10 Pages

Introduction: George Gissing and the Woman Question

BySimon J. James, Christine Huguet

Writing to the economist and feminist Clara Collet about his recent novel In the Year of Jubilee (1894), Gissing worried that ‘people are getting tired of the “woman question” novel, and I don’t want this book to be regarded in that light’.1 Such a disavowal notwithstanding, Gissing nonetheless repeatedly chose to write about ‘the woman question’, and in particular about the nature of the changing opportunities for late-Victorian women: in education, the workplace and in their personal lives. The scope of Gissing’s reading, his attendance of lectures on IHPLQLVPDQGKLVIULHQGVKLSVZLWKVXFK¿JXUHVDV&ROOHWDQG0pQLH0XULHO'RZLH show a compelled – if somewhat restless, even jaded, certainly troubled – interest in the coming tide of ‘female emancipation’. Gissing’s published correspondence RIWHQ¿QGVKLPH[SRXQGLQJYLHZVRQLGHDOVDQGDFWXDOLWLHVRIIHPDOHLGHQWLW\7KDW he felt the need to articulate such points of view demonstrates Gissing’s awareness that the structures by and in which these identities were gendered were changing, and were doing so very rapidly. Recent critical and historical work on Gissing KDVWKXVWHQGHGWRIRFXVRQWKHEUHDGWKDQGFRPSOH[LW\RIKLVZRUN¶VHQJDJHPHQW ZLWKPRGHUQLW\DQGVRFLDOFKDQJH¿QGLQJQHZDQGULFKHUPHDQLQJVE\UHDGLQJKLV ¿FWLRQLQQHZFRQWH[WVSURYLGHGE\FXOWXUDOKLVWRULHVRIVSDFHRIGRPHVWLFLW\RI economic and working life, and above all in the late-Victorian period’s changing FRQVWUXFWLRQVRIVH[XDOGLIIHUHQFH2 7KDW WKH SRUWUD\DO RI WKHVH KLVWRULFDO VKLIWV VHHPV VR FRQÀLFWHG HYHQ VHOI

contradictory, is a consequence of Gissing’s commitment to a form of literary UHDOLVPWKDWREOLJHVWKHQRYHOLVWWRUHSRUWRQDVSHFWVRIH[SHULHQFHDVWKH\SHUFHLYH it (rather than on, say, the imagined ideal world of romance).3 Gissing clearly ¿QGVPDQ\DVSHFWVRIPRGHUQ OLIHVXFKDVZRUNLQJFODVVSROLWLFVPDVVFXOWXUH imperialism and even some forms of social mobility repellent – but he judges it his duty as a novelist to represent such themes nonetheless. Gissing wrote to

H.G. Wells: ‘I have a conviction that all I love and believe in is going to the devil; at the same time, I try to watch with interest this process of destruction, admiring any bit of sapper-work that is well done’.4