I don’t think I shall write any more… (an excerpt from New Grub Street by George Gissing)

by |September 15, 2011


‘I think it’s all over with me. I don’t think I shall write any more.’

‘Don’t be so foolish, dear. What is to prevent your writing?’

‘Perhaps I am only out of sorts. But I begin to be horribly afraid. My will seems to be fatally weakened. I can’t see my way to the end of anything; if I get hold of an idea which seems good, all the sap has gone out of it before I have got it into working shape. In these last few months, I must have begun a dozen different books; I have been ashamed to tell you of each new beginning. I write twenty pages, perhaps, and then my courage fails. I am disgusted with the thing, and can’t go on with it– can’t! My fingers refuse to hold the pen. In mere writing, I have done enough to make much more than three volumes; but it’s all destroyed.’

‘Because of your morbid conscientiousness. There was no need to destroy what you had written. It was all good enough for the market.’

‘Don’t use that word, Amy. I hate it!’

‘You can’t afford to hate it,’ was her rejoinder, in very practical tones. ‘However it was before, you must write for the market now. You have admitted that yourself.’

He kept silence.

‘Where are you?’ she went on to ask. ‘What have you actually done?’

‘Two short chapters of a story I can’t go on with. The three volumes lie before me like an interminable desert. Impossible to get through them. The idea is stupidly artificial, and I haven’t a living character in it.’

‘The public don’t care whether the characters are living or not.–Don’t stand behind me, like that; it’s such an awkward way of talking. Come and sit down.’

He drew away, and came to a position whence he could see her face, but kept at a distance.

‘Yes,’ he said, in a different way, ‘that’s the worst of it.’

‘What is?’

‘That you–well, it’s no use.’

‘That I–what?’

She did not look at him; her lips, after she had spoken, drew in a little.

‘That your disposition towards me is being affected by this miserable failure. You keep saying to yourself that I am not what you thought me. Perhaps you even feel that I have been guilty of a sort of deception. I don’t blame you; it’s natural enough.’

‘I’ll tell you quite honestly what I do think,’ she replied, after a short silence. ‘You are much weaker than I imagined. Difficulties crush you, instead of rousing you to struggle.’

‘True. It has always been my fault.’

New Grub Street  (1891), generally regarded as George Gissing’s finest novel, is the story of the daily lives and broken dreams of men and women forced to earn a living by the pen.

With vivid realism it tells of a group of novelists, journalists, and scholars caught in the literary and cultural crisis that hit Britain in the closing years of the nineteenth century, as universal education, popular journalism, and mass communication began to leave their mark on the life of intellectuals.

Projecting a strong sense of the London in which his characters struggle, Gissing also illuminates ‘the valley of the shadow of books’, where the spirit of alienation that created modernism was already stirring.

George Orwell: “The most impressive of Gissing’s books is New Grub Street. To a professional writer it is also an upsetting and demoralising book, because it deals among other things with that much-dreaded occupational disease, sterility. No doubt the number of writers who suddenly lose the power to write is not large, but it is a calamity that might happen to anybody at any moment, like sexual impotence. ”

‘his naturalism has an excoriating veracity; relentless in its judgements but fine as well in its attention to detail … I have never learnt so much from a novel about the actual day-to-day life texture of life in late 19th-century London.’ Janet Daley, The Times

Read George Orwell’s essay on George Gissing here

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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