chapter  24
James Ashcroft Noble, Academy, July 1886
Pages 2

Many mournful memories conspire to prevent one from opening with very high expectations ofpleasure a book with an unfamiliar name on the tide-page; hut Isabel Clarendon has none of the ordinary characteristics of a first novel. Mr George Gissing, who is apparently a new writer, must in his time have filled a good many waste-paper baskets

with his tentative efforts, for there is nothing amateurish in the story by which he introduces himself to the novel-reading world. Isabel Clarendon is above all things a mature book; and such faults as it has are the faults of a man who has deliberately formulated certain principles of art, not of one who fumbles on without any principles at all and describes the process as 'writing under inspiration'. Mr Gissing is probably, like Gautier, rather contemptuous of inspiration, and his book has not a single character or a single situation which is not clearly the outcome oflaborious and intelligent study. In following the practice of Mr Henry James by leaving nearly all the threads of his story hanging loose at the end of the second and last volume, I cannot help thinking, with due humility, that he is mistaken. I cannot escape from the old-fashioned opinion that if a man sets himself to write a story it should be a story with a fore-ordained and inevitable close, which leaves behind it a sense ofimaginative satisfaction. But writers like Mr James and Mr Gissing think otherwise; so their readers must needs be content with the goods the gods provide. In Isabel Clarendon there is certainly ample material for contentment. It is impossible to be quite sure that one understands the nature of the hero, Bernard Kingcote, whose capacity for self-torment seems to have in it a touch of insanity. But, without understanding, one can recognise the sympathetic subtlety of the portraiture; and the character of Ada Warren, which presents fewer difficulties, is an imaginative triumph. Indeed, the book has so much interesting, matter that one would like to linger over the enjoyable things which it contains; but this is impossible, so I must regretfully content myself with recommending it heartily to that cultivated class of readers who seek in fiction what Mr Matthew Arnold says is to be found in good poetry-a 'criticism of life.'