chapter  1
13 Pages

Blatherwicks and Busybodies: Gissing on the Culture of Philanthropic Slumming

WithDiana Maltz

The drunken Bill Blatherwick of George Gissing's Workers in the Dawn feigns blindness and lameness in order to collect alms from the West End bourgeoisie. The scene of Bill Blatherwick and Arthur Golding cadging pennies in the snow not only evokes a Dickensian pathos, but also expresses the doubt of a generation of philanthropists who questioned the effectiveness of almsgiving. This chapter examines Gissing's work in the context of the language of Octavia Hill's essays, demonstrating that Gissing was aware of the COS'.s rhetoric and fluctuated in his responses to it. Gissing had two very real links to the world of Hill and discriminate philanthropy, both of them figures who embodied the active, public New Woman, and both connected to the core network of fifteen or so people at the heart of the COS. However, as Hill assented to the benefits of disseminating bourgeois culture to the poor, the Barnetts claimed the central tenet of Toynbee Hall's social mission.