chapter  137
Unsigned review, Manchester Guardian, June 1901
Pages 2

Mr George Gissing's new book, Our Friend the Charlatan, is an interesting ifnot very cheering contribution to his studies in modern civilisation. The hero, if so he may be called, is no Colossus of the type of Quisante or Harry Richmond's father-a compound, in varying proportions but ever inseparable, of genius and vulgarity. From the very opening we can place Mr Dyce Lashmar among those intelligent weaklings, dupes of their own facile enthusiasm, who embark on the sea oflife in the frail craie ofborrowed opinions with the sail ofa glib tongue and practically no ballast of humour or honest emotion. Mr Gissing's skill lies less in the creation of such a figure than in the fact that he has brought it within the range of our sympathies, has made of it, indeed, an embodiment of certain faculties which most honest people can recognise in embryo in their own breasts. The other characters, moreover, instead of being subordinated to the task of showing off Mr Lashmar by contrast or affmity, are worked out with equal care, and some, to our mind, even more successfully. Old Lady Ogram, for instance, the wealthy and childless despot on whom Lashmar depends for his political success, though hardly a very original or subtle character, is drawn with an incisiveness and precision of detail which make her figure a masterpiece in its way. Born of the people, she carries into her acquired sphere of wealth and influence the more primitive instincts ofher class, unchastened by the influences ofmodern society. Of the three younger women, May Tomalin is a fainter copy of her grand-aunt's temper without the strength that comes of an assured position; Iris Woolstan, the young widow who believes in Lashmar to the end, belongs to the more commonplace feminine. Indeed it is not the least poignant of those ironies of destiny which

await the 'Charlatan' that in his day ofstress and humiliation he should find his last and only refuge in the unreasoning and hysterical side of womankind which he has always denounced. Constance Bride, Lady Ogram's secretary, though more interesting than her two rivals in Lashmar's regard, stands out less distinctly. We are not clear how long her early weakness for Lashmar survives or whether it dies an easy death. In the fmal scene Constance appears entirely sincere and selfreliant; her clear brain has pierced the shallow sophistries of the man and left him defenceless; but it would be interesting to know over what corpses of tenderness or passion the woman has reached this altitude. Two other figures deserve notice as illustrating those phases ofthought which in the world of fiction Mr Gissing has made specially his own. Lord Dymchurch, an impecunious peer of thoughtful mind and honourable feeling, suffers from the conflict, so often seen, between generous popular sympathies and a hatred of those grosser aids to success frequently demanded in the working of even the best 'causes'. The quietism towards which this counterbalancing of forces tends would seem to represent not unfairly Mr Gissing's ideal in life. But it is spoilt in the case ofLord Dymchurch by an uneasy conscience telling him ofhis futility, until at last he fmds satisfaction in the culture ofthe soil and the belief that to live as an honest man is work meet for the highest. More pathetic is the figure of Lashmar's father, the old Vicar, who also feels the world to be out ofjoint and himself unfitted to set it right. The Sermon on the Mount he holds to be 'the best' we have, but he cannot look forward to its triumph over the world in his own or indeed in any future day. The story, as such, is cleverly contrived up to the climax of Lady Ogram's death, which practically closes it, though some indications as to the actors' future lives prolong the volume for a few chapters. This sudden and awkward drop in the interest points to some fault of construction. But it is not as a drama that the book has its value. Ofpassion and action it contains singularly little, and the marvel rather is that Mr Gissing should hold us so long under the spell of what might be called a study of life f~om the intellectual standpoint, one-sided, not in the sense ofa narrow exclusiveness, but ofa mental preoccupation. Viewed thus the book is full ofinterest; full too-whether we like it or not-of suggestion, of warning, and surely also, in spite of its scepticism, of an unspoken protest for right and humanity.