in phases, with over 30 pieces appearing in the first three years of his career as a professional writer from 1877 to 1880 and a scant few in the early 1880s, followed by a complete hiatus; then a prolific output in the middle years of the 1890s, steadying to a trickle until his death in 1903. Much of this is due, of course, to the market possibilities for short fiction in the late nineteenth ...

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