The Solipsistic Heroine in 1897: George Gissing’s The Whirlpool and May Sinclair’s Audrey Craven
In a letter to Morley Roberts two and a half years after Gissing’s death, the novelist May Sinclair recalled, ‘I “discovered” Gissing for myself. I had never, in my ignorance, heard his name when the title of New Grub Street attracted me to that ERRNWKH¿UVWRIKLV,HYHUUHDG¶6KHDGGHGRIBorn in Exile: ‘I cannot describe how it gripped and moved me – with an agony of compassion. I think I was born in another sort of Exile and that made me understand’.1 That Sinclair would have encountered Gissing’s work is no surprise: he was an established writer by the 1890s, her formative years as a novelist. Readers are less likely to know of Gissing’s reciprocal enthusiasm for her earliest published novel, Audrey Craven (1897).2 2Q¿QLVKLQJWKHSUHVHQWDWLRQFRS\WKDW6LQFODLUKDGVHQWKLP*LVVLQJZURWH
rather effusively to her:
Gissing primarily admires Sinclair’s novel on the basis of its graceful prose and tight construction (presumably of plot), as well as its characterization and irony. Although Sinclair excavates Audrey’s motives and personality, Audrey amuses the reader because she is, as we will see, shallow and complacent by nature. Some RI6LQFODLU¶VFRQWHPSRUDULHVIRXQG$XGUH\¶VVXSHU¿FLDOLW\DÀDZLQWKHQRYHOEXW Gissing viewed it as a welcome puzzle for the working author. 6LQFODLUKDVEHHQWUDGLWLRQDOO\FODVVL¿HGDVD0RGHUQLVWUDWKHUWKDQD9LFWRULDQ
novelist, and critics frequently read her work in the context of writings by H.D., .DWKHULQH0DQV¿HOG'RURWK\5LFKDUGVRQ9LUJLQLD:RROIDQG5HEHFFD:HVW6WLOO EHFDXVHKHU¿FWLRQVEULGJHWKHVDQGWKHHDUO\WZHQWLHWKFHQWXU\9LFWRULDQLVW FULWLFVKDYHFODLPHGDSODFHIRUKHULQWKH1HZ:RPDQFDQRQRIWKH¿QGHVLqFOH.4 4XDOLWLHVRIWKHUHDOLVW9LFWRULDQQRYHODUHFHUWDLQO\YLVLEOHLQKHUODWHUZRUNWKH forces that keep female protagonists down are not merely psychological, but social and external: family duty, religious obligation and class respectability. Further, one cannot deny Sinclair’s preoccupation with a biological determinism redolent of Zola’s naturalism, most vivid in the recurring motif of inherited mental illness.