chapter  6
13 Pages

The Discontents of Everyday Life: Civilization and the Pathology of Masculinity in The Whirlpool

WithSimon J. James

In his fiction of the 1890s, George Gissing's attention becomes increasingly engaged by issues of Empire and national identity, and, to a greater extent than previously, by late Victorian culture's construction of gender. Gissing had been preoccupied to some extent with the nature of masculinity since his first novel Workers in the Dawn. In The Whirlpool, and also the later anti-imperialist novel The Crown of Life, Gissing concentrates on the location of a masculinity precariously defined between an internally-valorized conception of self and external pressures towards politics, violence, displayed Englishness and manly activity. In The Whirlpool especially, masculinity is threatened by urban consumerist pressures that Gissing genders as female; the Empire provides a possible outlet for sublimated masculine urges, but not without cost to the development of the higher self. Gissing is still wrongly portrayed as an unthinking supporter of patriarchy.