Critical Studies of the Works of Charles Dickens
by Greenberg, Publisher, Inc. 1924. 8vo. vii + 165 pp. $3.00.. With an Introduction and Bibliography of Gissing by Temple Scott. New York:
Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, published in 1898, was George Gissing’s twentieth book. Its nineteen predecessors, embracing a creative period of as many years, had all been novels with The exception of one collection of short stories and sketches. Two more novels and a book of travel one of the best ever written:By the Ionian Sea — followed during the next three years, and in 1903 issued an admirable abridgment of Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens, wherein Gissing ‘permitted himself to substitute here and there (by no means always) remarks of his own for Forster’s critical comments.’ The same year saw a fulfillment of early vows in the publication of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. It was the year of Gissing’s death. Two novels, one a fragment, and a collection of short stories appeared posthumously in the succeeding three
years. There is inevitable significance in the fact that of the four books outside the province of the story-teller, in this list of twenty-eight, two have to do with Charles Dickens. This significance is not lessened with the recent publication of the critical papers which Gissing wrote as introductions to the Rochester edition of Dickens’s works. This edition was inaugurated in 1900, and appeared volume by volume until six works had been published. Whatever the reason for the suspension of the venture, one may be sure that, it was not the introductions. Including the six which appeared, nine of these papers are collected in the new volume of Studies. For good measure there is a happy concluding piece, ' Dickens in Memory,’which Gissing contributed to the old New York Critic in 1902 — an essay characterized by a mellow warmth of feeling one does not customarily associate with the man, and, from the point of view of the reader more intimately interested in Gissing than in Dickens, the most important thing in the book.
There is no surer index to the universality of Dickens’s appeal than the finely tempered critical admiration of such a mind as George Gissing’s. Strained through a coarser intelligence, this admiration must have emerged as a mere banal idolatry, or at best as a diluted imitation of obvious artifices of style and method. Gissing was before all else a student, and a better student of art than of life. There is rarely a hint, in all that Gissing wrote, of any attempt to translate Dickens into Gissing. Yet Gissing’s criticism is supported by a meticulous familiarity with his subject a familiarity dating back to his childhood.
Gissing’s devotion is tempered with a critical discretion that permits a sound appraisal of Dickens’s real or conventionally accepted stylistic defects. He acknowledges his subject’s bias to the histrionic, his occasional lapses into mawkishness and bathos, his failure in deliberate analysis of character. He utters what should be acceptable as the final word in his judgment of the blunt irony of the American interlude in Martin Chuzzlewit: ‘Dickens in America was Dickens the satirist without counterpoise of his native tenderness.’
One damns an anthology for the poems it does not contain. While such a charge can hardly be directed against these Studies, since they number all the introductions extant, one may pardonably regret the inevitable omission of essays on David Copperfield and Great Expectation. — even on A Tale of Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend. The collection is perforce a fragment, but it is a fragment worthy to be preserved and to be read.
JOHN T. WINTERICH