Posted by: zhiv | April 6, 2012

Reading Notes: George Gissing and May Sinclair, Starting New Grub Street

I’m in the middle of writing up May Sinclair’s The Creators, which is complicated and interesting, a bit more of a slog than I might have liked, and a book that it feels good to finish. With The Steppe and The Creators cleared off the deck, months later, I started looking around for other books to read. There were a few different choices, upstairs right now otherwise I’d mention them, but I know that one was Arnold Bennett’s An Old Wive’s Tale and another was George Gissing’s New Grub Street. I’m curious about books in the 1885-1910-1930 period now, trying to understand the movement from the late Victorians towards Modernism and WWI Lit. It has been mostly women authors, for whatever reason–primarily because, getting past James and Hardy and Conrad, there are more books I’ve never read by women and even writers I had never heard of before, but also as a way to read along with my daughter as she pursues her own studies. I don’t mind balancing things out and trying to cover some humiliations, both major and minor, at the same time. Wives Tale piques my curiosity, as I’m thinking it’s probably a pretty good book, and it was just going against the Modernist tide, more or less.

But I find that I was writing about May Sinclair’s The Divine Fire quite a bit as I was considering her later book, The Creators, which is an even more in-depth study of the world of authorship and publishing. And New Grub Street jumped off the shelf as possibly the earlier, perhaps even seminal in certain ways, novel on the topic. It’s a book that I’ve known about for a very long time, without ever having much focus or a path towards it, which just shows that I was never looking at the literature of this period very closely or systematically, never going too far beyond the all-stars and most obvious books.

NGS is really fun and very readable and I’m thoroughly enjoying it; it’s much more engaging than I expected. And it’s exactly what I had only recently figured out, an important prototype for Sinclair. I’m not sure that it’s so original, as much as an advance beyond Pendennis, which I don’t remember so well, and if Pendennis is mentioned it’s impossible not to bring up David Copperfield and Great Expectations too. One question would be how to splice the distinction between the bildungsroman and the self-conscious novel about writing and the world of publishing and literary art. Once I finish my thoughts on The Creators I can go back to look at Lyn Picket’s helpful introduction more carefully, which might help. But mostly this is a note to say that I’m surprised to see how fun and engaging the George Gissing novel is, enough that right now I can’t wait to get back to it.

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