Dramatic, fast-moving and brutal, Gissing’s highly regarded early novel lays bare the reality of urban poverty in 1870s London. Old Michael Snowdon returns to the city with an inheritance that he determines should go towards helping the poor – but goodness and charity are not to play a part here. Everyone has an agenda, and scheming spreads through the story like a disease. Gissing’s own experience of London as an outsider in a vast city that both fascinated and appalled him gave him the tools and the drive to create a visceral sense of place. Life is unremittingly grim for just about everyone, from the weak and well-intentioned Jane to the coarse, cunning Clem Peckover and her feckless rival Pennyloaf Candy. The author offers no escape from the gloomy cycle, and there is something alarmingly timeless in the unvarnished portrait of human nature.
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