In the Gissing Journal for October 1996, Jacob Korg reported usefully on his "random explorations" for Gissing on the Internet. This article tries to deal more systematically with the topic. Uninformed readers should be aware that what is loosely termed the ‘Internet’ is actually a set of resources, but the two components most likely to interest the Gissing student are the World Wide Web and the Listservs. The first is a vast ‘virtual library’ of interlinked information, and the second comprises thousands of discussion groups covering virtually every human activity, some of them extremely recondite, which work by passing information and queries among their subscribers by e-mail. I deal here mostly with Gissing on the Web, but towards the end I will say something about relevant Listservs. I made this survey in December-January 1996-7; like everything written about the Internet it will be incomplete if not obsolete before it appears in print, but I hope to update it periodically. I very much welcome additional information. My contact details are here.
The expansion of literary studies on the Internet is proceeding with startling speed. As soon as the technical problem of setting up a tollgate is solved, so that people can be charged subscriptions, we may well expect that most literary journals and bibliographies will migrate on to it. At the moment, however, as we might expect with a medium which is in no controlling hands, the quality and range of the information are very uneven. Scholar-enthusiasts have already set up websites for many writers of the Victorian era ("The Wild Wilde Web"; "The Sherlockian Holmepage"), but there are still many gaping holes and areas of neglect.
Gissing, at present, falls into that category. For example, large and inclusive Voice Of The Shuttle: Web Page for Humanities Research contains not a single reference to Gissing at all. These this website, like most others, depend on input from volunteers; and what they are not given they cannot publish.
The untutored student who goes on his own hunt through the Web is likely to be sympathetic to Marian Yule’s plight in New Grub Street as she labours at her father’s behest in the British Museum; indeed, he must soon feel himself like the creature of Marian’s headachy fantasy, "a black, lost soul, doomed to wander in an eternity of vain research". Fortunately, users, unlike poor Marian, have powerful search engines at their disposal which are themselves to be found at specific websites. (In fact some sites allow the user to conduct searches on several engines simultaneously). A thorough search using five major engines reveals that the total number of distinct references to our author on the World Wide Web is around 200. The vast majority, however, are trivial. Some are just items in the new-accessions lists of libraries and the catalogues of publishers. Then again, many universities are gradually putting all their syllabuses, and their faculty members’ bibliographies, on to the Web. Naturally Gissing is required reading for many Victorian literature and history courses, and these make up the bulk of the references. They have no external interest, except to confirm what everyone knows already: that New Grub Street and The Odd Women are running neck and neck as the most popular texts for tertiary study, and that the other titles are rarely, if ever, set.
The beginning student-reader eager to secure some basic facts about Gissing’s life and writings has only a few sites to visit at present. He or she can read the on-line entry from the Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia which despite its brevity contains an error (that Gissing studied at Manchester and "was expelled from the university"). More usefully, the homepage of the enterprising teacher Mitsuharu Matsuoka of Nagoya University, Japan has a section on 19th Century British authors, and within this we find the only other substantial website which is completely devoted to Gissing, with many portrait photographs, a brief biography, a selection of quotations from and about Gissing, a chronology and an annotated list of his writings, taken with acknowledgment from Robert Selig’s study. The list is not complete, however, and some of the comments, such as those on The House of Cobwebs, could mislead the beginner. Finally, the Gissing Trust at Wakefield has a page of information about the activities of the Gissing Centre.
Other substantial materials are very thin at present. One can read Prof. Korg’s two solid reviews (here and here) of the first six volumes of the Letters, and one can read about the prize which the editors were justly awarded for their labours by the MLA in 1995. But there are no lengthy critical essays available on-line and no considered discussions of any of the novels. However, one very useful development is that the current contents of most of the important scholarly journals are now available and indexed on the Web: Nineteenth Century Studies, Victorian Studies, and, most notably, the Gissing Journal here. The Internet scholar will find it easy to locate most of the serious articles on Gissing in future, though he or she still won’t be able them read it on-line.
On the other hand, it may be that your interests are more bibliographical than critical. Perhaps you simply want to buy some second-hand titles to complete your Gissing collection. If you are in the market for a first edition of Workers in the Dawn, a copy of this rare book is for sale along with another 179 items for $US28,000. If you are not quite in that league, try the fabulous resources of Powell’s, who boast of being the largest bookstore in North America. When I looked last, they had 50 Gissing titles for sale; you can order anything straight from your screen and their prices and shipping charges seem very reasonable.
Perhaps you don’t want to buy any Gissing but simply want to read him on-screen. A number of sites on the Web give free access to a rapidly-expanding list of literary texts, some of them quite obscure, with all those useful search features which we have come to take for granted nowadays. As far as I can discover, however, not a single Gissing work is available in that form. Yet all it takes to add one is time, a good clean out-of-copyright edition, a scanner and an OCR (word-recognition) package. Some public-spirited reader of this Journal might care to start the ball rolling. Information on how to volunteer may be found at the Project Gutenberg site.
Perhaps you have a query about Gissing or would like to identify a reference. In that case you should do what Michele Kohler did when she tried to trace the intriguing, lost 30 letters concerning Gissing: she circulated a request for information to all the members of a Listserv called Ex Libris. The best chance of getting more general queries answered is to post them on the only Listserv where information about Gissing appears regularly. This is Victoria, which, as its name suggests, is a discussion group dealing with every aspect of that era: most of the contributors are teachers of history and literature. Go to this site for a full discussion of how it operates, and how to join it. Victoria has been running for four years and has already built up a formidable archive of queries, information and gossip — helpful, fascinating, sometimes erroneous. You can search these archives year by year 1993-1996 by going here. By my count, the Gissing references in the archives increased from 21 in 1993 to more than 100 in 1995, though they were down to 78 in 1996: probably this more reflects the growing membership of the list than any heightened interest in our author. Sometimes the earnest advice to inquirers makes one wince. For instance, someone who is researching melancholia in the Victorian era was advised to read the complete works of Gissing, and another entered a competition on "Books we wish we hadn’t bothered to read" by nominating New Grub Street. "Just a long self-pitying screed" was his dismissive judgement.
What about other Listservs? The search engine Deja News indexes a vast archive of material which has appeared on hundreds of other Listservs, but I uncovered only eight minor Gissing items. One, however, offers a snippet of information that was new to me. It is that the word paparazzi (intrusive celebrity photographers) is derived from the name of Gissing’s landlord, Coriolano Paparazzo, at Catanzaro in By the Ionian Sea! The film director Fellini happened to be reading this book when making La Dolce Vita in the Fifties, and used the name for one of his characters who behaves as do modern paparazzi, and the word spread from there. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea.
Odd items like this reward anyone who trawls through the Web. The most sheerly unexpected Gissing reference which I found was a quotation ("For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every sky has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously") which I guess is from Ryecroft. I found it being used as an epigraph to details of a university course on the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter. Perhaps there is a Gissing fan in the Astrophysics Department of MIT!
A version of this essay will appear in the Gissing Journal for May 1997.
Last modified 25 April 1997