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George Gissing Collection

Date range: 1870–1999.

The novelist George Robert Gissing (1857–1903) was educated at a Quaker boarding school in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, and at Owens College, Manchester, where he won several prizes and a Shakespeare Scholarship. His academic career came to an abrupt end when he was expelled from the college for theft and he spent a month in prison.

He sailed to America, wandering for a year, before returning to England in 1877. Almost immediately he began to write novels, which were heavily influenced by the poverty and deprivation he witnessed in London, and by his own experience of the alchoholism and insanity of his first two wives.

His realist novels, such as Demos, The Nether World and New Grub Street, met with considerable critical success, even if Gissing never achieved from his writings the financial security he deserved.

In 2005, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Library acquired the major Gissing collection assembled by the antiquarian bookseller Chris Kohler. The collection comprises both manuscript material and printed books.

The former include correspondence between Gissing and members of his family and associates, in particular a series of revealing letters to his sister Ellen, penned while he was struggling to make a living in London during the early 1880s; an extract from Gissing’s boyhood diary; an essay on poetry written while he was studying at Owens College; and the final leaves of his unfinished novel, Veranilda. 

There is also a quantity of material concerning the wider Gissing family, and later correspondence and papers relating to the reception of Gissing in the twentieth century, and to the formation of the Kohler collection.

The collection has major research potential for literary and biographical studies of George Gissing. It also has great relevance to anyone interested in the workings of the nineteenth-century book trade, and in the reception of Gissing and the collecting of Gissing in the twentieth century.

The Library holds a complete collection of first editions of the novels of George Gissing The collection includes the Viscount Esher copy of Workers in the Dawn (1880), and the Hugh Walpole copy of Born in Exile (1892), together with the 1924 Chicago edition of Sins of the Fathers. Also available is the 1912 edition of The Private Life of Henry Maitland by Morley Roberts, extensively annotated by Edward Clodd and Clement Shorter.

The printed collection was enhanced considerably by the purchase of the Chris Kohler collection, which includes a set of leather-bound prize volumes of Virgil, which Gissing received from Owens College; and signed presentation copies of his books, including In the Year of Jubilee, Thyrza and Demos, and his major critical work on Charles Dickens. 

The Library now possesses all the important items listed in Collie’s bibliography, having recently acquired two great rarities: one of thirty copies of Letters to Edward Clodd, privately printed by T.J. Wise in 1914, and one of only twenty-five copies of Letters to an Editor, edited and privately printed by Clement Shorter [1915].

Finding aids

  • Catalogue of manuscript material available online via ELGAR.
  • Printed books recorded in .

Location

The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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