In this essay I examine one author's peculiar struggle with the implications and expectations of realism in �ction. In late-Victorian England, George Gissing was at the epicenter of the debates about realism in the novel; for many of his contemporaries he was the archetypal writer of realist �ction. His novels seemed to rely on the grim detail and un�inching techniques associated with that school, and in his criticism he returned constantly to the question of "the place of realism in �ction" (the title of an essay he wrote in 1895). But Gissing never reached a stable verdict on the subject. In his masterpiece, New Grub Street (1891), one of his destitute writer-�gures is nicknamed "the Realist" and preaches "an absolute realism"; in the ruthless world of Gissing's modern Grub Street, the catchword is almost everywhere. What is so odd about the novel is how Gissing's portraits of aspiring realists vacillate between genuine sympathy and merciless satire. Sometimes Gissing seems to identify with those who subscribe to a platform of late-Victorian realism; at other times he appears to mock the whole ridiculous affair. New Grub Street effectively dramatizes Gissing's ambivalence about the workings and purposes of realism in the novel. In this essay I study his vexed attitude by considering New Grub Street in relation to Gissing's Augustan satirical precursors, the response to his �ction in the 1890s, and his own critical writings from the era, especially his extensive commentary on Charles Dickens.
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