chapter  4
12 Pages

Gissing’s Nell: Her Body and His Text

ByRoger Milbrandt

The word ‘other’, indicating categories of persons excluded from one’s customary norms, has been a part of academic discourse for generations; in the past few GHFDGHVZHKDYHEHJXQWRXVHWKHSKUDVHµVLJQL¿FDQWRWKHU¶LQHYHU\GD\VSHHFKWR indicate the partner of an amatory relationship.1*HRUJH*LVVLQJ¶V¿UVWVLJQL¿FDQW RWKHU±KLV¿UVWZLIH1HOO+DUULVRQ±ZDVPRUHVLJQL¿FDQWO\ µRWKHU¶ WR*HRUJH *LVVLQJ WKDQ VLJQL¿FDQW RWKHUV DUH ZRQW WR EH $Q XQHGXFDWHG ZRUNLQJFODVV ZRPDQ1HOO+DUULVRQEURXJKWLQWR*LVVLQJ¶VSUHYLRXVO\WLG\DQGRUGHUO\PLGGOH class life a compendium of novelties: these included, obviously, sex, emotional intimacy and class difference, but also indigence, illness, scandal and crime. 1HOO ZDV OLNHO\ MXVW WXUQLQJ LQ WKH ZLQWHU RI ± ZKHQ VKHPHW

*LVVLQJWKHQDQ\HDUROGSUL]HVWXGHQWDW2ZHQV&ROOHJH0DQFKHVWHU*LVVLQJ ZDVH[SHOOHGIURP2ZHQV&ROOHJHWKHIROORZLQJ-XQHDVDUHVXOWRIKDYLQJEHHQ FDXJKWVWHDOLQJIURPWKHFROOHJHFORDNURRPDQGDVDUHDFWLRQWRZKDWWKH3ULQFLSDO RI2ZHQVFDOOHGDOLIHRIµLPPRUDOLW\DQGGLVVLSDWLRQ¶±ZKLFKDOPRVWFHUWDLQO\ involved fornicating with Nell Harrison.2$IWHUDPRQWKLQSULVRQDQGD\HDULQWKH United States, Gissing settled in London and Nell was soon sharing his modest TXDUWHUV7KHFRXSOHPDUULHGLQ2FWREHURIDQGLQ'HFHPEHURIDIWHU DERXW¿YH\HDUVRIFRKDELWDWLRQDQGIROORZLQJVHYHUDOWULDOVHSDUDWLRQVWKH\SDUWHG GH¿QLWLYHO\7KH\QHYHUGLYRUFHGDQG*LVVLQJPDLQWDLQHG1HOOZLWKDSD\PHQWRI HLWKHUVKLOOLQJVRURQHSRXQGSHUZHHNXQWLO)HEUXDU\RIZKHQ1HOOGLHG three days after her thirtieth birthday.3 7KHPRVWLQÀXHQWLDOGHSLFWLRQRI1HOO+DUULVRQLVWREHIRXQGLQThe Private Life

of Henry Maitland±DQRYHOZULWWHQLQE\*LVVLQJ¶VIULHQG0RUOH\5REHUWV

)LJ *HRUJH *LVVLQJ $XJXVW GDWHG 6HSWHPEHU E\ *LVVLQJ &RXVWLOODV

which is clearly based on the life of Gissing. The title character of the novel is RIFRXUVH*LVVLQJKLPVHOIDQG0DLWODQG¶V¿UVWZLIH0DULRQ+LOWRQLV5REHUWV¶V ¿FWLRQDO UHSUHVHQWDWLRQRI1HOO+DUULVRQ0DULRQ LVDSDWKHWLFHYHQGHVSLFDEOH SHUVRQ±DQLQYHWHUDWHDOFRKROLFZKRSURVWLWXWHVKHUVHOIIRUGULQNWKURXJKRXWKHU adult life, even while married to Henry Maitland. Her presence in the novel invites WKHUHDGHUWRSLW\0DLWODQGDVDYLFWLPDQGDOVRWRGHVSLVHKLVIHFNOHVVQHVV $OO *LVVLQJ VFKRODUV UHFRJQL]H WKH JHQHUDO XQUHOLDELOLW\ RIMaitland as an

