There’s an interesting feature by Anthony Quinn in today’s Guardian about George Gissing’s New Grub Street, linked to the difficulty authors have today of making a living from their writing. I’m not sure there was ever an intervening stage when all that many people wrote for a living, although digital technology is clearly disintermediating the newspapers and magazines that employed journalists during the 20th century. I don’t know of a data source for total employment by writing, still less income earned.
New Grub Street, a novel
Anyway, Gissing has long been one of my favourite of the great Victorian novelists, although less well known now than predecessors like Charles Dickens and George Eliot. George Orwell described Gissing as one of the best English novelists, and I think that might be because he shared the same preoccupations, the essentially economic ones of work and income at a time when industrial change is bringing about tremendous economic and social upheaval. Orwell was more concerned with the poorest people, in books like The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London, although his novels (Keep the Aspidistra Flying) moved up the income scale. Gissing was a novelist of the squeezed middle.
Writers like New Grub Street – The Guardian likes it so much that they had another feature about it (by Robert McCrum) just a few months ago. The Odd Women and The Whirlpool are my favourites.
The Odd Women (Oxford World’s Classics) The Whirlpool