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28.6.07

New Grub Street revisited

We’re based in Wakefield. Home of George Gissing.
He’s been dead now for 150 years now (born November 22, 1857), but brilliantly captured the anxiety of modern British journalism with New Grub Street – even though he was writing in the late 19th Century.
I know that Paul Routledge, Wakefield-born, and currently Political Correspondent of the Daily Mirror is a big fan too - curiously his home city is doing nothing to celebrate his memory - bizarre given that Wakefield needs all the help it can get.
Anyway from Wikipedia we get this:

New Grub Street opens with Jasper Milvain, an “alarmingly modern young man” driven by pure financial ambition in navigating his literary career. He accepts that he will “always despise the people [he] write[s] for,” networks within the appropriate social circle to manufacture opportunity, and authors articles for popular periodicals. Gissing provides a foil to Milvain with protagonist Edwin Reardon, who prefers to author novels of a more literary bent and refuses to pander to contemporary tastes until, as a last-gasp measure against financial ruin, he quickly attempts a popular novel. Even in this venture, Reardon fails, precipitating a separation from his wife, Amy Reardon née Yule, who cannot accept her husband’s fallen status.
The Yule family includes Amy’s two uncles—John, a wealthy invalid, and Alfred, another author—and Alfred’s daughter, Marian. The friendship that develops between Marian and Milvain’s sisters, who move to London following their mother’s death, provides opportunity for the former to meet and fall in love with Milvain. However much Milvain respects Marian’s intellectual capabilities and strength of personality, the crucial element (according to Milvain) for marriage is missing: money. Marrying a rich woman, after all, is the most convenient way to speed his career advancement. Indeed, Milvain slights romantic love as a key to marriage:
‘As a rule, marriage is the result of a mild preference, encouraged by circumstances, and deliberately heightened into strong sexual feeling. You, of all men, know well enough that the same kind of feeling could be produced for almost any woman who wasn’t repulsive.’ Eventually, reason enough for an engagement is provided by a legacy of £5000 left to Marian by John Yule.
Life (and death) eventually end the possibility of this union. Milvain’s initial career advancement is a position on The Current, a paper edited by Clement Fadge. Twenty years earlier, Alfred Yule (Marian’s father) was slighted by Fadge in a newspaper article, and the resulting acerbic resentment extends even to Milvain (an employee of Fadge’s). Alfred Yule refuses to countenance Marian’s marriage; but his objection proves to be an obstacle only after Yule’s eyesight fails and Marian’s legacy is reduced to a mere £1500. As a result, Marian must work to provide for her parents, and her inheritance is no longer available to Milvain.
By this time, Milvain already has detected a more desirable target for marriage: Amy Reardon. Reardon’s poverty and natural disposition toward ill-health culminate in his death following a brief reconciliation with his wife. Amy, besides the receipt of £10,000 upon John Yule’s death, has the natural beauty and grace to benefit her husband (by reflection) in the social events beneficial to his career. Eventually Amy and Milvain marry; however, as the narrator reveals, this marriage motivated by circumstances is not lacking in more profound areas. Milvain has married the woman he loves.


Sounds dull doesn’t it? But no! I think it is one of the single most interesting books about hacks and newspapers. I feel we should celebrate this forgotten author and was wondering about doing an exhibition in GREEN’s Art of Propaganda gallery in Wakefield. Any thought?

3 comments:

Kevin D said...

I tagged you mate! Hah!

http://blog.fuelmyblog.com/2007/06/tagged8-things-about-me-and-mrs.html

Bill Blunt said...

I'm a great fan of New Grub Street, Alan, although it's many years or so since I read it.

Gissing had an interesting life, didn't he - the kind of chap who, if he'd lived in Oldham, would doubtless have been spotted 'straightening his tie' in a Waterloo Street doorway!

We called one of our sons Jasper by way of tribute to Mr Gissing's central character in NGS, but he's turned out to be a bit of a boring fellow, who spends far too much time playing with widgets in his bedroom, analysing his stats and working out ways to keep my blog high up in the Google rankings.

Look forward to reading your 8 things...

Best wishes

Bill

Ian Green said...

Bill,
I will do my duty with eight things but I have two eighty-year olds to deal with right now - watch this space! Mother put that down... Oh dear