Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Emancipated, by George Gissing

This is one arty, Proustian style novel (written some 20 or so years before Proust). It reads like ponderous, meandering European cinema, if I can put it like that, and is very much different from the novel that followed it, New Grub Street. There are scenes where characters stare into shop windows, and then see reflections of their friends approaching. It's all very thoughtful and intimate - much of the action happens pretty much in the heads of the characters.

It's 450 pages long, and I'm surprised I got to the end of it. To be frank I felt my mind wandering off quite frequently. No wonder it's not as well known as New Grub Street, which has a cracking pace. Some of the chapter titles give the game away - Silences, Stumbings, Onto Vagueness (the last one I am not making up!). The last sentence is written in Italian.

What comes through most in this novel is how miserable people become the more options and choices they are given. It's almost like a Woody Allen film, people are never happy in the relationships they're in, always looking outside them towards something else. Basically, there's lots of navel gazing in this novel.

I looked in my Wordsworth companion to English literature and it doesn't have an individual entre for the novel. I thought as much. It's a Hogarth press edition, one of those boutique imprints that does rare nineteenth century novels. It was Virginia and Leornard Woolf who started the Hogarth Press - they were the first to translate and publish Freud.

My Wordsworth companion lists a novel called the Odd Women by George Gissing, so I might have to check that out. Apparently it's a mild comedy of sorts.

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