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George Gissing Collection

Date range: Archive: 1870-1999

Medium: Printed/Archive

Number of items: Printed: 180 items, Archive: 384 items.

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 Gissing began to write novels, which were heavily influenced by the poverty and deprivation he witnessed in London, and by his own experience of the alcoholism and insanity of his first two wives. His realist novels, such as Demos (London : Smith, Elder & Co., 1886), The Nether World (London : Smith, Elder, & Co., 1889) and New Grub Street (London : Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891), 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 (1867-1938), penned while Gissing 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 Gissing was studying at Owens College;
  • The final leaves of Gissing's 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 20th 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 19th-century book trade, and in the reception of Gissing and the collecting of Gissing in the 20th century.

The Library holds a complete collection of first editions of the novels of George Gissing. The collection includes a first edition of Workers in the Dawn (London: Remington and Co., 1880), with the bookplate of Reginald Baliol Brett (1852-1930), Viscount Esher; the Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) copy of Born in Exile (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1892); and a limited edition of Sins of the Fathers (Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1924). Also available is a copy of Morley Roberts's The Private Life of Henry Maitland (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1912) with extensive annotations by Edward Clodd (1840-1930) and Clement King Shorter (1857-1926).

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; several signed presentation copies of his books, and a number of books owned by Gissing.

The Library now possesses all of the important items listed in the bibliography by Michael Collie, George Gissing: A Bibliographical Study, revised and extended (Winchester: St. Pauls Bibliographies, 1985), 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 in 1915.

Further information:

  • Catalogue of archive material available online via ELGAR.
  • Printed books recorded in Library Search.


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