George Gissing: A Short Biography

George Gissing was one of the most celebrated British writers of the nineteenth century, having written some twenty-three novels. His works often dealt with poverty and working class life, as well as the situation of women in male dominated society. (Click here to read my review of Gissing’s The Odd Women). 

Gissing experienced a great deal of poverty and hardship in his own life. Born to lower-middle class parents, Gissing attended Owens College (Now the University of Manchester) on scholarship and was quite successful there until meeting a prostitute named Marianne Helen Harrison (Nell). Gissing gave her money in an attempt to keep her from prostitution. When his own money ran short, he began to steal from other students and was eventually caught and expelled.


Disgraced, Gissing moved to the U.S. and lived an impoverished life writing for the Chicago Tribune. He returned to England just a year later and married Nell. The marriage was not a happy one and they were estranged five years later. Nell died an alcoholism related death in 1888.


Gissing’s first published novel, Workers in the Dawn, debuted in 1880, but was commercially a failure.  Gissing’s novels often provide grim depictions of poverty, industrialization and the subordinate position of women in Victorian society. His works are usually classified in the Naturalism school.


George Gissing remarried in 1891. His wife Edith Alice Underwood was the daughter of a stone mason. She and George had two sons, but Edith was later institutionalized for madness. While estranged from his wife, Gissing met Gabrielle Marie Edith Fleury and moved to France to live with her, although he was still technically married to his institutionalized wife. Gissing died in France in 1903. His most famous works are New Grub Street and the semi-autobiographical The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. He also wrote introductions for several Charles Dickens novels as well as a study of Charles Dickens: Charles Dickens: A Critical Study.


Merriman, C. D. The Literature Network. Jalic Inc, 2005. Web. 02/07/12.


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