chapter  2
12 Pages

Gissing and Women in the 1890s: The Conditions and Consequences of Narrative Sympathy

ByConstance D. Harsh

As an individual, Gissing could not exactly be claimed for the feminist cause LQ VRPH VLPSOH ZD\ 6RPH RI KLV ¿FWLRQ VKRZV QRWDEO\ WUDGLWLRQDO QRWLRQV RI women’s appropriate role. His characteristic topic is usually seen as the unclassed PDOH±WKHLQWHOOLJHQWEXWLPSHFXQLRXV\RXQJPDQZKRFDQQRW¿QGDVRFLDOVWDWLRQ equivalent to his capabilities. He does not seem to have taken on the representation of women as a particular project. In summarizing his literary achievement to 0RUOH\5REHUWVLQKHLGHQWL¿HGWKHFUHDWLRQRIXQFRPPRQPHQDVWKHµVLGH of my work [that is] to me the most important’, adding, ‘I say nothing about my women. That is a moot point. But surely there are some of them who help to give colour to the groups I draw’ (letter of 10 Feb. 1895, Letters, vol. 5, p. 296). However, he was friendly with such new women as Clara Collet and Edith Sichel; he attended lectures on feminism, and as early as 1889 he was doing reading in feminist literature to prepare for a never-completed novel on women’s education. And he noted on 23 June 1895 to Bertz with some puzzlement, ‘It is strange how many letters I get from women, asking for sympathy & advice. I really can’t understand what it is in my work that attracts the female mind’ (Letters, vol. 5, p. 351). However unconsciously, Gissing did demonstrate a notable capacity for imaginative sympathy with women.