historical document, laden as it is with inaccuracies and distortions. Nevertheless, WKHPDMRUELRJUDSKHUVRI*LVVLQJ±.RUJ7LQGDOO+DOSHULQDQG'HODQ\±KDYH DOO VKDGHG LQ WKHLU µ1HOO +DUULVRQ¶ RQ WKH WHPSODWH RI 5REHUWV¶V LOOLQWHQWLRQHG FKDUDFWHUL]DWLRQ4 They have read Gissing’s letters and diary in the light of Roberts’s account and have tended to regard Carrie Mitchell – an alcoholic SURVWLWXWHZKRDSSHDUVLQ*LVVLQJ¶V¿UVWQRYHOWorkers in the Dawn±DVD FUXGH¿FWLRQDOL]DWLRQRI1HOOZKRZDVPDUULHGWR*LVVLQJDVKHZURWHWKHQRYHO +RZHYHUWKHPRVWWHOOLQJOLQNEHWZHHQMaitland and other documents to which

we might repair for a glimpse of the historical Nell Harrison is not the character of Marion Hilton as such but a peculiar paradox central to her representation: although she is grossly bodily to the reader, Marion Hilton is invisible to the QDUUDWRUZKRFRQIHVVHVDWRQHSRLQWµ>[email protected],QHYHUPHWKLV¿UVWZLIH¶ Marion is the most vivid character in MaitlandEXWVKHLVNQRZQWRWKHQDUUDWRU only by inference. She is an absent presence and when we turn to sources which PLJKWEHH[SHFWHGWRUHLI\0DULRQ+LOWRQLQWR1HOO+DUULVRQZHRIWHQ¿QGWKDWWKH Nell Harrisons therein revealed are, similarly, both absent and present. 7KHPRVWLPSRUWDQWRIWKHVHLV*LVVLQJ¶V'LDU\,QWKHHDUO\SDJHVRIWKLVUHFRUG

*LVVLQJUHFRXQWVKLVH[SHULHQFHRIWKHGHDWKRI1HOO+DUULVRQDiarySS± *LVVLQJKDGMRXUQH\HGWR(DVWERXUQHLQ)HEUXDU\RIKRSLQJWRVKDNHKLPVHOI RXWRIWKHZULWHU¶VEORFNZKLFKKDGDUUHVWHGKLPVLQFHKLVFRPSOHWLRQRIThyrza, a VOXPQRYHOZKLFKHQGVZLWKWKHGHDWKLQ/DPEHWKRIDZRUNLQJFODVVJLUO+HWKHQ received a telegram from Lambeth: ‘Mrs. Gissing is dead. Come at once’. Gissing UHWXUQHGDWRQFHWR/RQGRQZKHUH0RUOH\5REHUWVZKRIUDQNO\DQGIDOVHO\DVVHUWV in Maitland WKDWKHZDVSUHVHQWZLWK*LVVLQJ LQ(DVWERXUQHZKHQ WKH WHOHJUDP DUULYHGPHWKLPDWWKHWUDLQVWDWLRQ7KH\ZHQWWKHQH[WGD\WR/DPEHWK¿QGLQJ WR5REHUWV¶VVLFNUHOLHIWKDW1HOOZDVLQGHHGGHDGµ/HWPHGHVFULEHWKLVURRP¶ Gissing gently implores the reader at the commencement of a quietly moving LWHPL]DWLRQ RI WKH DPELHQFH DQG DFFRXWUHPHQWV RI1HOO¶V ¿QDO GLVVROXWLRQ7KH DXVWHUHEHDXW\RI WKHSDUDJUDSKV WKDW VXFFHHG HTXDOV WKHEHVW RI WKHPDQ\¿QH QDWXUDOLVWLF SDVVDJHV LQ *LVVLQJ¶V VOXP¿FWLRQ SURVH 7KHVH SDUDJUDSKV EULQJ home all the dreariness, pathos and futility of Nell’s struggle against an ill nature

Morley Roberts, The Private Life of Henry Maitland/RQGRQS

DQG D FUXHO QXUWXUH2QH LV QRW VXUSULVHG DW WKH KHURLF UHVROXWLRQ KH H[SUHVVHV LQDOHWWHUWRKLVEURWKHU$OJHUQRQWKHQH[WGD\µ)RUPHWKHUHLV\HWZRUNWRGR & this memory of wretchedness will be an impulse such as few men possess’ LettersYROS1RULVRQHVXUSULVHGDWWKHVXVWDLQHGIRUFHDQGDUWLVWU\RI The Nether World, the brilliant culmination of Gissing’s career as the novelistic chronicler of the late Victorian London slums which springs out of his anguished reaction to Nell’s death.