The Heroic Life of George Gissing

In the spirit of Karen’s Holiday Reading post, I thought I’d offer a few words on a book in which I’ve been luxuriating this holiday season: the first volume of The Heroic Life of George Gissing. Pierre Coustillas’s eagerly-anticipated, triple-decker biographical tour-de-force has been several decades in the making, and, judging by this first installment, the completed project will deliver a masterfully detailed account of Gissing’s strange life.

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The Other Dickens

I’ve just finished my holiday reading, and not a moment too soon since classes start tomorrow.  In addition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the new Jonathan Franzen novel, which I read while travelling, I read Lillian Nayder’s new biography of Catherine Dickens, The Other Dickens (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010), which was  too fat to take on the plane.

I was completely compelled by Nayder’s portrait of Catherine as a competent wife and loving mother, counter to Dickens’s accusations that she was so far incapable of raising her children and managing a household that her sister Georgina had to take over.  One challenge of writing this biography seems to have been how many of Catherine’s letters were destroyed.  Nayder inventively solves this problem by drawing on banking records and legal documents–showing that Catherine, not Georgina, was running the  household until very near her separation from Dickens in 1858, as the large cheques drawn in her name suggest, and extrapolating Catherine’s tender feelings about her family from the sentimental objects she bequeathed them in her will.  Continue reading “The Other Dickens”