Gissing 2.0

Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue has held visiting fellowships at Indiana University, Yale University, and the University of Toronto Scarborough, and he was the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an Honorary Research Associate at University College London.

One of the themes that emerged from the Fourth International Gissing Conference at the University of York in 2011 concerns the editing of Gissing’s writing and its implications to teaching. Amongst a series of short papers that were subsequently collected and published in The Gissing Journal, M. D. Allen commented on the importance of inexpensive paperbacks (6), while Richard Dennis commended the helpful material in recent editions as well as the affordances of searchable electronic versions of Gissing’s texts online (8-11). Simon J. James summed up the concerns of many when he argued for the need to balance availability, one of the principal affordances of digital technology, with editorial content: “Looking to the future, the internet and electronic media’s bringing of the knowledge archive to the classroom offers both risks and opportunities. Cheap or even free electronic texts make Gissing’s work more widely available, but in a format shorn of the introductory material and critical apparatus that help guide a student’s informed response” (2-3).

The five years since the conference have seen a number of advances, including an increase in his works on archives such as The Literature Network and Project Gutenberg. As Dennis has suggested, these searchable texts enable users to trace recurring words and expressions. Furthermore, readers can adjust font sizes according to their needs and preferences. Other libraries such as Internet Archive bring together digitalized editions, allow researchers and students to sort them by publication date, and provide a glimpse, at closer hand, of nineteenth-century texts. Placing Literature, a reading resource, motivates users into attending and responding to their readings more actively, firstly, by mapping locations and, secondly, by comparing how different writers treat them. In so doing, users can gain a richer sense of what specific places mean and how these conceptions have subsequently changed.

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Gissing has remained strong in print both in English and in translation in no less than fifteen languages since the early 1890s. A succession of editions in translation reflects the interest being leveled at his writing internationally. Recent work by Ying Ying, for instance, has shown the longevity of this engagement by tracing his reception in China. Gissing, Ying tells us, was introduced into China in the 1920s when a group of Chinese scholars quoted his works in the first issue of Sunken Bell, an influential journal, and his books were widely translated in the 1940s and the 1980s (209-10). Gissing’s 1903 work The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, in particular, enjoyed immense popularity: throughout 1943 and 1944, Xi Lin translated excerpts in General Comments in China; and the whole book was translated in 1947 by Jiye Li, a second edition of which was brought out in 1985 (211). The work ranked sixth on Beijing’s Sanlian Taofen Bookstore’s bestseller list in 2007 (211). More recently, 2014 saw the publication of Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere, a bilingual English-Italian edition by Maria Teresa Chialant of the 1895 novella Sleeping Fires (Aracne editrice), and a French translation of 11 short stories that dated from 1880 to early December 1903 by Pierre Coustillas under the title “La chance de sa vie” et autres nouvelles (Editions Universitaires de Dijon). In 2015, Gissing’s 1891 novel New Grub Street was translated into Dutch by Mario Molegraaf (Prometheus); and earlier in June, this year, a collection of Gissing’s early short stories appeared in Japanese by Mitsuharu Matsuoka (Athena Press).

Thyrza-by-George-Gissing

New scholarly editions in English continue to expand our knowledge of Gissing’s oeuvre. Gissing’s Collected Essays (2015), a pioneering collection edited by Pierre Coustillas, contains 21 pieces that date from Gissing’s time at Owens College to his 1902 review in the TLS of Kitton’s Life of Dickens (Grayswood Press). Victorian Secrets’ Workers in the Dawn (2010), Demos (2011), and Thyrza (2013), Penguin Classics’ The Whirlpool (2015), and Edward Everett Root Publishers’ Workers in the Dawn (2016) perform the crucial role of introducing new generations of readers, both in the academy and beyond, to Gissing. Edward Everett Root Publishers’ Workers, also edited by Pierre Coustillas, offers an extensive critical introduction and detailed scholarly notes in an attractive hardback and paperback. New editions of New Grub Street (Vintage, 2014; and Oxford UP, 2016) incorporate relevant material from Gissing’s collected letters and diary and engage actively with criticism on Victorian writing.

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Edinburgh University Press’ forthcoming edition of Ryecroft (2019), prepared by myself, follows these examples by offering both an authoritative text and a state-of-the-art map of scholarship on the work. It reinstates Gissing’s index, which had been reprinted in almost all editions prior to the 1953 Phoenix House Anniversary edition and which should be considered as a part of Gissing’s text. The key features of Ryecroft are:

  • It publishes, for the first time, Gissing’s draft manuscript of the work and a list of variants between the Fortnightly Review version and the 1903 published text, thus collating all of the known versions;
  • Its detailed introduction, which explores the work’s sources and inspirations, composition, publication, and reception, and which culminates with a chronology of Gissing’s life and works;
  • Its extensive notes, which relay information rather than interpretation of the text;
  • Its detailed bibliography, which directs readers to seminal and more recent scholarship on the text, its author, and Victorian writing; and
  • Its availability both in print and in digital formats.

 Ryecroft

Versions of Ryecroft are freely available online through Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive; however, as James has intimated for Gissing’s works, extensive explanatory notes are required for a fuller understanding of this highly allusive novel. This edition draws connections between Gissing’s notebooks and his novel; provides readers of Gissing and Victorian literature with a fuller understanding of his editorial practice; shows how it responds to different print media; and reveals the close correspondence between his story, a meditation on the life on writing, and the novel’s own textual lives. While it is not possible to create a parallel text edition of the draft manuscript and the Fortnightly Review instalments, the instalments and the 1903 novel, or the draft manuscript and the 1903 novel because of the complexity of Gissing’s revisions (i.e. both the transposition of sections and the inclusion of new ones), this edition will include and analyze all three texts, offering a full picture of his writing process.

 

Acknowledgements

I thank Hélène Coustillas, Catherine Pope, John Spiers, and Andrew Bardin Williams, and Edinburgh University Press, Edward Everett Root Publishers, Oxford University Press, Penguin Classics, Placing Literature, and Victorian Secrets. For an account of Gissing in scholarship, see my companion for Northcote House Publishers’ Writers and their Work series, forthcoming in 2017. See also Jonathan Barnes’ and my interviews with DJ Taylor, wherein he discusses The Whirlpool and biographies of Gissing, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography 377: Twenty-First-Century British Novelists (Gale, 2016).

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Works Consulted

James, Simon J. et al. “Teaching Gissing in the Twenty-First Century.” The Gissing Journal 47.4 (Oct. 2011): 1-14. Print.

Ying, Ying. “The Reception of George Gissing in China.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 58.2 (2015): 209-19. Web. Project Muse. 18 Nov. 2015.

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