chapter  8
14 Pages

‘To show a man of letters’: Gissing, Cultural Authority and Literary Modernism

WithMartin Ryle

George Gissing's study of Charles Dickens, written near the end of his career, can be read in some respects as an implicit vindication of his own practice. This chapter begins with some comments on the theme from the Dickens essay and suggests their relevance to Gissing's fiction. Gissing often implies that authentic writing depends on the adoption of an antagonistic, embattled stance vis à vis the public. The chapter considers how that kind of writerly authority is represented and enacted in some of Gissing's novels, its main focus being on writer-protagonists, from Osmond Waymark to Henry Ryecroft. It shows that for Gissing, the writer's intelligence involves a resented but ineluctable engagement with 'the social question'. Finally, the chapter turns to broader cultural themes and discusses some ways in which Gissing anticipates literary modernism. Modernist writers and their protomodernist forerunners also took an ambivalent stance towards their public.