THE BORN EXILE: George Gissing by Gillian Tindall

THE BORN EXILE: George Gissing

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At the beginning of this first study of Gissing in many years (he is being republished in England) Tindall claims for each writer a fifty year hiatus during which he will remain unread until rediscovered by a later generation. Despite the excellence of this book, one wonders whether it can possibly bring Gissing to life for a readership only distantly familiar -- perhaps -- with New Grub Street. The man himself was kind but dour and unimpassioned; his novels -- dealing with issues which have come and gone -- heavy and shapeless. One is left questioning whether Gissing, as Tindall says, ""appeals to people. He touches them"" in spite of his 19th century themes, even though one would rarely question Tindall otherwise in her clever correlations of his works and his life and their various points of convergence. Born in a limited, industrial city and reared to ""plain living and high thinking,"" Gissing would later attempt to escape his commonplace background via the low life -- thus his young marriage to a ""dolly-mop"" who would later die of drink and syphilis. No Nana, this Nell -- but there was something more in Gissing which would lead him into two further destructive relationships of neurotic kinship; Gissing, as the author explains, was always more susceptible to the idea of love rather than its reality, just as he would uphold charitable urges and social causes without becoming personally committed to them -- ""knowing with his pen what he could not put into practice in his life."" In the end it would be Gissing contending against himself rather than the circumstances he deplored and later repudiated -- ""the born exile"" of the title creating his own descent, alienation, outsiderdom (perhaps the lot, as Tindall suggests, of any true artist). A close, cool, tasteful and astute biography, impeccably styled, predicated nonetheless on an interest in the man and his works.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1974
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich