New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891). One of the earliest examples of English naturalism, this grim chronicle of literary life in late-Victorian London bitterly portrays its author’s own struggles to live from his writing. In contrasting dedicated artist Edwin Reardon’s commercial failure with superficial romancer Jasper Milvain’s popular success, Gissing pointedly skewers the distorted values of the marketplace, while tirelessly enumerating the many forces working against artistic purity and sincerity. The novel is a diatribe, yet lucid characterizations (particularly that of Reardon’s depressed, demanding wife) and raw accusatory intensity give it a claustrophobic, nagging power.
Total Points: 3 (JL 3)