George Gissing – The Nether World
Some artists grow in stature after their death, and some others go the other way. George Gissing is one of the heavyweight names of late Victorian literature, and I have to confess that I’d never heard of him before I began this project.
The Nether World is a grim look at the slums of London. The characters, their motivations and their fates are less important than the painting of a vividly glum scene. That’s fine, I’ve been very keen on some very depressing books through the years, but Gissing refuses to either empathise or offer lessons from this suffering – people are on downward spirals and even those trying to help are nothing more than misguided fools whose efforts will come to nothing. It’s one big shrug of a book – these things will just be like this, so why bother? But within sixty years these slums were cleared, so his Eeyore-ish pessimism was simply incorrect, useful only as an excuse to do nothing.
Here is an essay from someone who actually liked the book – it was a much more interesting read than the novel was.