My great-aunt Clara and George Gissing were friends during the last ten years of his life. He wrote to her about once a week, always as Miss Collet, and quite often bared his soul to her. She was an expert on women's work and a civil servant. During his lifetime she gave him money to educate his sons, and after he died she not only arranged with Downing Street for a Civil List pension for them. 'in recognition of the literary services of their father and of his straitened circumstances', but also managed to get several of his novels reissued. That is why I grew up amongst two-inch-thick, plum-coloured volumes of The Whirlpool and the rest, in what might well be thought of as a two-Veranilda household. I must admit, however, that though Eve's Ransom and The Crown of Life did well as bed legs and door-stops, they were not much read. And though Clara herself was probably at least half in love with George Gissing, it isn't clear that she liked his novels very much either. Indeed, as she wrote some years later, she disliked The Odd Women 'so much that I nearly did not make George Gissing's acquaintance because of it': which is not so surprising, perhaps, since more than one Gissing scholar has claimed that his novel drew on his relations with Clara, even though it was written before they met.
LRB 7 March 1991 | PDF Download