Gissing’s career, which spanned the period of about 1877 to his death in 1903, was characterized by prodigious output (almost a novel a year in the early days), modest recognition, and modest income. He wrote of poverty, socialism, class differences, social reform, and later on, about the problems of women and industrialization. His best known works are New Grub Street (1891) and Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903), rich sources of social commentary that reflect a literary transition from the Victorian to the modern period.
For many years, the only Gissing letters available to the public were those in the modest selection of letters to his family published in 1927. Now the editors have culled widely scattered sources—private and public collections, journals, newspapers, memoirs, biographies, and sales catalogs—to gather and organize Gissing’s correspondence, including letters to him, and to provide an editorial context.
The years 1892-1895 saw an increase in the bulk and scope of Gissing’s literary production, coinciding with his new and cordial association with publishers Bullen and Lawrence. During this period, the partners published Denzil Quarrier, The Odd Women, In the Year of Jubilee, ad Eve’s Ransom, while A. and C. Black brought out Born in Exile. Gissing’s correspondence with his publishers, some of which is printed here for the first time, is matched in significance by his letters to his literary agent William Morris Colles and to editors such as Clement Shorter, who were instrumental in turning Gissing to the short story. His domestic life remained grim: his unfortunate marriage ruled out the possibility of satisfactory social relationships, and his anxiety over the care of his son Walter was eased only by sending the infant away to stay with strangers. New friends, especially Clara Collet and Edward Clodd, were a precious asset—in their presence he could be his better self, a highly cultured, joy-loving individual whose work was finding greater favor with the public.