UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Self-identification in four novels of George Gissing Felix, Robert Louis John


The purpose of this thesis is to study the effect of self-identification upon the characterization of major figures in four novels of George Gissing. Gissing's use of his own experiences and ideas in the presentation of Osmond Waymark in The Unclassed, Richard Mutimer in Demos, Edwin Reardon in New Grub Street, and Godwin Peak in Born in Exile reveals that they are to a marked degree expressive of his own convictions. With the exception of Mutimer, all represent fictional counterparts of Gissing himself. The projection of autobiographical detail in Gissing's work could be a source either of strength or of weakness. His ability to express his own sympathies through the characters in his novels could result either in a weakly disguised expression of his own starved ambitions or in a forcefully developed self-analysis. The conclusion follows that as Gissing himself matured and gathered a firmer apprehension of his own abilities and failings he was better able to give dramatic reality to the elements of his own temperament and experience which he consciously or unconsciously transferred to his characters. A survey of Gissing's early life shows that several of the themes which pervade his novels are reconstructions of aspects of his own life story. Gissing served as the prime example for his portrayal of intelligent and sensitive young men who were too poor to remain aloof from the materialistic Victorian society. His refusal to compromise caused him to become resentful towards his society, and this fact is mirrored in the failures of the main characters to achieve a satisfactory relationship with their environment. Gissing's craving for womanly affection and companionship is clearly indicated in the extremes of attitude which the various characters maintain towards women. The early novels, Workers in the Dawn and The Unclassed, are unsuccessful because the main characters do not achieve an independent reality within the structure of the novels in which they appear. The reason for this failure is that Gissing's identification with Golding and Waymark was uncritical and prevented him from examining the characters as entities apart from himself. Demos is considered because Richard Mutimer illustrates the converse of the judgment that Gissing could only respond favorably towards those characters with whom he identified. Gissing's lack of sympathy for Mutimer prevented him from being entirely fair in his characterization. A change is to be noted in the handling of the major figures in New Grub Street and Born in Exile. Edwin Reardon and Godwin Peak, although they obviously represent aspects of Gissing himself, achieve a fictional identity as something apart from the person of the author. Gissing had come to look upon himself and his career with sufficient detachment to enable him to present his fictional counterparts fairly and objectively. The elements of self-pity and apology were refined out of the uncritical idealism of the young author, and, as he acquired a patient and realistic vision of life, self-identification became a source of strength in characterization. The present study will evaluate the results of Gissing's self-identification upon characterization in the novels discussed and attempt to trace the trends in development suggested in the course of such a study.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.