The Art of Survival in New Grub Street

Jesse Cook


George Gissing’s masterpiece, New Grub Street, is a late Victorian novel focused on the changing world of literature. In my essay I examine the way in which these changes, brought on by the “quarter educated” class, the newly educated youth, came to determine the market of literary publication and the struggle that these changes imposed on the author. I primarily examine two fictional writers from the novel: Whelpdale and Biffen, who represent the new and old way of writing literature. Whelpdale represents the new literary system of presenting brief, even trite information; while Biffen, clinging to earlier Victorian conventions, upholds the ideals of intellectual thinking. While Biffen may appear to be the champion of New Grub Street, Whelpdale is the one who adequately brings writing and profit together to make a living. Biffen’s desire to create honest literature is noble but he does so at the cost of his own life. Whelpdale has the flexibility that Biffen doesn’t and therefore succeeds. My essay will focus on the differing styles of both writers and the way in which they saw the literary market of their time. While Gissing, a commercially successful author himself, believed in the classical artistry of literature, he still portrays Whelpdale in a favorable light. Whelpdale and Gissing both saw what Biffen could not: the necessity to align himself with the literary public to both achieve literary success and satisfy the reader.


Authorship; Victorian; Realism

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