Mr George Gissing's new novel, The Crown ofLift, was understood to be of an optimistic character. Different people have different ideas of optimism. The book certainly ends with a declaration of love and a promise ofmarriage, but as all, or nearly all, the people already married when the story begins are represented as disappointed with their experiences of that estate, the reader has his doubts whether he ought to rejoice with the couple who take leave of him on the altar steps. The plot is simple-not to say commonplace. A foolish, silly young
man, after sundry lets and hindrances ultimately secures the affections of a beautiful but capricious young woman who took a long time making up her mind, and even engaged herself to another young man in the meanwhile. It is, in short, the sort of story one is accustomed to expect from lady novelists of the older school rather than from Mr Gissing. It is also the sort of story that the lady novelists used to make more convincing than Mr Gissing makes it. For he suffers from the defects of his qualities and exercises his great gifts of psychological insight to the point ofdestroying illusion. In a love story it is obviously desirable that we should know why the hero was attracted by the heroine, and why the heroine was attracted by the hero; but Mr Gissing, by his ruthless (though quiet and subtle) exposure of their imperfections, always prevents his readers from doing anything of the sort. When he wrote realistic novels about the sordid life of the lower middle classes this did not matter. We took a' purely intellectual pleasure in the performance, and did not want to sympathize. In the case ofa romance, the conditions are different. It mayor may not make the reader think, it must make the reader feel. And Mr Gissing has this time given us a romance in which all sentiment is killed by too accurate observation, too careful description, and too acute analysis. The characters in The Crown of Life belong to a higher social stratum than that in which Mr Gissing usually delves with such success. They do not belong to the minor suburbs, but have good addresses at Queen's Gate, Bryanston Square, and so forth; they are not clerks and literary hacks, but prosperous professional men, empire builders, members of Parliament and the like. This social change of air will be pleasing to some of Mr Gissing's readers; but not to all of them. His descriptions have not the same deadly certainty of touch, as of old, nor do they evince the same intuitive perception of the things that may be taken for granted. On the contrary, there is a good deal of insistence upon unnecessary details-such details as that ofa lady treated a visitor with 'courtesy,' that one young man washed, and that another kept his nails clean. Is it more necessary to say all this than it is to say that the member of Parliament did not eat his peas with a knife, or that the empire builder did n~t come down to dinner in carpet slippers? There is also a good deal of unpatriotic sentiment in the book, and much petulant protest against the expansion ofEngland. The Crown ofLife cannot be reckoned among Mr Gissing's successes.